Exclusive Q&A with the White House Gate-Crasher
Michaele Salahi reveals what she's up to nowand how she broke into reality TV's Real Housewives of D.C.
By Samantha Marshall
Photo Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Accused of crashing a splashy White House party last November, Michaele Salahi and her husband were totally lambasted, along with social secretary Desirée Rogers, who was eased out a few months later. Now Mrs. Salahi is back in the spotlight, starring in Bravos The Real Housewives of D.C. We met up with her to discuss the scandal and the fallout, with her husband, Tareq, by her side.
Marie Claire: Everyone knows about the scandal, but no one knows much about you.
Michaele Salahi: I am someone who loves people. I am a people pleaser. I just want to get along. I love to have a great time. Ive often been called the D.C. Barbie and I think thats a compliment. I love Barbie! I also have a heartI care about all kinds of causes. Theres a long list of charitable organizations that Ive been very involved with over the last 10 years.
MC: Where are you from?
MS: I grew up in Florida. Tareq grew up near D.C. His familys winery is in Hume, Virginia. We met through a mutual best friend, and in 2001 I moved to the winery. We were married in 2003.
MC: Id read there were issues at the winery.
Tareq Salahi: I would describe the situation as a Falcon Crest war. Weve had this ongoing family drama over control of the winery since my father became ill. My mother wants to liquidate and tear the winery apart. My dads vision is to keep the family legacy going; Ive been trying to honor that. Were planning a grand reopening, after being closed this summer for reorganization.
MS: Arguments with family members and things like that happen. Unfortunately, this had to play out in the press. It is what it is, but I told him, Dont be hurt, every family has its painits just that yours is more visible.
MC: Michaele, what did you do before you met Tareq?
MS: I started as an Absolut Vodka model in the 90s. I was attending college at the time. Then I was a makeup artist for Trish McEvoy in D.C.
MC: How did you get labeled a socialite?
MS: I got the social butterfly label because I was active on the social scene and doing it in a way that had style, or so I was told. I would wear different outfits that people liked. And thats why the Housewives show reached out to me.
MC: You were filming the show before the White House incident in November?
MS: Yes, the filming first started last September.
MC: What really happened at the White House? Were you invited guests or not?
MS: Michele Jones, the Pentagon-based liaison to the White House, had extended the invitation with an e-mail requesting our Social Security numbers and dates of birth, to be cleared for the event. Wed met her through our attorney when she spoke on the D.C. mall in September. There are so many events youve probably attended where you dont go with the actual printed invitationI didnt go thinking I was chancing it. No one goes with a film grew to be turned away. How embarrassing would that have been? And we were announced!
MC: Jones denies officially inviting you.
MS: We believed in our hearts we were 100 percent invited. All the details about what happened that day, including phone calls, e-mails, and witnesses will be in a book were writing, called Wine, War & Roses. And when the Bravo show airs this fall, the truth will prevail.
MC: What about reports that you parked the car around the corner and snuck in?
TS: No! All those stories are wrong. The only cars allowed to enter the White House premises were for top officials, like the Indian Prime Minister, the U.S. ambassador, the Vice President. All the other guests, like us, had to park in the street, unload, and walk to the Treasury side of the building.
MS: Michaele, where did you get the red sari you wore to the event?
MS: An Indian girlfriend gave it to me. But I was so concerned about being appropriate for the event that I called the White House to make sure that a Western woman wearing a sari would be considered respectful. They told me the Indian delegation would be honored by it.
MC: I hear the bloggers are calling for it to be donated to the Smithsonian.
MS: Thats a great idea. Actually its going to be auctioned off for charity. But maybe the new owner will donate it to the museum.
MC: Do you feel badly that Desirée Rogers left her post after the scandal?
MS: I dont know about how they staff the White House or their employee policies. I heard that she resigned of her own accord to go back to the corporate world, and that was something shed always planned. From what Ive seen, Desirée is a woman of great style and seems very smart. I wish her the best.
MC: Was she made a scapegoat?
MS: I hope not. From what I understand through the media, D.C. was already watching her every move.
MC: What was the most hurtful thing anyone said during the fallout?
MS: Oh gosh, it was series of very hurtful things. TS: Terrible things, bad things. A lot of ugly nasty threats. In writing. Its all been turned over to local authorities.
MC: Michaele, how did you deal with the personal barbs?
MS: I know who I am, and thats what carried me through. My mom says rise above it. Its not worth addressing each thing back. Let people spin it any way they will. If you hate me and I hate you back, you win, because you want me to hate you. My mom always taught me when someone is throwing out a lot of hurtful things, not to hate back. Just walk away and dont get into it, so thats what I keep doing.
MC: The most popular criticism against you was that you were chasing fame.
MS: This wasnt about fame. I dont think anybody would want this kind of fame or to deal with these kinds of heavy hits. I think what helped put me at ease recently was the Vice President and President making jokes about us. If they are laughing about it, then they realize its just like the president said, a screw-up or a misunderstanding. And we need to laugh at ourselves. We need to move forward. Lighthearted comments by the President was his way of saying lets move ontheres so much more going on thats important.
MC: You never really defended yourself at the time of the incidentyou pled the Fifth Amendment. Why?
MS: We were advised by our lawyer not to talk.
MC: Have you been invited to any more parties?
MS: We have, and weve often declined. It was reported that we were at the Correspondents Dinner, but we werent there.
MC: Were you invited?
MS: Yes. And we were actually invited to the inaugural for Bob McDonnell, the new governor of Virginia. But we didnt go. We wanted to stay out of it. Enough. But its funny, we are invited to a lot more things now. More than we ever were. Now we accept these invitations with great caution. And we entertain more ourselves now. We stay in and have friends over.
MC: Those Real Housewives are mean. Have they been nasty to you?
MS: Yes! There was all this anger and jealousy. They think Im too thin, and that something is not right. You know, whether you are too skinny or too heavy, these labels hurt. And thats become a focus in America. Your size instead of what is in your heart and who you are as a person.
MC: Which Real Housewife do you identify with the most?
MC: Shes got a tongue on her.
MS: I like her because she speaks her mind and sticks up for herself. But in a nice way. I am trying to be more like that.