by Whitney Ullman
Most of us can remember the famous show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," where British host Robin Leach would showcase the homes, cars and other fancy items of A-list celebrities. With "champagne wishes and caviar dreams" as his catchphrase, Leach is still living that mantra as he makes one lucky winner a millionaire this weekend as part of a Caesars Entertainment promotion awarding $1 million to four lucky winners over the summer.
Leach chatted with NJ.com about his thoughts on wealth, and his opinion of how reality shows have gone completely down hill.
NJ.com: Robin, you're no stranger to Atlantic City. What's your favorite memory?
Leach: My favorite memory of Atlantic City is a day I spent there with David Brenner. We filmed him for 'Lifestyles' way back when, and he took us to his old haunts when he was a teenager in Philadelphia, and in the beginning starting out on his career in comedy. But I also remember talking with Ed McMahon about Atlantic City - the old host of the Johnny Carson tonight show - because that’s where he started his career as a boardwalk announcer selling salt water taffy.
Are you excited to be coming back to AC?
Leach: Wherever I go, I make a party out of it. So I’m excited about returning because this is the first of four visits over the summer, and each time I will make someone a 1 million dollar cash millionaire, right there and then on the spot.
Wow that's amazing, how does this promotion for Caesars Entertainment work?
Leach: How it works is, 20 people who are all members of the Caesars Entertainment family at Harrah's, Showboat, Bally’s and Caesars will be chosen to go into a vault that will be built at the Harrah's resort. 20 people will go inside and pick a gold bar. One person will have a gold bar with a number that corresponds with the $1 million that I’ll give them, and then two other people will have numbers that correspond to having 1 million total rewards points to their accounts. So it’s a big prize and we do it on Memorial Day weekend, and there will be 3 other million dollar winners throughout the summer! So in all it will be 4 brand new millionaires coming out of Atlantic City over the summer. It’s one of the biggest most ambitious marketing ventures ever undertaken.
You've been around a lot of wealthy people, what advice would you give to a new millionaire?
Leach: The first advice is to calm your nerves. Realize that you’ve gone literally from being the opposite of rich and famous to becoming rich and famous. So you must not get overwhelmed by the money, and you must not think of going out and spending it all. Get a little advice from an accountant who will tell you to bank some of it and save some of it. There’s nothing wrong with splurging a little bit, but the truth is, if you spend it wisely, you’ll be spending the interest rather than the principal.
With the economy the way it is now, is it wise to live such a lavish lifestyle?
Leach: No, I think you have to be practical. A million dollars is a tremendous amount of money to suddenly be responsible for. Do you cut down on your house payments by paying off some of your mortgage? Absolutely yes. Do you buy yourself a new car? Yes, if the old one is costing you more money than a new one would cost. So you just have to be very sensible and not go mad or wild.
When Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous ended what was your favorite thing to do?
Leach: Well, we started the Food Network after 'Lifestyles.' Before 'Lifestyles' we started 'Entertainment Tonight,' so we had a good 20-plus year run on television with some very big hit television productions. One of the things I did with the Food Network, which is why I moved down to Las Vegas, was to bring all of those celebrity chefs that we had on the air, out here to put restaurants in the casinos, and as you know, many of the Atlantic City casino’s followed what we did in Vegas with fine food & star chefs and they created the same thing in Atlantic City.
Now of course you’ve got Miss America returning in September, so it looks like after a few years of the problems caused by the economy , you’re back in business and you’ll be having a great summer to celebrate after the misery's of Hurricane Sandy last season.
Speaking of Hurricane Sandy, did you know anyone affected?
Leach: I followed the devastation along the Jersey coastline along with everybody else, not believing that the weather could ever wreak that kind of havoc, feeling sorry for friends that I have in Atlantic City in that industry. But knowing the great thing about American’s is that when they are down, they bounce back up and they succeed twice as good again. And that’s the same advice I would give to anyone who wins or loses on Memorial Day Weekend. If you don’t make the winning 3 gold bars, come back and do it again. Keep the dream alive because one day the dream will come true.
Everyone knows you for your accent, do you think your accent helped your career here in the US?
Leach: [Laughs] I never understand this because if you came to England we’d all sound the same. There’s no doubt that British accents play a role in the success of anyone that comes from over seas, but I’d like to say at the same point, if an American went over to Britain, he would be just as successful over there.
Do you personally live the lifestyle of someone who is rich and famous?
Leach: No, no way. You’re a reporter for a newspaper and internet site and I was a reporter on television, so when I walked into those mega mansions, my eyes bulged and my mouth dropped just as anyone else would. And that was the reason the show was successful, because it was the reaction of “every man”.
Are there shows right now that compare to 'Lifestyles'?
Leach: I think you have to remember that we were the first of what are called "reality shows" and that’s a genre of television that I no longer approve of or think is clever or smart or brilliant because it's just gone down hill. When you have the Kardashian sisters shaving their armpits on television, thinking that's called entertainment, I think we've reached the bottom of the barrel. And we have feuding housewives in Atlanta and Orange County that you would never want to have living on the same block as you. So it’s become a real spectator sport, just like the Romans watched the Gladiators deal with lions in the arenas of old. You're waiting for death and destruction to happen; it's sad.
Do you have an opinion of what the next reality trend would be?
Leach: No, but I hope it comes full circle and people want to watch nice things again. Happy things.
Since you live in Las Vegas, how does it compare to Atlantic City?
Leach: Well, Las Vegas is like the granddaddy. This was the gaming mecca, and Atlantic City became the gaming mecca on the east coast. Vegas was so big that it didn’t have the same kind of competition that we have to battle in Atlantic City with rival casinos in CT or in PA. Even in NJ you have rival gaming operations . So we have a lot more intense competition in the gaming business than Vegas has had. But both of the cities got hit because of the economy, after 2001, further hit over 2007, and then we got hit on the East with Hurricane Sandy.
So let’s hope that the new Miss America in September will lead us back to the fame and fortune that we’ve had.
Whitney is an on-air multimedia personality, and works behind the scenes helping businesses gain extra exposure, through her WIN Promotions video production services.