Between Kendall’s catwalk career, Kim and Kanye’s attempts to ‘break the internet’ and Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover, the Kardashian takeover is almost total. In an exclusive interview with Judith Woods, the ‘quiet’ klan member KOURTNEY offers her own take on reality.
Kourtney Kardashian’s Bambi-brown eyes are wide with consternation. Her PR is looking visibly pained. I am blushing heavily. It’s not a great start. I have just brought up the subject of Kourtney’s nude portrait – you know, the one published last year? But she has no idea what I am talking about. ‘That wasn’t me; I wasn’t ever photographed naked in Vanity Fair. You must be thinking of one of my sisters,’ she gently protests, politely taken aback by my blunder. Meanwhile, the PR is hastily Googling to check whether I really mean Kim or Khloé or Kendall or Kylie, or even family matriarch and mum/manager Kris.
The PR eventually downloads the artistically lit, intimate image of a woman lying on her side. Her bare back is towards the camera. ‘Oh, you’re right, I recognise that butt. It is me!’ Kourtney laughs. ‘I actually love that picture, but I do so many things that it’s hard to keep track…’ That, in a nutshell, is life on Planet Kardashian. Surreal. Astonishing. And so rich with extraordinary incidents that a nude portrait in Vanity Fair can easily get forgotten.
We are meeting today to talk about her new role as ambassador for Manuka Doctor skincare, a range that contains that most ancient of modern rediscoveries, manuka honey, a substance renowned for its healing properties – more of which later.
But first, an introduction to Kourtney, who, aged 37, is the eldest of the Kardashian ‘klan’, and the most petite. A five-foot-nothing, long-lashed beauty who swears on-screen and tweets Bible verses, she has three super-cute children: Mason, six, Penelope, four, and Reign, 20 months. If you look online you can quite literally see footage of her giving birth to her first two – the normally intimate experience was broadcast on the family’s reality TV show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
‘At the outset we didn’t intend to show the footage to anyone but it was just so beautiful we felt we had to share it,’ says Kourtney. ‘It’s not like the movies. It doesn’t have to be this crazy experience of screaming and yelling.’ It is quite touching and natural, and well worth a look, as it happens, but I am keenly aware, dear reader, that I’m wandering off topic.
Of course, what you really want to know about (don’t fib) is the ‘bottom’ line. Let’s just say Kourtney possesses the sort of perky derrière that – while it may never break the internet as her bootilicious sister Kim once famously tried to do – is gym-toned and diet-honed to the point of pert perfection.
She credits much of her glow to manuka honey. ‘I’ve been using it for years,’ she says. ‘I drink it in my shake in the morning, I give it to my children and our TV production crew eats it by the spoonful because it has antibacterial properties. The Manuka Doctor skincare range is amazing because it contains so many other natural ingredients that are easily absorbed and make my skin supple and hydrated without feeling greasy.’
Ah, if only glowing health were that easy to come by for those of us whose names don’t begin with a Very Special K. Because to be born into the Kardashian klan is to belong to America’s real first family. Launched in 2007 on E!, Keeping Up With the Kardashians attracted an average audience of more than three million for its latest season premiere, and the series has spawned a spin-off empire of apps, gossip-column fodder and a social media presence that verges on saturation.
For those a little rusty, here’s a family history (you might need pen and paper). Mother Kris Jenner (60) was married to Robert Kardashian, a US lawyer and businessman of Armenian descent. The pair divorced in 1991, having had Kourtney, Kim (35), Khloé (32) and Rob (29). Robert rose to fame as O J Simpson’s friend and assisted on his defence team. He died in 2003.
‘It’s a shame my dad isn’t around any more because I’d really love my kids to get to know him, but I do believe that his spirit is watching over us all the time,’ says Kourtney. ‘That’s a really nice, secure feeling. Someday we will dig out all the old family videos and watch them together.’
One month after their divorce, Kris married former Olympian Bruce Jenner and had two more daughters, Kendall (20) and Kylie (18). They subsequently split up and Bruce later went though a gender transition to become Caitlyn, and now has her own reality show, I Am Cait. I think you can now see why you ought to tune in.
So. Kim has a hugely famous rear, is married to megastar rapper Kanye West and has two children, a daughter called North, three, and a son, Saint, who will be one in December. Khloé dabbles in fashion and TV presenting. Kendall is a model. Kylie has her own cosmetics line. And Kourtney is the quiet (kwuiet?) Kardashian, possibly because she seems surprisingly normal.
She wears Beyond Yoga pants and Athletic Propulsion Labs trainers; has no A-list pretensions, no air of self-perceived superiority. When she is offered a glass of water her features register genuine surprise. ‘Everybody is so polite here; I love it,’ she enthuses. ‘They enquire if I need anything, whereas at home [in the US] we demand, “Can somebody get a water and bring it here?” rather than doing it ourselves.’
Kourtney never hogs the limelight on-screen, but is instead queen of the withering put-down. Over 12 seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, she has punctured her sisters’ egos with the sort of deadpan precision that would be unforgivable anywhere but ratings-hungry primetime. Mostly, her target is Kim, who is as look-at-me famous as it gets. The sisters’ children ‘run about together in a sweet little gang’, but as the big sister, Kourtney feels no need to pull her punches.
‘I start laughing at Kim when she’s crying ’cause I just can’t help it. She has this ugly crying face that she makes,’ was one comment addressed to camera. Then there was her rather more confrontational exchange with Kim: ‘You know what? I’m sick of you, you think you are hot sh** because you have the biggest ass in LA.’ But my favourite moment has to be when she responded to Kim crying about losing her diamond earring in the sea with: ‘Kim, there are people that are dying.’
For that gem alone, I love her the best. I also believe her when she says she’d be perfectly content to live anonymously – well, I say anonymously, but it’s all relative. I think by Kardashian standards, ‘anonymity’ means not discussing your lady bits on screen. ‘I don’t want the show to end, but I sometimes think I would be so happy if it did and I could just move away from it all,’ Kourtney says. ‘By the end of every season I’ve had enough, but then once we have had a break I’m ready for more.’
Kourtney may not generate as much white noise as her siblings, but she’s no shrinking violet. She has her own subscription-only app on which she suggests healthy family recipes (such as avocado breakfast pudding), shares insights into her world and gives interior design tips.
‘I love having a place where I can share things, but I don’t live my life thinking, “I’m a role model,”’ she muses. ‘I still feel surprised when I’m recognised in the street. I forget that so many people know who I am and have seen me give birth.’ And naked in Vanity Fair. It’s a thoroughly 21st-century phenomenon to witness lives laid so bare; indeed here at the YOU photo shoot (her first solo magazine cover in the UK), she is blithely unconcerned about stripping off between outfits.
‘These guys keep offering me a robe,’ she smiles. ‘But I’m, like, “No need, this is who I am and we’re all just getting on with what we have to do.”’ It is enviable body confidence, but then Kourtney has an enviable body, not least because clean eating – ‘no gluten, no dairy, only organic food’ – is her passion and ‘working out’ her hobby.
‘Just being comfortable in your skin is a blessing. I feel that people think it’s OK to skinny-shame, but it’s just as bad as calling people fat,’ she says. ‘I love going to the gym because it makes me feel great. I work out a lot with Khloé just running or hiking. Eating well is part of the same lifestyle, but now and then I like to live a bit dangerously. I had a Krispy Kreme doughnut last night and it was delicious.’ She’s joking, I think (about the danger, not the doughnut), but her humour is so dry it is hard to tell.
Although open and willing to talk about most things, Caitlyn is off limits, as is dating, although Kourtney’s name was, for a nanosecond, linked with Justin Bieber. It’s understandable: her break-up with Scott – and his subsequent much-publicised dalliances – have been widely scrutinised and surely it can’t be easy to co-parent in the public eye?
‘I find co-parenting really easy,’ says Kourtney with a serene smile. ‘Scott and I communicate all the time. You have to keep discussing what’s going on because as the children grow older, the rules need to be renegotiated. We make sure we go on days out together because the kids love it, but it’s really hard when you’re at the zoo and there are cameras in your face all day.’
After she became a mother, Kourtney took the decision not to allow her children to be filmed, but for practical reasons it proved impossible to maintain the boundaries and the kids now occasionally appear on screen.
‘I wanted the children to feel free to run about where they wanted – it’s their home, after all – so it was easier to let them. They have known the crew all their lives and the team are very respectful about leaving at 6pm, when I like to have family time.’
And when the cameras are switched off? We all wonder what happens then. It seems that despite any friction on the show, afterwards the sisters each retreat to their own space to regain their equilibrium.
‘For me, the moment I relax is when I take off my make-up,’ says Kourtney. ‘That means I’m back in my mum role. We eat together – I don’t cook very often, we have someone who prepares our food – then it’s bath time and stories. We all snuggle together; first we read the baby books and then we move on to the other books. It’s so wonderful and peaceful.’
It’s also the polar opposite of the relationships portrayed on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, where six female egos clash almost constantly. How, I wonder, will Kourtney bring up her two sons in an extended family of – let’s not mince words – Amazons? ‘That’s a good point!’ giggles Kourtney. ‘Hopefully they will appreciate a woman who is strong and assertive, and see that as an asset, not as threatening. I think in today’s world that’s the way you want a woman to be, but a lot of men can’t handle that. Get with the programme, guys!’
Speaking of the programme, public appetite for the Kardashians shows no sign of slowing down – Kourtney has close to 44 million Instagram followers, Kim nearly 78 million – but if it did all end tomorrow, what would she do? Has she any unrealised ambitions?
‘For me, the one thing that has become really important is to only put my energies into things I’m passionate about,’ says Kourtney. ‘I love interiors and I’ve pretty much finished my house but my brain is working all the time. I’ll be thinking, “Are these the best chairs for this space? Can I do something different with that lighting scheme?” Some day, if I have more time, that’s a passion I’d love to pursue – fixing up another house, showing other people how it’s done. When I fill out a form at passport control I always struggle with what to say when it asks for my profession: businesswoman or TV personality or mum – I mean, number one is always mum.’