‘Real Housewife’ Heather Gay is brash, bold and surprisingly vulnerable

From the moment “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” premiered, Heather Gay has been brash, bold, funny and outspoken. It’s easy to see why producers cast her — she’s very entertaining.

Chatting on the phone, Gay is all that. But she’s also unexpectedly vulnerable. It’s clear she’s still dealing with her 2015 divorce, which she said shattered her life and her self-image.

“I know that I’m unfiltered,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I know that I speak from my heart. And I know that I do things that I regret and cringe after I hear myself say them. So I’m terrified of what I’ve done to ruin my own life, but I’m also excited to see how this plays out.

“All I want to do is be liked! This is probably the wrong arena for that, right?” she added with a laugh.

Gay said she’s a longtime “Real Housewives” fan, and didn’t hesitate when she was asked to be on the show — although the invitation was unexpected.

“Just having a producer call to ask me who I thought was interesting in Salt Lake City was more fun than I’d had in a long time,” she said. “I thought I just kind of was the girl that knew a lot of fascinating women.”

And she was “thrilled” to be asked. “I love the franchise. I love television. I love new experiences. I love having something other than just the doldrums of my sad, depressing life,” she said with another laugh.

Heather has described herself as “Mormon-ish” and a “good Mormon gone bad.” And she told The Tribune that one of the reasons she agreed to be part of “RHOSLC” was so that her exit from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be public.

“When it came down to it,” she said, “I thought if I’m going to leave the Mormon Church, this is the way to do it. I was kind of sick of living in the shadows. I don’t want to say double life, but I was transitioning out of the faith very slowly — like a slow bleed.”

She remains ambivalent, however, about her church membership.

“My only fear was — if I go big, I’m going to get a letter from church authorities saying, ‘We have forcibly removed you from our records,’” she said. “I’m not going to lie — I thought about it a lot and worried about it. But I’m here. My mailing address hasn’t changed either. If they want to send me the letter, I’m open to that consequence happening.”

(Photo courtesy of Fred Hayes/Bravo) Heather Gay and Whitney Rose in “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”

‘Mormon royalty’

In the first episode of “RHOSLC,” Heather told viewers her ex-husband’s grandfather had been hired as billionaire Howard Hughes’ “driver and henchman,” and that the Gay family “inherited a huge portion” of the Hughes estate after he died in 1976 — which was partially true.

Frank William Gay was a student at UCLA when he was hired to be Hughes’ driver and gofer; he eventually rose to become a top executive at Hughes Tool Company, Hughes Air Corporation and the Summa Corporation, which controlled Hughes’ Las Vegas hotels and casinos.

But Hughes later wrote that he no longer trusted F.W. Gay. And, according to F.W. Gay’s 2007 obituary, his money came from “running Hughes’ many business ventures, not from the Hughes estate.”

But there’s no disputing that Heather married into a very wealthy family.

Heather hasn’t talked much about her ex-husband — other than referring to him as “Bill” in Episode 3 — and making comments like, “He’s been supportive” of her being on the show “in his way.” But she also said on “Watch What Happens Live” that “this isn’t how he wants the mother of his children to conduct herself.”

Heather readily admits her marriage was no great love story, but said the end of the union devastated her. Raised as a member of the LDS Church, she wanted to get married, raise a family and “grow old” with the father of her children.

But “not with the man I married,” she said. “Let’s just be clear. I didn’t want to grow old with him. I knew that, like, day three [of the marriage].”

She was, nonetheless, a “dutiful housewife for 11 years,” she said, and she “suppressed every personal instinct in order to be a good wife and a good mother, but it didn’t work out.”

(The divorce was finalized in 2015.)

“I took that role so seriously, which is probably why it was so totally devastating when I got divorced,” Heather said. She was left feeling like she’d failed not just as wife and mother, but as a member of her church.

Heather has custody of her three daughters — Ashley, 17; Georgia, 14; and Annabelle, 13 — who are “very cool, reasonable, balanced, wonderful human beings. And they have been caretakers of me, in a lot of ways. When I got divorced, I really checked out of things. … And I feel bad about that.”

She doesn’t regret her decision to be on “Real Housewives,” even though her daughters’ teachers and counselors have told her “that a lot of parents have come up to them [and] are really concerned that I have done this to them. Like, ‘How could she do this?’

“And all I can say is — I don’t know. Maybe it was a huge mistake. Time will tell, right? I’m doing the best I can. And if I took the wrong road, then we’ll deal with it.”

(Photo courtesy of Fred Hayes/Bravo) Meredith Marks and Heather Gay in “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”

Worrying about what’s to come

Heather has made a success out of her business, Beauty Lab + Laser, although she’s also ambivalent about that.

“I can barely say that. It feels like I betrayed everything I was brought up to be by saying, ‘I’m a businesswoman,’” she said.

And Heather is anxious to see how she’s edited in upcoming episodes.

“I know this sounds so cliche, but the truth is, you really do forget that the cameras are there,” Heather said. “I’d watch other ‘Housewives,’ and I’d be, like, ‘Sonja, put your clothes on!’ But when it’s you …

“I would think, ‘Oh, my gosh! Was I on camera and miked when I screamed at her or said that to my kids?

“I never had that out-of-body experience, like, ‘I am a Housewife.’ I always felt like, ‘I am Heather Gay, and I’m pretty messed up.’”

We’ve seen Heather in conflict with Lisa Barlow in the first three episodes, and that will continue.

“It’s been hard to be dismissed. It’s been hard to have people that loved being my friends distance themselves,” Heather said. “It’s been hard to feel the strain on our friendships.

“Doesn’t everybody just want to be friends? I’m the kind of girl that wants to get along with everyone all the time. I have really strong opinions, but I would rather be your friend than be right any day of the week. I’d rather be your friend than win.”