First, pick an exclusive area known as a playground for the rich and famous. Next, add a group of friends, all wealthy and impossibly glamorous women with fabulous homes. Finally, point a camera at them and let the tears, tantrums and fallouts commence. That’s been the formula for the Real Housewives reality TV series, which will return to our screens later this month from Jersey — the tiny tax haven 85 miles off the mainland UK. And on an island where everyone knows everybody’s business, the show is already ruffling feathers. Here, TANITH CAREY lifts the lid on what’s in store . . .
A VERY FRUITFUL FRANCHISE
The Real Housewives format first hit TV screens in 2006 when it started following the day-to-day dramas of wealthy women in Orange County, California.
Pampered pets and Jimmy Choos
The tone for the new series is set in the trailer, when Margaret Thompson is seen walking off her luxury jet at Jersey’s St Helier airport with her ‘children’ – fluffy dogs Coco Chanel and Bella Chanel – tucked under her arm.
Throughout the series, Margaret, who was never able to have children, talks about how they have become her ‘kids’ and want for nothing.
Margaret Thompson with her ‘children’ Coco and Bella Chanel
The pets have their own Instagram account and their own walk-in wardrobe of outfits and dog toys.
Though the latter is modest compares with Margaret’s, which is built to accommodate her habit of buying designer Jimmy Choos in every single colour
Since then the franchise, first aired by U.S. channel Bravo, has criss-crossed the globe from New York to Sydney, from Bangkok to Johannesburg, to unearth the bitching and spending sprees among the over-privileged ladies-who-lunch set.
But it didn’t land in the UK until 2015, when the series started in Cheshire, the spiritual home of the WAG. However, this is the first time the format has visited a community as small and insular as Jersey.
While it’s been wildly popular, The Real Housewives format has also had its critics, who say the series perpetuates sexist and outdated stereotypes of trophy women, only interested in gossiping and shopping.
MEET THE STARS
The Property Power-Player
One big surprise about The Real Housewives Of Jersey is that the women featured are a mature group — five are in their 50s.
They are led by 58-year old socialite Margaret Thompson, also known as Jersey’s Queen of Property, who deals in some of the island’s most elite homes, costing up to £25 million.
The Glaswegian-born divorcee, who arrived on the island as a penniless 18-year-old to work in hospitality, bagged one of the best beach-front homes to live in herself.
The stunning property, converted from a restaurant, features a huge pool and vast terrace, dubbed the best in Jersey. It’s here that she hosts her annual party, which is one of the highlights of the social season and where all seven women come together in episode one.
The Charity Fundraiser
Another colourful character is Margaret’s best friend Kate Taylor, 52, originally from Cleethorpes — ‘a philanthropist’ who made a name for herself on the social circuit, organising charity balls.
She and her former partner used to run one of the hubs of the island’s social life, The Royal Yacht Hotel.
However, she is now in the middle of a messy divorce.
Kate Taylor, 52, originally from Cleethorpes, is ‘a philanthropist’ who made a name for herself on the social circuit, organising charity balls and is now going through a messy divorce
Wooed By A (Married) Hedge Fund Manager
After two failed marriages and 14 years as a single mother, Jane Rayner, 56, is determined to make up for lost time.
Six years ago at a charity event, Jane had the good fortune to meet her fiance, Andy, a hedge fund manager. The tone for their relationship was set on their second date, when he flew her away for a weekend in Ibiza.
The couple are seen in the series house-hunting for their first marital home together — the only problem being that, though long separated, Andy’s not yet divorced from his previous wife.
The ex hasn’t seen the programme yet, says Jane, but it’s a fair guess that she may not want to hear Jane’s story of how she was once chased down the beach by an admirer convinced she was Cameron Diaz.
Former Lingerie Model
Another new-ish arrival is Mia Ledbury, 44, an Australian-born former underwear model.
She met her banker husband Dan, who works for a hedge fund, when she worked on the front desk of his company.
The couple, who have two young daughters, uprooted from London’s Chelsea to Jersey five years ago to enjoy the laidback beach lifestyle.
Mia Ledbury, 44, an Australian-born former underwear model, moved with her husband and children from London’s Chelsea to Jersey five years ago
Jersey’s self-styled answer to Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner is mother of four and ‘mom-ager’ Tessa Hartmann, 50, a PR guru, and founder of another one of the island’s key social events, The Jersey Style Awards.
In 2016 she was made a CBE for her contribution to fashion and textiles.
She is also mother to four children, including singer Tallia Storm, 22, who has sung with Elton John and dated Brooklyn Beckham.
Baby of the Bunch
At 31, Ashley Cairney is the youngest of the group and the only Jersey-born-and-bred Real Housewife.
A mum to two young sons, she is married to her childhood sweetheart, Ben, whom she met at 17.
At 31, Ashley Cairney is the youngest of the group. She is also the only Jersey-born-and-bred Real Housewife
Twice-divorced Hedi Green, 57, is the action woman of the pack.
A competitive skydiver for the past 18 years, she also tours the island in Pussy Galore-style leathers on her Royal Enfield motorbike.
A natural health practitioner, she owns three health clinics and is such a firm believer in cannabis oil that each morning she gives her 18-year-old dog Milo a drop on his dog biscuit to keep him youthful.
Hedi Green, 57, was a competitive skydiver for the past 18 years, she also tours the island in Pussy Galore-style leathers on her Royal Enfield motorbike
The series is yet to air, but already there’s just as much bitching off‑screen as there will, no doubt, be on.
One critic, historian and former local politician Alastair Layzell, said in the summer, when news of the series got out: ‘My sense over the years is that people have come here to take part in the community and keep a low profile. I’m not sure those people would want to be part of a series like this.’
In a letter to the Jersey Evening Post, resident Mike Keeping raged: ‘The thought of a local group of mindless, self-obsessed women with egos as high as the stratosphere representing this island does not bear contemplation.’
However Gary Burgess, a respected journalist and local celebrity on Jersey, says for most locals, the series will be ‘like Marmite’. Having seen some of the first episodes, he says: ‘There are the people who absolutely love the rubbernecking glory of being able to see inside the lives of the ladies who lunch. Then there are the people on the other side of the divide, saying they’d rather stick pins in their eyes.
‘One of their frustrations is that The Real Housewives do not really represent Jersey, because there is poverty here, too. The average wage is similar to the UK’s, and the cost of living here is higher.
‘For the aspirational 1 per cent, it may be how they live their lives sometimes, and then only on their best days.’
Though it is part of the British Isles, Jersey is far closer to France than to the UK. It is a British crown dependency, which means it is internationally represented and defended by the UK government but it governs itself and has its own laws and elected parliament. For example, it was only in February that lawmakers approved scrapping a rule that prevented women from filing taxes under their own name.
Many more vestiges of ancient laws are still on the statute books, including one that men are not allowed to knit during harvest-time (which dates back to the 17th century, when it became so well-paid that many preferred it to working in the fields).
The very low number of Covid-19 cases on the island this summer meant that there were few barriers to filming The Real Housewives. A production insider says: ‘We had the original lockdown like the UK. But when we came out of it, we had nothing like the restrictions you had on the mainland.’ But they added that the latest government guidelines and necessary Covid protocols were followed at all times during filming.
For decades, Jersey has been a haven, famous not just for its beautiful beaches and dairy cows, but also once seen as an offshore financial centre for the super-rich to enjoy and preserve their wealth away from prying eyes and the punishing tax rules of mainland Britain.
Government diktats mean most well-off incomers need to earn a minimum of £750,000 a year and have the cash to afford a house worth more than £1.75 million in order to move to the island.
An impossible dream for most, but small fry for the richest tier of Jersey residents, who regard having a private jet as no more unusual than an extra car and think nothing of sailing to France on their yacht for a spot of lunch.
Jersey is home to some of the most extravagant homes in the British Isles, some of which look more like they should be nestling in the Hollywood Hills rather than overlooking the English Channel.
Many are purpose-built to meet the exacting specifications of uber-wealthy owners, such as Simon Nixon, the billionaire co-founder of Moneysupermarket.com.
He has replaced a pink 1930s home that cost £3.6 million, overlooking St Brelade’s Bay in Jersey, with an imposing modern mansion with all mod cons.
The closest thing you’ll get to Downton Abbey on the island is Le Chemin Des Moulins, St Helier, now on sale for £12 million. This eight-bedroom stately home’s interior was designed by Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, and it comes with a lake and fountain, as well as a swimming pool
The series gives glimpses of two of the most sumptuous homes for sale to the super-rich set.
Currently on the market for £25 million is new-build Eden House, which has all the specifications top-end buyers expect. It includes both an indoor and outdoor pool, hot tub and steam room, as well as a 100-metre-square kitchen with an Aga, and a party room designed to make the most of the spectacular sea views.
Or, for £13 million, there’s Le Val Lodge, which has a 14 metre-long infinity pool, Jacuzzi, pool house and tennis court.
As the most discreet A-listers prefer to entertain at home, large entertaining spaces and wine cellars are a must-have.
Other desirable properties include Le Mont de Rozel, St Martin, on sale for £18 million. With stunning views over the picture-postcard fishing port at Rozel Bay, the house has a private pathway to the cove below.
Le Mont de Rozel, St Martin, on sale for £18 million, has stunning views over the picture-postcard fishing port at Rozel Bay, the house has a private pathway to the cove below
There are six reception rooms, seven bedrooms and parking for ten cars, so there’s plenty of space for visitors to come and enjoy the infinity pool with sun terrace and sunken alfresco seating, the entertainment complex and gym.
The closest thing you’ll get to Downton Abbey on the island is Le Chemin Des Moulins, St Helier, now on sale for £12 million.
This eight-bedroom stately home’s interior was designed by Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, and it comes with a lake and fountain, as well as a swimming pool.
However if it’s privacy you want, La Rue Des Aix, St Peter, has a quarter-mile-long driveway, one of the longest on the island.
The £7.5 million seven-bedroom property is spread over 15,000 sq ft, with a separate two-bedroom guest and staff suite. As well as a swimming pool, there’s also an orangery, home cinema and gym, all set on 12 acres of land.