News & Politics

Paul Wharton and the Art of Self-Promotion (Pictures)

The former "Real Housewives of D.C." star hosts a party in honor of his newest venture into reality TV.

Good friends Paul Wharton and Mary Barth strike a pose. Photograph by Jeff Martin.

It’s a laugh when someone in Washington-­­­-or in the 21st Century anywhere–gets slammed for self-promotion. Hasn’t that become the pop culture standard, thanks in large part to social media and reality TV? Washington is hardly immune, especially among the media. Ever since Watergate, journalists here have sought fortune through fame, and many have succeeded. On the media fringes there have been failed attempts at reality TV, most notoriously the short-lived Real Housewives of D.C. It failed for a lot of reasons, but chiefly it was because the audience gets enough Washington reality on the news. And since we’re spending their tax dollars, they don’t find it entertaining or amusing to see the capital through a prism of glam life.

Still, somehow and incongruously, the vestiges of Real Housewives live on. In fact, Thursday night one of the stars of the cast, Paul Wharton, who played the role of the gay, wise sidekick (there’s one in every RH franchise) made a spectacular attempt to revive the Washington reality genre with a party that was, if anything, all about promotion. As if scripted by the reality TV playbook, it promoted an apartment building; a fully-furnished three-bedroom, five-bathroom apartment (which can be yours for $4.5 million); decorators; a wine company; brands of vodka, tequila, bourbon and brandy; soap; and especially Wharton himself and his latest television enterprise, Paul Wharton Style, described as a “lifestyle/talk” series that will air Sundays at noon on Channel 50.

No surprise, the party was essentially on camera, with a cameraman following Paul’s every move as he followed the etiquette of fabulousness: arriving late to a crowd of applause, joyous hugs and kisses for special friends, a beaming smile at all times except when doing his signature Wharton pose, which rivals Zoolander. Also no surprise, his premiere show played on a loop on TV screens that were in every room. Every room. The guests on the first show, of course, are some of the old gang, the one-season wonders of RHDC, minus their notorious superstar, Michaele Salahi. A would-be Andy Cohen, Wharton gathers them round him on a suede sofa and white chairs to dish what might have been and where they are now. I would tell you the answers to those questions, but the audio was not on.

Who were the guests? A lot of happy people, having a good time. Everyone arrived to multiple greeters with clipboards at the entrance to the Turnberry Towers apartments in Roslyn. Those who wanted to could sign a release, granting permission to use video of them at the party that would eventually air on Wharton’s show. Then there was a “step and repeat,” one of those promotional backdrops that have become ubiquitous at party arrivals; then another escort toward the elevators; and another escort into the elevator. I asked one greeter if the party apartment was where Paul actually lives? “No,” she said. “He has a smaller unit.”

Laughing, he admitted much the same. “There’s no way this could be my apartment,” he said. “I make that clear in the show.” Wharton knows the game. He could teach the course, which makes it impossible to have ill will toward him. He does not give up, when others around him have hung up their chic and ambition. So when we wanted to take his photo, it seemed logical to head for the largest of the five bathrooms, because that was where so many partygoers had been hanging out, and vogueing for photographers. And of course it had a divan in the middle of the room, where Wharton and his good friend Mary Barth sat side by side and, what else, struck a pose.