For 12 years, The Real Housewives of New York has delivered 18 seasons of glittering, dramatic, and carefully edited reality television. The new season kicked off with the current cast reacting to Bethenney Frankel’s “shocking” exit from the show, Sonja Morgan biting a bagel while carrying a Telfar bag, and the introduction of RHONY’s newest cast member Leah McSweeney, a CEO, mother to a 12-year-old daughter, boxer, and self-described butterfly with the sting of a bitch. “It’s a play off the Muhammad Ali quote, clearly,” the 37-year-old tells her co-star Ramona Singer over the phone from the Hamptons. “I can have a tough sting if I’m pushed into a corner. Aside from that, I am very kind.”
That same energy is reflected on McSweeney’s streetwear brand Married to the Mob, born out of a settlement with the New York City Police Department after a police officer punched her and threw her down into a subway grate in 2002. Her brand has been worn by Rihanna and just recently launched a new wesbite which welcomes users with a friendly “We’re back, bitches.” After just one episode of the new season, McSweeney, with her Downtown New York style, unfiltered mouth, and joie de vivre, is ready to grab this new experience by the apples—pun intended—and go head-to-head with RHONY icons like Dorinda Medley, and other returning cast members like Sonja Morgan, Countess LuAnn de Lesseps, and her friend Tinsley Mortimer. Ahead of the RHONY premiere, we asked Singer, the longest-running housewife and renowned lover of turtle time, to speak with the newest cast member. The pair talked about everything from McSweeney’s feminist icons, her wild side, and preparing for the upcoming reunion. In McSweeney’s own, and already legendary words: “Don’t let little bitches f*ck with you.”
RAMONA SINGER: Leah, as the newest housewife it’s quite apropos that I, the longest-running housewife, interview you. This is a crazy time in the world. What do you do to keep yourself busy during this quarantine time in New York City?
LEAH MCSWEENEY: Actually, I’m in Amagansett right now. I’ve been, of course, checking in with you and the rest of the RHONY women. You’re a very positive person, so it’s always good to check in with you. I’m hanging out with my family. I’m here with my daughter and her dad and my sister and her baby and fiance. I’m trying to work out. I thought I was going to be more productive than I’ve been because I’m like, “Oh, I have all this time,” but for some reason, it’s hard to be as productive as I thought. I’m trying my best.
SINGER: I can relate to that because there’s an old saying that if you have something that needs to be done, give it to the person who’s the busiest because they get it done. I’m finding the day just flies by.
MCSWEENEY: That’s exactly how I feel too. I’m just trying to be easy on myself because we’re dealing with something that we’ve never had to deal with before. So psychologically, it can be challenging.
SINGER: We’re in uncharted territory. The fact that you have a family with you, you’re so blessed.
MCSWEENEY: I totally am. I don’t know what I’d be doing. I have a lot of friends that live alone, so I keep checking in. They’re stronger than me.
SINGER: You don’t know what you can handle until it happens. I really would like to know what made you decide to do a reality TV show.
MCSWEENEY: Saying no to the opportunity would be criminal. It’s a once in a lifetime kind of thing. How could I not do it? I was terrified when I actually got it. I was like, “What did I just sign up for?” Then I just jumped right in.
SINGER: I think you’d do the show to get eyeballs for your brand Married to the Mob.
MCSWEENEY: I do many other things. I have a podcast. I like to write. Of course, being on the show is a great platform to promote the brand and things like that. But I didn’t really do that on the show very often, which Dorinda would complain about: “Leah, you’re not being a good businesswoman. Plug your brand more.” That’s just not why I was doing the show. It was really more about the experience. To me, that’s the opportunity.
SINGER: That’s a very good answer. The opportunity was a lifetime chance and some people are good at it and some people aren’t, and you decided to go for it. That takes a lot of guts and strength of character. Now that you’ve filmed your first season with the Housewives, what are you most nervous about for the viewers to see about you on the show?
MCSWEENEY: Obviously, not every moment is a great one. It’s not like every behavior I have I’m happy with. Listen, this show captures the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m worried about bad angles. I’m worried about the bad moments I had.
SINGER: We all have bad angles, don’t be worried. You’re human. Let’s talk about the positive. What are you the most excited about?
MCSWEENEY: I really don’t know.
SINGER: You’re still shell-shocked from filming with us and you survived. I get it.
MCSWEENEY: I’m still processing it all, Ramona.
SINGER: I get it. It’s a good thing I’m the one interviewing you. I’d like you to explain, and I know the whole world wants to know this: what do you mean by your tagline, “I may float like a butterfly, but I sting like a bitch.”
MCSWEENEY: [Laughs] Well, I love to box. It’s a play off the Muhammad Ali quote, clearly. A lot of people look at me and they think I’m from L.A. because of the blonde hair and whatever else. They automatically think that I’m some kind of valley girl. But as you know, I can have a tough sting if I’m pushed into a corner. Aside from that, I am very kind. I’m a personable person. But if I do feel like I’m being disrespected or threatened in some type of way, I can turn up a little.
SINGER: I think I found you to be kind of like you said, la-di-da, la-di-da. A lot of young people don’t realize that you have a lot of depth to you. You’re very smart. You’re very savvy. If someone pushes you too far you’ll laugh right back or sting right back like a bee.
MCSWEENEY: I’ll sting right back like a bitch. I also love the word bitch. I think it’s a good word.
SINGER: In the Hamptons, when you were at my home for the weekend, you asked me to be your surrogate mother. I took that role very seriously. Why did you ask me that?
MCSWEENEY: I actually don’t remember asking you that [Laughs]. I will tell you this. I think that you and I had a connection right away. You’re self-made, which I don’t think a lot of people give you enough credit for. It’s one of the things I admire about you. I also really admire you and Avery’s relationship. You guys are a great mother-daughter team and friends. I see the way she admires you. So I think that’s why I asked you to be my surrogate mother.
SINGER: Just as I’m talking to you right now—you’re much smarter than people realize. I think after that crazy weekend, you needed to get out of it, and to get in my good graces was to say, “Can you be my mom?” Because then you knew there was hope. Then you knew I couldn’t hold any grudge, and I’d have to forgive you.
MCSWEENEY: Then you couldn’t hold it against me.
SINGER: Exactly. That did make me hold you to another level. It did.
ERNEST MACIAS: If you could summarize this new season in one word or sentence Ramona, what would it be?
SINGER: This is the most unique season I’ve ever filmed in my history of doing Real Housewives of New York.
MCSWEENEY: That’s so major. Now that Ramona just said that, I can’t really follow up because if you have an icon like Ramona saying, “This is the most unique season that she’s ever filmed,” I have to just go with her.
SINGER: I described you as “a wild horse that needs to be tamed at times.” Have you always been so wild?
MCSWEENEY: I love that. Totally have been. Who wants to not be wild? I have to entertain myself. That’s how I feel. I can get bored easily, which is a challenge right now. But I feel like part of my personality is just me helping myself cope with life.
SINGER: You’re very open about your feminism. Do you feel optimistic about the future for women?
MCSWEENEY: Absolutely. Camille Paglia, Lil’ Kim, Martha Stewart, Heidi Fleiss, and Oprah—these are my feminist heroes. They took the world by the balls. That’s kind of how I feel. That’s my type of feminism. Women have the stage right now. I think Planned Parenthood is necessary. I’m totally pro-choice. But what about women who want to get pregnant and can’t, and can’t afford IVF? There has to be a lot more support for women who want children and women who are pregnant, women who have babies whose jobs don’t offer maternity leave and things like that. The workforce isn’t set up enough for women, it’s not family-friendly enough. Which is why women are having children later or not having children at all, and that’s something that we need to focus on.
SINGER: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
MCSWEENEY: I have something that was amazing that was told to me by this feng shui master, and he does this thing called the nine star ki, which is a very old Chinese tradition of numbers and birth dates and stuff. He told me to parent with my mountain, not my fire, which was mind-blowing. Because my elements are mountain, fire, and raw metal. It’s like a whole thing. But he was like, “When you parent, parent with your mountain element, not your fire element.” Because obviously we all have that, right? So I think about that, too.
MACIAS: I know it might be too early to even think about it, but Ramona has been part of many reunions. Leah, have you even started to think about the reunion?
MCSWEENEY: I was actually thinking about it so much until like a few weeks ago. I look forward to being a part of it. This show has added to my life in such a cool way. Now I’m going to have an experience watching the show, and experiencing other people watching the show. I’m very curious to hear our dress code, what the color scheme is, and all that. That’s something positive that I’m looking forward to.
SINGER: Funny, that’s going to be the least of your worries. Don’t even go there. [Laughs]. I’m teasing.
MACIAS: Ramona, what is one piece of advice that you would have for Leah before the reunion?
SINGER: The reunion is all about bringing out the negative in you. It’s all about conflict and resolution. If someone brings up something negative about you, you admit it. They call me the apologizer or whatever it may be, but you know what? It is what it is. You have to own what you do and that’s all we can do with people. Ernesto, I’m going to add this: It is the first time in a long time that I’m waiting just like the viewers with bated breath to see season 12. I can’t wait. Leah, how would you describe the overall experience of filming this year?
MCSWEENEY: It was like a wild roller coaster. It was like going to Great Adventure. I was in such a sad mood, and now I’m so happy. Ramona just made me so happy.
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