Tuning into a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, I was amused to see a little bit of my own reality reflected in their distant, sun-drenched, diamond-encrusted universe when the familiar Scotsman newspaper masthead flashed up on screen.
It was not a fever dream borne of the guilt of taking a sick week off writing this column.
The latest housewife to join the reality TV cast is Diana Jenkins, and included in her introductory backstory, alongside fleeing war-torn Bosnia as a child, was a news article from 2012 bearing the headline “Scottish tycoon gives up half his fortune in ‘happiest divorce ever’’’ – the tycoon being the ex-husband Roger Jenkins, an Edinburgh schoolboy turned Barclays Bank “tax expert”, who, it was reported, “represented Scotland as a sprinter at the Commonwealth Games before embarking on a lucrative banking career”, eventually splitting a reputed £300 million fortune and remaining on the rich list.
I find reality television fascinating and watch lots of it. Of the genre, Real Housewives is a particular gem, as it follows the lives of the ostentatiously wealthy in the gated communities of, alongside starry Beverly Hills, Orange County, New York City, Potomac (a suburb of Washington), and more.
A criticism often levied at reality TV is that it is too staged, too self-produced – too fake, essentially. But this, to me, misses the more satisfying intrigue.
The Housewives are rivals akin to politicians courting public favour, projecting a particular self-image while scheming to burst the other’s bubble. As they grapple for relevancy and renewed contracts, and their wealth visibly grows each season, they battle not only rivals but the invisible trip wires of their own considerable egos.
The breadth of human nature can always be glimpsed beneath glossy veneers. No Housewife is entirely good or bad. Undeniable villains always have some charming qualities; fan favourites inevitably dent their halos.
Real Housewives is a study of conflict and communication. Each enclave develops its own style of verbal sparring; to get a foothold, newcomers must learn the rules or disrupt the game entirely.
New York City is acerbic and abrupt, rude and confrontational, soon on to the next thing. Orange County, that MAGA hotspot, is erratic and difficult to predict, vibrating at its own weird frequency.
The women of Beverley Hills will hyperfixate on one word from one conversation for a whole series, while ignoring elephants in the room. Its cast includes Erika Girardi, whose estranged husband Tom is accused of misappropriating compensation funds due to families of the victims of the Lion Air Flight 610 disaster in Indonesia. As regular viewers know, things can get dark.
Those who prosper in today’s public life, ex-presidents included, seem depressingly to be the loudest and the brashest, the most ruthless and self interested. Observe the wealthy, well-equipped and ambitious contestants of reality television wrestle in the mud together, and get an insight into how those drawn to careers in the public eye operate.