You couldn’t make Carole Radziwill’s life up. Born into a working class family in a small town in upstate New York she dreamed of leaving and seeing a bit more of the world. She did that and more. She also landed an award-winning job at ABC News, married a prince, was widowed at 36 and wrote a best-selling memoir about the experience.
Back on the dating circuit with romances including George Clooney and Russ Irwin from Aerosmith, sports heroes and millionaires, she’s turned her experiences into a comic novel launched this week in paperback. She is also one of the cast on hit TV series Real Housewives of New York City with a new season about to air.
Radziwill’s prince wasn’t just any prince either. He was the son of Polish Prince Stanislaw Radziwill and his wife Lee Bouvier, Jackie Kennedy’s sister, so TV producer Anthony ticked the royalty box on both sides of the Pond.
The second of five children in the Italian Di Falco family, young Carole was always determined to escape Suffern, a small town in Rockland County, New York state.
“I just wanted to see the world and I didn’t have any money. We didn’t travel at all,” she says.
After waitressing in her father’s restaurant and working in a department store she studied English at Hunter College in New York, before securing an unpaid internship on an ABC news show. She worked her way up in documentaries with her first assignment to Cambodia and a story about land mines winning the first of three Emmys for Carole and the team. She was stationed in Israel during the Gulf War and filmed the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missile attacks.
“Cambodia, Afghanistan … I didn’t envisage going half of the places I went. It was a way to see the world. And get paid too.”
She also met Anthony, a producer and their romance took her into a glittering world of politicians and socialites, holidays in Europe and weekends in the Hamptons with his cousin and best friend, John F Kennedy jnr and wife Carolyn. Carol and Anthony married in 1994, already aware he had testicular cancer that had left him infertile, but their life continued along with treatment until he died in 1999, only three weeks after John and Carolyn were killed when their small private plane went down off Martha’s Vineyard. “Anthony and I met at work and his family was just his family. I never thought much about the circus surrounding them. You don’t see it when you’re in it. Lee was always so gracious and I still see her when she’s visiting New York.
“After Anthony died, then John and Carolyn, I shut myself off, did all the things you’re told not. I left ABC, sold the apartment and moved to Oregon for a while. But I still bumped into it all from time to time. People talked about it as though it was something that happened to them and I had I to keep my mouth shut. I call those people the tragedy whores. If you look at other families of that size they all have the same hardships – the Di Falcos haven’t gone through unscathed – but with Anthony’s it was all public.”
Now 50, Radziwill shops and quaffs champagne along with the other fast-talking “housewives” and has the credits motto: “I may be a princess but I’m no drama queen.” While she manages to promote her writing in between the bitching, there’s little discussion of more cerebral topics such as her favourite writers, Mary Cantwell, Joan Didion, Graham Greene and F Scott Fitzgerald, or current affairs.
“If there’s a big story, like Syria now, I think of the places I would go to cover that or the people I would be talking to – politicians and foreign policy experts. I miss that education, immersing myself in it. But my life is so different now. My husband was part of an old life and I had to move on.”
For Radziwill life is about grabbing each experience as it comes, as long as it is interesting, and as she says, “I’m a single girl with bills. I grew up having to work and my mother always told me you had to make your own money. She was an early feminist but didn’t know it.
“Sometimes you have to say yes to what the universe puts you into. Life is one experience after another. The more you have, good, bad, the more you’ve lived and learnt,” she says.
Away from the glossy launches and designer shops, Radziwill is writing another book, this time a collection of non-fiction essays.
“There’s an essay on going to Afghanistan, politics, one on love – looking at Stendhal’s theory – and I’ll write about reality TV. There’s also an essay about Liam Neeson who I met at a reception. He was very lovely. Someone bumped into me and he said, ‘Watch where you’re going sir, or I’m going to have to ask you to leave’. I swooned.”
Handsome men are Radziwill’s Achilles’ heel and she makes no bones about it.
“I do go for attractive men; it’s a flaw. My husband was handsome, and my dad Tony reminded me of The Fonz in Happy Days: the twinkly smile. Henry Winkler was my all-time childhood crush and when I met him that threw me. He’s the nicest man in LA.”
Fortunately, given her penchant for good-looking men, she’s also fascinated by narcissists, of whom there are several in The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating, the story of Claire, a young widow whose sexologist husband is killed when a Giacometti sculpture falls on him. Working through her grief, she decides to get back out on the dating scene with comic results.
“There was a point where I remember thinking you have to embrace the absurdity of life and find humour in it, or you go mad. You can’t control events, so why take them seriously? I tried to think of myself when I was widowed – I was more Jack Daniels than Jackie [Kennedy].”
The Guide follows Claire’s dates with billionaires and sports heroes, as well as a Hollywood star, in part inspired by Radziwill’s own relationship with George Clooney.
“We dated so long ago and I never talk about it, obviously … although maybe his smile is George’s. George who has the greatest smile I have ever seen. But the character is part Robert Redford too. It’s a stock character.
“On Housewives I said I don’t kiss and tell, but if I were to tell, he’s a great kisser. Every once in a while we bump into each other and he’s a lovely guy. He has integrity and humour, and is interesting as well as being handsome. But, you know, he was busy, I was writing my first book. It was what it was, and I moved on to other handsome men.”
Now single again, Radziwill is in London to promote her book. Today she’s in head-to-toe black, but catch her perched on a bar stool in a yellow floral dress, and if you’re a handsome, narcissistic billionaire/rockstar/politician/with lots of kids, you’re in with a chance.
“I don’t put a lot of weight into what psychics say, but one told me I’d meet my next husband in Europe, while I was wearing a flowery dress. I bought one straight away. I’m not wearing it today – too much pressure. Anyway, it’s raining. But who knows what tomorrow will bring? I’m still curious about life and open to the next adventure.”
• The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating is published by Heron Books, £7.99