(Tuesday, March 24th, 2009)

Jaqueline Siegel

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Photo:Katie Meehan

It seems people either love or hate Jacqueline Siegel. Depending on who’s talking (or better yet, who’s written the latest comment on The Orlando Sentinel blog), she is either a hard-working philanthropist that gives back to the community or a filthy rich mother that has too many nannies.  If you’re asking me,  she is the woman I interviewed for a one page editorial, that eventually turned into PLAYGROUND‘s cover story, that ultimately caused an uproar in the local parenting community, and thus the person responsible for drawing an incredible amount of attention to my work–I think it’s safe to say I love her.

No really, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. My editor and publisher have told me about the influx of letters questioning their decision to put her on the magazine cover and I think it silly. The goal of the magazine as I understood it–and I’m not speaking on behalf of the magazine here–is to showcase Central Florida parents. It’s true that this parent happens to be a mother of eight and also the wife of a billionaire, however, I don’t recall Jacqueline asking for pity or sympathy like many of the e-mails and comments have suggested. She simply shared her story with me.  I would hope that if PLAYGROUND chose to feature another parent of a different scenario, like perhaps a homeless father of three, the amount of response (both good and bad) would be the same. I fear, however, it wouldn’t. I imagine people would be much more sympathetic to a homeless father, or anyone else that doesn’t have access to that much money.

As a society, it seems we just don’t know how to handle those who have more money than us. We’ll say, “Yeah, he doesn’t understand. He has money,” or “Look at that lady. Her daddy/husband/someone other than her must have gave her that car/ring/designer purse.” We can’t help but be quick to judge. But truth be told, if I could afford to hire five nannies for my small army of eight children I would. That’s five jobs I would be giving to five people who are thankful to have such an opportunity–that doesn’t sound so wrong to me.

Anyhow, there were many rewrites of this article. The following was one of many edits:

Two years ago, I would have made fun of anyone that paid more than hundred bucks for a toothbrush. Then, this past Christmas I received a little electric miracle—the Oral-B Triumph. The $130 luxury toothbrush comes equipped with a Smart Guide, or video timer, to show where to brush and for how long, and it’s also good for correcting one’s brushing technique (a red light flashes if something is performed incorrectly). This fine piece of technology—worth every penny if you ask me—even congratulates its owner with a smiley face after completing the suggested two-minute regimen. This happens to be my favorite feature because never before has brushing felt like such an accomplishment. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder how I’ve lived so long without Mr. Smiley.

The problem is I have justified paying a small fortune for something once given to me for free by my dentist. Even more, I want to encourage everyone I know to buy one, which seems ridiculous considering I’ve never had a cavity in all my years. Clearly, I’ve sustained successful brushing habits for some time now, yet, I want to credit the Triumph for all its greatness. So now I have to ask myself: has my perception of reality changed since this experience? Will I never turn back to regular brushing habits?

I imagine this is what it might be like to be the wife of a billionaire, because as Jacqueline Siegel tells me her life story she is completely unaware of how extraordinary her life sounds and how different it is to say, um, my life.

“There’s David and I with Bill Clinton,” she says, pointing to the framed picture hanging on the wall in the Baroque inspired hallway. She is giving me a quick tour of the mansion, or the Siegel’s “temporary house,” located in Isleworth. The “Versailles,” the 90,000 square foot future home of the Siegel family, is being built in a different part of the neighborhood. When it’s complete it will be the biggest house in America contained underneath one roof.

“Is that you with Usher?” I ask, pointing to one of many picture frames sitting on an armoire.

“Yeah, with Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone. That was a fun night,” she says, kind of like how I talk about my friends, except my friends aren’t famous (at least not yet) or rich (but they’re working on it).

As we are touring her backyard and are looking at the custom swimming pool that overlooks Lake Isleworth, three of her dogs, all of them with white fur, are jumping all over her. “Yeah we like white animals. See our peacocks over there? They’re white. We used to have a white tiger too, as a pet, but not anymore.” She talks of her peacocks and pet tiger like how most American families talk of their dog, Roscoe. I have to ask myself, “Does she think this is normal?”

I too must have gotten lost somewhere in Jackie’s reality because it’s not until I am driving her to the site of her “Chateau”—or what she describes as her new home and what I’d describe as a potential Disney resort—that it dawns on me that I am responsible for a beautiful billion-dollar commodity, otherwise known as the woman sitting next to me in my van. This unsettling realization makes me want to floor it to our lunch destination as quickly as possible, although this is impossible—I am driving slower and more carefully than ever before. It gives us time to make conversation along the way. Jackie does a lot of the talking and the conversations start like this:

“That’s my friend’s house. She’s turning it into a castle.”

“Oh look, they’ve put the fence up for the baseball field already. [The baseball field is in her future front yard.] The neighbors must love that. I always get these anonymous letters in the mail … complaining about this and that … I wish they’d at least sign them so I could talk to them personally about it.”

“My friend is texting me. She wants to know how many of us there are … she’s going to get a table for us.”

“I wonder how that building got financing. Even we are having trouble right now with the tough economy.”

It’s like one minute I can understand Jackie’s reality. And then the next minute, I cannot. While I have felt the effects of a down-spiraling economy and have had friends text me about reserving tables, I never have known anyone to turn their house into a castle or have had the convenience of a private baseball field in the front yard.

The following interview took place during lunch at Bravo with Jacqueline’s mother Debbie, and friends Nita and Shari. I am caught off guard and wishing I hadn’t turned my recorder off, when the forty-year-old says, “David and I didn’t exchange Christmas gifts this year … we decided not to, you know, since times are tough.”

“How sweet … and normal,” I think. Jackie is so casual sometimes it becomes easy to think she is like everyone else.

But then I remember why she always is smiling. She is a former Miss Florida (and looks it) that has eight children (but doesn’t look it) and is building the largest house in America (you must see it to believe it). To put it bluntly: she’s the wife of a billionaire, Westgate Resort owner David Siegel. From what I can tell, her life is like nothing I have experienced before.

“Perhaps there is no such thing as normal,” I think. I mean, did I mention that I own a $130 toothbrush?

Jana: What are the names and ages of your eight children?
Jacqueline: Starting with the twin girls, Jacqueline and Jordan, they are two-years-old. Then we have Drew, who is a boy and five. Then we have Debbie who is seven, Daniel who is eight, David who is nine, Victoria who is twelve, and Jonquil who is fifteen [actually an adopted niece]. Everyone’s name begins with a D or J, named after one of us. All three boys have the same birthday and were born on Memorial Day… conceived on Labor Day.

That is a lot of birthing in a short period of time. How did you do it?
The first one was the most fearful. I didn’t start having kids until my thirties. I was afraid because I was a model. I thought it would ruin my figure and I’d be fat forever. But after the first one, I got my figure back pretty quick. I went to the beach and was wearing a bikini like a week later. So for the rest of them I went into autopilot. There were no C-sections. We love having a big family. Even though we are building the biggest house in America, we want it to be a home. Sometimes you hear fighting and screaming but other times you hear laughter. I think that when the day comes that I don’t have that, I’ll really miss it.

If you could sum up parenting in one word what would it be?
It’s hard to sum it up in one word. But if I had to: fulfillment.

What does being a mother mean to you?
Responsibility. A life filled with love. I enjoy being there for the children… and they are also there for me, even though they don’t realize it. Sometimes I can be down and they’ll say, “Mommy, look what I made for you at school?” And it brightens my day.

How many nannies have you had over the years?
We’ve had several nannies. We usually keep them for a long period of time, like five years. Then for some reason or another they move on. Like they’ll get married or move away. I’d say we’ve had maybe ten nannies over the years.

What is the most that you’ve had at the same time?
I’d say five nannies.

What do the nannies provide that you cannot?
For one thing, they provide safety for our children. Living in a big home, for example like with the twins, it’s difficult. One twin starts running down one hall and the other twin runs down the other. As one person you don’t know which one to go get. Or sometimes they can get lost in the house. We have a big pool and we live on a lake. I wouldn’t stand it for one minute if they were not being watched and ended up floating in the pool or something. They also provide love. For me, nannies are employees. But for the children—and I talked to a pediatrician about this—they are like extended family.

We talked previously about your children going to public school. Is that important to you?
It’s more important to my husband. We have good public schools in Windermere and I’m happy with their schools. They get a little different experience at a public school than they would at a private school. I went to a public school and I turned out okay. [Laughs.] I think the big difference is keeping on top of the homework at home. There’s not as much one on one in public school.

Are your kids involved in school sports?
One of our sons plays baseball. We do more sports at the YMCA. We had two sons in basketball this winter and two girls in cheerleading.

How do you juggle all of their schedules and events?
It’s very difficult. I try to put notes everywhere. The two boys are close enough in age to be on the same team. The daughters are right behind them in age. And so we tried to set it up so that the girls cheered for the boys’ basketball. [Laughs.] You have to be creative.

What is a typical day in the life of Jacqueline Siegel like?
Every day is a new day—I have no regular routine. My day usually starts off with three of the four dogs jumping on me. One of the nannies will be cooking breakfast and that will wake them up and they’ll come find me. That’s at like five-thirty a.m. The hundred-pound dog doesn’t jump on me––he knows better. I have breakfast with the kids, I ride to school with them, I exercise, I get my husband off to work, then I usually have a lunch meeting for all sorts of things between charity, social, something work related or the magazine. [She is a partner with friend Susan Ortega in J&S, a company that publishes the Central Florida edition of TravelHost magazine.] But then my day can change. My husband can call and tell me, “Hey, we have to go to Las Vegas this afternoon.” We have our own private plane. In an instant we can take off to go look at a property in Cancun or meet with a banker in New York.

I was told you are going to be on Joan River’s new television show How Did You Get So Rich? Can you tell us about it?
It’s coming up in a few months. They said I was the favorite of all the episodes they had filmed. Joan Rivers has sent me personal notes wishing me Happy Hanukah and Happy Holidays. She said that I was not what she expected but that I was much more of a down-to-earth person. I guess she thought I was going to be a snob or something.

What is Joan Rivers like in person?
She’s very nice. She’s got people looking into a show on just us for a whole season.

I hate to ask but how did you get so rich?
Hard work, a positive attitude, and wise investments.

What are your thoughts about being on reality TV?
It’s intriguing. I love being on camera and I think it would be a lot of fun as long as it has a positive angle and can be an inspiration to other families.

Are you at all afraid of America peering into your household?
The only reservation is our security.

Do you think having money changes the way you must parent your children?
It doesn’t for us because my husband is very money conscious—frugal. He’s careful about how he spends money—he doesn’t spoil the kids. We have to shut the lights off every time we leave a room. We drive regular cars and we keep them for a long time, until they need to be turned in, in like six to eight years. The only reason we own a plane is so he can run his business efficiently and so that he can visit all his resorts. Before he owned all of the resorts he could have had a plane but didn’t. It’s not a luxury for us, it’s more of a necessity. We believe in hand-me-downs for the kids’ clothes. And if you look at our house—to go through the whole tour it takes about forty-five minutes—we use every single inch of that house. It’s very lived in. It’s not like we’re using it to show off. We need it.

Some people may think it’s easier to raise kids having money. Would you agree with that?
It’s harder… money certainly helps. The kids need clothes and a nice pair of sneakers…
[Jacqueline passes the question to Shari, a good friend of the family that has arrived to join Jacqueline, Jacqueline’s mom, and me for lunch.]

Shari: I would say no. Raising kids is difficult no matter what.

Jacqueline: The way my husband lives—he drives a Thrifty car. He has a Rolls Royce that one of his employees bought him because they thought that’s what he should be driving. But he hardly ever drives it. He wants to keep the miles off it.

How do you set rules and boundaries in your household?
I’m not a super strict mom. I think I use my husband, like, “If you don’t listen I’m going to tell Dad.” I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it but it seems to work. I put the fear of Dad… or God. [Laughs.]

How did your parents raise you?
With a belt and a ping pong paddle.

Mom: That may have happened one time. [Laughs.] But that’s what she remembers.

Jacqueline: They raised me the good old-fashioned way.

Were there things in your upbringing that you felt necessary to incorporate into your children’s lives?
Show the children a lot of love. Give them hugs. Give them praise. Something may not be that important to you but it’s important to them and you have to acknowledge it. Even if they pick a flower and give it to you and you’re really busy, you have to take the time and say, “Thank you so much.” My twins did that. They picked some flowers and I stuck it in my hair to show it meant something to me.

Is there any particular thing or person that has influenced you to live the life you have led?
The most influential thing was working for the corporation IBM and being in an environment that you start counting down the days until you retire—the time you can start living your life. It changed my life. I didn’t want to be that way. I wanted something else—a life like freelancing, doing different things like modeling, running beauty pageants, and other things. When I saw those around me counting down the days to live their life, I quit a week later. I was in my twenties then.

You’ve mentioned that you think Central Florida is a great place to raise a family. Where do you and your family spend time outside your home?
We go bike riding down trails and through Isleworth. We’re being healthy. We enjoy the water parks… and theme parks—Sea World, Universal, and Disney. We can see the Disney fireworks from our backyard. We don’t overdo it with the parks but we go a few times a year to each park. We’re living where every child in our country dreams about.

What does the future hold for Mrs. Jacqueline Siegel and her family?
I don’t know. I’ll have to talk to a psychic about that. Do you know of any good ones?

One Response to “Jaqueline Siegel”

  1. J says:

    The problem with this theory of her as regular mother with money is it is contradicted by her own words, as today’s Wall Street Journal interview with her shows. She says they are frugal and drive regular cars but they were building a 20 car garage. She says the plane is only for business but tells the Journal her kids recently had to take their first ever commercial flight for a vacation and didn’t understand what all the “strangers are doing on our plane.” That’s hardly “not-spoiled.”

    But here’s the most telling example of their priorities as parents. To save money they apparently have taken all their kids out of private school. Now this isn’t a commentary on public versus private schools. But the point was they previously assessed that private school was the most productive environment for their kids. Their kids have formed friendships, comfort levels, relationships with teachers, etc. And now when forced to choose between maybe downsizing from their still huge 26,000 sq. ft. house or other luxuries or isrupt their kids education they choose their lifestyle first.

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