Linnethia "NeNe" Leakes is a native of Queens, New York, and mother of 18-year-old Brice and 9-year-old Brentt. She’s married to Gregg, an über-successful real estate investor. A greater Atlanta resident for more than two decades, NeNe is carefree, outgoing and a lover all things fabulous. She’s a former model and founder of The Twisted Hearts Foundation, which brings awareness to the issue of domestic violence. She’s also planning on opening a boutique hotel.
ESSENCE.COM: So NeNe, you seem very excited about the show! Tell us about it.
NENE LEAKES: I’m very excited about “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” We’re going to bring a lot of fun, a lot of drama. We are five fun, fabulous girls. We’re very smart, we’re businesswomen, we’re go-getters, we’re moms, and I think everybody is going to absolutely love the show. We do have our differences here and there. I really wanted to do the show to get my name and business out there.
ESSENCE.COM: What business is that?
LEAKES: I’m the founder of Twisted Hearts Foundation. I thought [“The Real Housewives of Atlanta”] would be a great way to reach people about domestic violence in the community. A lot of people think that domestic violence is something that just happens in an urban city or to people of a [lower] income level. No, it truly happens to very wealthy people—doctors, lawyers, athletes’ wives. I know so many athletes’ wives who are abused by their husbands. It’s a subject that is very near and dear to my heart.
ESSENCE.COM: And you’re also getting ready to open a boutique hotel?
LEAKES: Yes, I’d love to have something small, maybe 30-40 rooms. Not a whole lot but very luxe. I have a designer who is helping me with my vision. And then I’m working with a couple of investors who have invested in hotels before. I don’t like to do stuff when I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m educating myself. You can’t get your money back if it doesn’t work. This is so scary for me.
ESSENCE.COM: You are the mother of two and your oldest son just went off to college. But you look so young! How do you do it?
LEAKES: Yes. My oldest son, Brice, just started Clark Atlanta University. As far as being young, you know I’m African-American! (Laughs.) Also, you have to use a lot of moisturizer. I’m one of those girls who don’t wear makeup unless I’m in front of the camera. I wear moisturizer and a ponytail, and I’m out the door.
ESSENCE.COM: Now that the taping of the show is over, what have you learned about yourself?
LEAKES: I didn’t realize that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m a lot more sensitive than I thought I was. I also learned that I’m very strong. Now that I’ve done this, I know I can truly do anything. I knew this growing up, but I think it went away once I met my husband, Gregg. So it came back to me. Now I know that I would be successful without my husband. I used to think otherwise, because Gregg was the breadwinner. When I had our son Brentt, I was a stay-at-home mom. Gregg took care of all the bills, but that has since changed. Now I know I can stand on my own two feet. We’ve been married for 11 years and my dream is to help my husband retire. He has taken care of me and supported me in all my dreams for so long; I would love to turn the tables and take care of him.