SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Episode 12 of “The Real Housewives of New York City” Season 14 now streaming on Peacock TV and airing on Bravo TV.
Ubah Hassan is the breath of fresh air “The Real Housewives of New York City” needed.
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When Andy Cohen told Variety last year that its NYC-based “Real Housewives” franchise would be “rebooting and recasting” the series from scratch, the network took a huge leap of faith — before Season 14 of “RHONY,” no franchise had ever been stripped to the bone before.
Though some of the new “RHONY” cast members are still in the limelight for vexed viewpoints, “RHONY” has found light in Hassan.
Of the cast, Hassan often serves as the lighthearted, bubbly voice of reason among the six New Yorkers. While she possesses an uplifting personality, Hassan has dealt with struggle throughout her life. Born in Somalia, she fled her home country with her family at a young age to live in Kenya, before they immigrated to Canada.
Amid fights about dinner reservations and cheese, Hassan grounds her cast, offering adequately timed comedic relief. “It’s mind-boggling to me,” Hassan said to the camera in a confessional. “These girls are fighting about cheese.”
And that’s just who Hassan is — a realist, like a true Virgo. For the past few weeks, audiences have tuned in as Hassan has had a multiple-episode quarrel with Erin Lichy that stemmed from a push in a pool on a girls trip to Anguilla. When Lichy decided to “prank” Hassan back by stealing her phone, it sparked the most intense fight that the new group of “RHONY” women have seen thus far.
In this week’s episode, Hassan got the most vulnerable she’s been on the show, talking about the death of her mother, in contrast with — the fight with Lichy aside — the always-positive, always-fun personality that’s been showcased of her so far.
Hasson spoke with Variety recently to share her thoughts on fighting with Lichy, which of the ladies she keeps up with when the cameras are off, and her hot sauce business Ubah Hot.
What was it like moving to New York?
Coming to New York, I was with a modeling agency. I stayed in a house, and they gave me food to eat, but they had girls there and bunk beds — one room would have eight girls. It was tiny, with girls from Australia, Mexico, Texas, Chicago, and so they were actually a little older, but they were really into exercising and eating healthy. And by summer, younger girls started coming in and wanting to be models, but they would come home in the morning and sleep on the stairs, and I stopped babysitting them. They were so young, like 16-years-old.
After a year, I thought I couldn’t do that. I got a job with Ralph Lauren and I wanted to move, but I couldn’t get credit because Bank of America needed credit. I told the guy I’d pay six months in advance, and he saw my account and said, “Fine, we’ll give it to you.” I didn’t have anyone co-sign.
Why did you decide to create Ubah Hot?
I was cooking rice, paratha and gaining weight. So, they called me and asked what I was eating. So they said, “No, no.” I had to eat steamed fish and vegetables. He said, “You want longevity in this career, you have to train yourself to eat steamed food.” So, the first dish I made was a batch of frozen broccoli because it was all I could afford. I thought I was going to die, because I love food. So, I made this. It doesn’t have any preservatives and no MSG. and there’s a lot of olive oil because that’s healthy. It was made to eat with things you don’t want to eat.
For those who don’t know, can you explain what Ubah Hot really is?
I invented this company out of frustration, during a time in my life where I had to eat steamed fish, vegetables. Obviously, that doesn’t taste very good, so I invented this for myself. My friends and family, I used to make it for them, and they’re like, “You should produce this.”
To me it, was like a hot sauce. But the more I’m growing with it, you can put on bread to spread, as a dipper, as pasta sauce. Basically, it’s a sauce for everything.
Your family really inspired the business, specifically your mom.
My mom passed away in 2012. I don’t think she knew that I would ever come up with a hot sauce business. But my mom influenced me by watching her, she was a business woman. Just the way she dealt with employees and people, how loved she was, how kind of a woman she was. And the good sides of Ubah, it’s basically all from my mom.
Did you guys cook together growing up?
No, no, we didn’t. We had a chef, and I cooked with the chef a lot, I was the sous chef. My mom worked a lot and traveled — she wasn’t around.
On tonight’s episode, you talk about how it’s been really tough for you to mourn the death of your mother, and we saw you briefly open up about this earlier in the season too. What was it like for you to watch that back?
I don’t really get vulnerable because of my job as a model. We travel so much, we’re always in a different location. My job is not a 9-to-5. Most of the time I’m just on on-mode. And also my job is very all about your appearance, and going out is a part of my job. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been more of a glass-half- full kind of person. It’s like, yeah, I’m sad and I miss my mom constantly, but I also have a life to live, right?
With this show, I’m not alone. I feel like all of us have learned so much about ourselves. I don’t think I wanted to open up, I think it just happened.
On the show, do you feel like viewers are getting to see the real you?
I don’t think there’s a real me. I don’t like that term at all, like the “real you” and the “fake you.” I’m just Ubah. In my life — from my friends, to my family, to people I work with — they know that I’m loving, but don’t cross me. We sometimes get comments, and they say, “She acts too much,” and we’re really just the same people with the camera or without the camera. I remember my niece calling me after she watched and she said, “I can’t believe it, Auntie, you’re exactly you on TV,” and I was like, “Well, I’m not an actress.”
I know friends who are clearly aware that this group of friends don’t like them, and they still will fight so hard to be accepted. I’m the opposite of that: I want to be loved, invited and wanted, and if I’m not, I give you space. And I think that’s why I’ve come across with so much confidence, because I don’t subject myself to pain. I don’t believe in “keep your enemy closer.” I think that enemies in life, if you have them, get rid of them.
In your fight with Erin, you commented on how her behavior painted you as the angry Black woman. How do you feel that that narrative played out?
I’m quite aware that when Black girls raise their voice or speak, we’ve always been painted the ones that cause the more conflict. And I just don’t want that narrative. I don’t think it’s only Black, I think it’s Chinese, Indian — anyone who is not blonde hair, blue eyes, we do feel this way. Like, we feel judged. That means you raise our voice.
Erin yelled at me, screaming at me and calling me a bitch couple times. Nobody’s calling her angry. Nobody’s calling her ghetto, nobody’s doing any of that, right? They are, in fact, calling her delicate. Me and her, I’m more delicate than her — she’s the gym rat.
I’m not afraid to raise my voice. I also raise my voice when I’m happy; I’m just a bubbly, passionate person — don’t paint me anything else. Don’t fucking label me. My name is Ubah. That’s it. Don’t label me what you want to label me, it doesn’t sit well with me. And [Erin] or the show didn’t do that, it’s the viewer.
I think that’s why we have a reunion, because to do the show, they edit what they want to edit, because they don’t have time to put six, seven hours of things in five minutes. So I feel their pain, the editors, because it’s very hard to do a narrative of realities filmed here and there. So how they edit it, I don’t think they’re trying to be biased or anything. I just feel like there’s not enough time, so some things have to be left and then the viewers are left to basically make their own decision.
If you are a viewer, you know who is the biggest conflict. You know who is gossiping, who is the shit-stirrer. You can see the whole season, who gets in people’s business, get in people’s marriage — I don’t give a fuck, I don’t. Your life is your life. We just have fun as friends, I don’t gossip about other people behind people’s backs.
With your fight with Erin, can you explain more why her taking your phone upset you? Is there something that the audience wasn’t seeing? For many people, it looked like you just blew up just because you couldn’t have your phone.
The phone was absolutely the seeds of the whole blowing up. It’s just a seed. It was a lot of irritation. If people saw the fucking thing, they can tell I didn’t speak to her all morning. First of all, she didn’t have my phone for 45 minutes. She said 45 minutes, she told her dad two minutes. You could see when we got to dinner, by the time I was looking at my phone it was almost midnight. The phone was just the tip of the seed of everything.
The next morning, I didn’t speak to her all morning, I didn’t eat breakfast with them, I didn’t work out, I didn’t do any of that — we saw that. We were standing by the stairs waiting, they said “Where’s Erin?” I said, “Oh Erin was here. She’s gone, she’s coming back.” I was literally just telling them that she was here and she was coming back, and you saw how she came to me like a hot tamale.
You take my phone, you don’t apologize, I don’t speak to you all day, all afternoon. I don’t mention your name in a bad way. And I explained to her I said “No, no, I just mentioned [you were coming back].” Don’t disrespect me. Don’t do that and don’t yell at me with your sunglasses on. That’s disrespectful. And then on top of that, she lied about a bunch of things you will find out at the reunion. She was just gaslighting things the whole day. She’s a shit-stirrer, everybody knows it. I know it, a 2-year-old knows it, the viewer knows it. Unless you’re biased and selective-minded, then go fuck yourself.
When did you and the rest of the ladies realize that you were all having conflicts with Erin?
I don’t know. I also still don’t have conflict with Erin. I think people don’t understand this is TV, this is a show. We need to stop doing this thing so personal. Don’t tell me that I’m yelling and screaming and performing for [having my phone taken for] 45 minutes. No, it’s more than that.
That’s basically what I think they misunderstanded. I’m not crying for my phone, I lose my phone all the time. I was in the middle of this trip in Anguilla. I have a business, I have a family, I’m a grown woman. What do you take my phone for? Why do you have my phone for hours, why? Are you watching my messages? Are you texting people? Are you using my credit card? And then you backtrack and say “Oh it was a prank.” What fucking prank? I got thrown in the pool, and you didn’t tell me the prank is not over. What is that? Why do you backpedal and say that this is the worst conflict you ever had, it reminds you of seventh grade when they call you a long chin? It’s just ridiculous.
Another storyline in the season is Jessel’s sex life. Why do you think the women are so interested if Jessel is having sex with her husband Pavit or not?
I want to say how much Pavit is in love with Jessel. Let us commend him. As a woman, my body is not for your enjoyment. If I’m hormonal, that doesn’t mean you cheat on me. Her husband is absolutely mad in love with her. Brynn and I went to her apartment off camera, and she was cooking for us and taking care of us.
The other women on the show are shocked that she’s not having sex — this is our culture. Sex is not taught as an escape or enjoyment. So, I get it, them not having sex for two years.
The reunion filmed last week. How was it for you? Who got grilled the most?
I don’t really know; I only went there for myself. There was a lot of crying on my part, there’s a lot of hurt that I address. I broke down a couple times, and I think most of us broke down. I can’t explain it until you are in it, because there’s a lot of things you want to be heard. and then there’s like six people, and everyone’s choosing different angles.
Is there anyone that you truly feel like you bonded with after the cameras went down?
I bonded with all of them. I’m still talking to all of them. We still have group chats, we communicate all the time. I wish people could understand that we all like one another. We want to support each other. We all know we’re in this together. We’re all new in this world of Bravo that we love so much. And when I was getting messages and it was really hard for me, and I think it was hard for Erin also. [Brynn] called me — I was crying, she’s like, “Listen, we all got it. Every week is one person, you’re not alone.”
She called, and really talked to me. Brynn is very kind. And it’s like it’s, “OK Ubah, put your phone off, go to sleep, go to the spa.” Sai called me, she told me what I should do on my Instagram. She’s like, “Just tune the notification out for a few days, fuck it, like it’s just internet, leave it alone.”
Do you think that you all will be coming back for another season?
We don’t know yet.
Would you want to?
That would be amazing. [I love] Bravo, the team, the people we work with. The crew, when we stopped filming, I missed those people. I was like, “Wait a second like, that’s it?” It’s a good community. It’s a very, very good community and we’re really appreciative and grateful for them to give us, you know, the opportunity. It’s all in their hands, what they want to do, right? And we’re going to BravoCon.
Are you looking forward to BravoCon?
Yes! I’m not a fan of Vegas, but I’m excited because I’m going to be with all the girls, my cousins are gonna be there. And we’re going to get to meet like people and to talk to them one on one. I mean, this is better than replying on the internet, right? Listening to fan ask me a question, at least I can answer there, live, and they see Erin and I together, to be like. “Hey guys, this is just a show.”
And it’ll be kind of like a full circle moment, because at the last BravoCon, they announced the cast for this season.
Yeah, it was very intimidating and scary. Andy told us, “Girls, when you walk out of this door, your lives are about to change.” He was right. It’s a beautiful rollercoaster.
How do you think your life has shifted since joining the show?
Schedule-wise, it’s very tough, I’m being pulled in a lot of directions. Meeting these five girls that were friends but loosely, and now I absolutely adore and love them so much, I feel like I gained five sisters. They’re really happy for my success, my happiness — they’re really supportive.
It feels really good to have a group of people that you know they got you. I did a charity in May, Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation. They gave me a hero award for the cancer research that they have, and all the girls came, and we were not filming, and they all showed up. They don’t show up just because we work together, they show up even off camera. That’s pretty special.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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