In the mid-2000s, Tinsley Mortimer’s bustling social life would have put her
Real Housewife co-stars’ society résumés to shame. In her heyday, Mortimer wasn’t just a socialite. She was a pioneer, shaping a persona out of red carpet events, galas, and a fairy tale romance. But Mortimer didn’t just sit on her fame. Instead, she leveraged her time in the spotlight to fuel her fashion career.
Mortimer was doing what the Kardashians do now: Getting famous by being famous.
So, in order to
appreciate her new role in The Real Housewives of New York, you must first get to know her long legacy as a blue-blooded heiress. Find out the twists and turns of her love life, beginning in boarding school in New Jersey and taking a disturbing turn recently in Florida.
The best part? We can hear it all in her own words. In addition to excelling at red carpet events and interior decorating jobs, socialites are great at one thing: Spilling the beans to the press.
Here's a socialite story for the ages.
Season 9 of The Real Housewives of New York premieres on April 5 on Bravo.
She wasn't originally a New Yorker.
Though she’s now a fixture of the Big Apple, this socialite has Southern roots. She was born Tinsley Randolph Mercer in Richmond, Virginia in 1975.
Her lineage stretches back into Founding Father territory: She’s a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Patrick Henry.
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She had fairy tale love story.
Tinsley met her first husband, Robert “Topper” Mortimer, in 1992, when she was a senior at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. According to an
with interview Mr. Mortimer gave The New York Times, their first encounter was something straight out of a teen movie. Topper “flirtatiously” threw her into a snowbank and kissed Tinsley, and so a love story for the ages began.
Tinz and Topz secretly eloped at 18, before Tinsley left for college. After the cat got out of the bag, Topper’s father flew him to the Dominican Republic to get the marriage annulled. They remarried in 2002.
Pictured: Topper and Tinsley in 2008. Steve Eichner/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock More
She was a member of a secret society at Columbia University.
After a year at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mortimer transferred to Columbia University to be closer to Topper at NYU.
By day, Mortimer worked toward an art history degree. But by night, her main priority was St. Anthony Hall (or St. A’s), the co-ed fraternity comprised of Columbia’s most elite offspring.
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Topper and Tinsley had some legendarily cute habits.
Ah, a couple made in WASP heaven. Tinsley and Topper even had a kissing routine, preserved from their boarding school days.
, Tinsley said, “At night [at Lawrenceville], when we both had to go back to our dorms, we did this little thing where we’d kiss each other on the eyes, and then on the cheek, and it became something. It became like our protection: If he’d go on a plane without me, or I would — and it started at Lawrenceville, underneath this one tree.” interview with New York magazine
Pictured: the Mortimers at the New York Botanical Garden's Winter Wonderland Ball in 2006. Patrick McMullan / Contributor More
Topper didn’t get the appeal of Tinsley’s social life.
Unlike Tinsley, Topper didn’t see any allure in stardom. He had some choice words on his wife’s social inclinations.
“It’s not necessarily the type of goal that anybody should strive for, going out every night for the sake of self-promotion and getting their pictures taken,”
Mr. Mortimer told , two years before the couple's divorce. “And I mean, these are girls who went to good colleges. You would think they’d have something better to do.” The New York Times in 2007
Pictured: the Mortimers at the Young Fellows Ball at the Frick Collection in 2009. Patrick McMullan / Contributor More
She quit her job to be a full-time socialite.
For a while, Tinsley worked as a beauty editor at
Vogue and an events planner for Harrison & Shriftman. But the 9-5 wasn’t suiting her greater aspirations. Around 2002, Tinsley enlisted the help of R. Couri Hay, a society publicist.
After she told Hay, “Couri, all I want to do is be a little socialite,” he recommended she quit her job. After she left her career as a publicist, Hay scored her prime spots aboard event committees at the Museum of Natural History and the Central Park Zoo, and began to pack her schedule.
Pictured: Mortimer at New York Fashion Week in Fall 2006. Desiree Navarro / Contributor More
A prince broke up her marriage.
In 2009, Tinsley's affair with German prince Casimir “Cassi” Wittgenstein-Sayn was the inciting incident that broke up her 17-year-long relationship with Topz. How can old New York oil money compete with royalty?
On their grand tour of Europe, Casimir showed Tinsley his family’s 800-year-old castle on the Rhine. Tinsley got a good review from his mother: "My parents very much enjoyed her company and found her to be a decent girl with great values,"
Casimir told . The Standard
Dale Mercer, Tinsley’s mother and a big fan of Topz, couldn’t give the same rave review.
“Every mother wants her daughter to marry a man who she KNOWS will love her forever and … who will be an amazing father to their children,” wrote Dale Mercer in an email to
New York Magazine. “This IS Topper so, of course, as a mother who adores and wants the best happiness for her daughter, I am crushed by what has happened. I have not given up hope.” Pictured: Wittgenstein-Sayn and Mortimer in 2009 More
Topper wanted to save their marriage.
In an email to his friends, Topper wrote, "I know I have involved you guys in our problems and that was wrong. Tinsley is at fault of course but Casi [sic] never gave her a chance to breathe even when I asked him to give us space. He was manipulative and overbearing. I love my wife and we are going to do what we can to salvage this marriage.”
Alas, it was not to be.
Pictured: the Mortimers at the New York Botanical Garden's Winter Wonderland Ball in 2006. Rabbani and Solimene Photography / Contributor More VIDEO VIDEO VIDEO
You can buy her handbags.
In 2007, Mortimer designed a
new line of handbags for Samantha Thavasa, a Japanese brand known for recruiting foreign celebrities as bag designers and models. Other celebrities associated with the brand include Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, Paris and Nicky Hilton, and Jennifer Lopez.
Of her time in Japan for the collaboration,
Mortimer told , “The Japanese are very sweet, and actually very respectful. All the girls run up to you and they want the picture taken, and they always do, you know, the peace sign. It's really cute.” The Standard
Pictured: Tinsley Mortimer at Samantha Thavasa in New York in 2011. Patrick McMullan / Contributor More
She had a shade of lipstick named after her.
While Mortimer was serving as Dior’s Beauty Ambassador, the company unveiled her very own lipstick shade. It was called
, and it was as glossy as the magazine covers of Mortimer's dreams. Tinsley Pink Pictured: Mortimer at the unveiling of "Tinsley Pink" at Saks Fifth Avenue in 2008. More
She has literary inclinations.
In 2012, Mortimer wrote a novel, called
Southern Charm. In events loosely resembling her own life, Charleston native Minty Davenport moves to New York after graduation and shoots up the social ladder as the Big Apple's newest "It Girl." Courtesy of Simon and Schuster More
She’s a survivor of domestic abuse.
Years after Topper and the German prince, Tinsley’s dating life took a disturbing turn.
In Palm Beach in 2012, Mortimer met 31-year-old Alexander “Nico” Fanjul, a millionaire whose family owns about 40% of Florida’s sugar production. During the relationship's start,
Mortimer told , People " When it was good, it was so good...it was , I love you more than anything. You are the love of my life.”
But soon, Fanjul became violent. For over two years, Mortimer covered up the abusive aspects of their relationship to the public — though police reports include gruesome acts of smothering, car vandalism, and violence. Mortimer says she feared for her life.
“I had moments of feeling like I wasn’t going to make it,” Mortimer said in 2017, after the relationship concluded. “I was going to be one of those tragic stories you see on TV.”
In 2016, Mortimer made headlines after being arrested for trespassing on his property. Her arrest was the inciting incident for the dissolution of their relationship. “It took the arrest, the mug shot — all those painful things for me to recognize his lack of character,” says Mortimer. “I will never put myself in that situation again.”
Pictured: Mortimer's mugshot in 2016
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support. Handout / Handout More Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? Kerry Washington Was Worried About Adding To Culture Of "Post-Baby Body" Pressure The Rise Of The Emo Rapper Keke Palmer Breaks Down Why Labeling Your Sexuality Is Not Helpful