It has helped transform Ms. Vanderpump from glamorous restaurateur into an avatar of the city’s obsession with wealth, good looks and success.
She is also the producer of the popular spinoff “Vanderpump Rules.” That show focuses on the mudslinging between the hard-drinking staff at her restaurant SUR, which she owns with her husband, Ken Todd.
Ms. Vanderpump, however, made it clear that she’s not complaining. She not only embraces her peculiar form of fame, she also capitalizes on it.
Ms. Vanderpump uses her celebrity to promote her restaurants (she is also an owner of Villa Blanca); the magazine Beverly Hills Lifestyle, of which she is editor; and most recently Vanderpump Rosé, a libation that matches her feminine and bubbly worldview. It’s a fitting tie-in. During one recent season, her tag line during the show’s title sequence was “Life isn’t all diamonds and rosé. But it should be.”
She also uses her platform to champion causes important to her, like gay and lesbian equality, AIDS awareness and animal rights (she has seven dogs, two miniature ponies and eight swans). Last year she opened Vanderpump Dogs in Los Angeles, a rescue and shelter tricked out with luxurious trappings like velvet sofas and chandeliers.
Ms. Vanderpump ordered tea at the Plaza, but on the show she’s best known for spilling it, aided by her quick wit and way with a bon mot. Upon seeing the hotel had yet to take down its Christmas trees a week into January, for example, she said, “I liken Christmas decorations being up too long to watching a porno after an orgasm. It’s just not the same.”
She has honed a television persona charismatic enough to demand ample screen time without resorting to confrontational theatrics. “I’ve been accused of being cold or removed, but I think that’s because I wasn’t as volatile or I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction,” she said, her hands glistening with jewels and her lips glossy and pink like a glazed French confection.
She remembers the first time she watched two co-stars verbally spar during filming. “I sat there and thought, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this in my life,” she said. “After we stopped filming, I went to the elevator and thought, Oh God, I don’t think I can do this. I phoned my husband and said, ‘That was bizarre.’”
She paused and added: “But that was eight years ago.”
Since then, she has found herself at the center of plenty of arguments, broadcast for public consumption. And she hasn’t made it out unscathed, either. At times she has been portrayed by her co-stars as outwardly warm but secretly Machiavellian. When a reporter suggested that maybe they’re jealous of her position as the show’s de facto star, she was too savvy to take the bait, perhaps proving her co-stars’ point.
“Anybody who says it’s jealousy is stupid because you’re setting yourself up for failure,” she said. “The next statement is, ‘What have you got to be jealous of,’ right?”
As producer of “Vanderpump Rules,” also on Bravo, Ms. Vanderpump is in the unique position of being both puppet and puppeteer. But she emphasized that authenticity is crucial for success, and said that none of the scenarios are staged.
“They don’t have to produce us,” she said, leaving a platter of crustless sandwiches untouched, adhering to the unspoken “Real Housewives” rule that one should eat out often but not be seen actually eating.
Ms. Vanderpump noted that her dual role doesn’t mean she has any control over how she is portrayed on “Real Housewives.” “I have been told that I am one of the only Housewives to never have asked to have anything edited out,” she said, proudly. “But I have asked for things to be kept in.”
The afternoon had dissolved into early evening, and Ms. Vanderpump needed to ready herself for her appearance on “Watch What Happens Live.” As she left the Palm Court, tourists and patrician patrons alike stopped to tell her how much they love her. She handled it with the diplomacy and efficiency of an experienced politician.
With the gap between reality TV and politics forever closed, Ms. Vanderpump even teased a run for office, possibly as governor of California.
“Could you imagine me? I’d love it,” she said, laughing. However, she did have one concern. “Would I be a governess? Because I’m British, and that’s like an old nanny.”