As if inviting the “Real Housewives of NYC” cameras into her home wasn’t revealing enough, Kelly Bensimon will be exposing herself to the world in next month’s issue of Playboy, in photos shot by her ex-husband, mega-famous photographer Gilles Bensimon. But as Kelly’s former personal assistant, I already feel like I’ve seen it all. After a year as her right hand, left hand and sometime-surrogate mother (“Kelly, that’s not a dress—it’s a shirt”), very little can surprise me.
I first met Kelly when I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old with dreams of becoming a writer. I had no idea what I was getting into when a mutual friend set up an informational interview with Kelly, who was a magazine columnist in her pre-”RHNYC” days. I stopped by her apartment on a Tuesday with a resume in hand. On Wednesday morning, I found out I’d been hired for a full-time position in “Kelly Land.”While my “official” responsibility was to assist the bouncy, quirky Kelly with her magazine columns and new jewelry line, I soon learned I’d spend most of my time attending to odd and seemingly impossible requests for which my college education and summer job experiences were no match. Could I please find a new home for her elderly horse? Could I track down an earring that was lost somewhere in downtown Manhattan? What about fixing that $3,000 vacuum cleaner, which the housekeeper needs to use now? Or rounding up a couple of French-speaking nannies, available immediately for employment?
And then there were the cryptic, indecipherable emails that the always on-the-go Kelly had a habit of firing off. For instance: “Linley, IMPORTANT tue 4-5 mt do!!” or “ch for A & mag!!! Thanks.” It could take hours, sometimes days, of sweaty-palmed investigative work to tease the seemingly urgent messages out of the strings of gibberish she would send me.
If my job sounds just like Anne Hathaway’s hapless assistant gig in “The Devil Wears Prada,” that’s because it mostly was. But contrary to her reality TV portrayal, Kelly was no Miranda Priestly-style witch. For all of her outlandish requests, she was actually a considerate boss. She encouraged my creative input when it came to her writing or styling gigs, she apologized when she sprung last-minute requests on me, and she wholeheartedly understood I had a life beyond my job. When I seriously screwed up some shipping logistics during the launch of her jewelry line, she simply said, “Hey, it happens! Don’t beat yourself up over it.” And when, after nearly a year of reporting daily to Kelly’s apartment, I realized that I was ready to move on, she even helped me land a “normal” job.
Three years later, I look back on my zany days in chez Bensimon and realize that the experience was way more valuable than any office job I’ve held since. After all, if you can wrangle a few qualified French nannies at a moment’s notice or plan a last-minute birthday party for A-list guests (oh, hello Naomi Campbell), you can pretty much do it all. My “odd” job taught me how to think on my toes, make the best of whatever job I am lucky enough to hold, and enjoy the quirks. I did, after all, come away with some unbelievable stories. And if I ever miss my old boss or need a reminder why I quit? More often than not, she’s just a change of the channel away.