Ashley Darby's The Real Housewives of Potomac tagline might call out her tendency to get messy, but the mom of two promises she was not trying to stir up the mess she did on the cast's trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.
"It was all really surprising to me," Ashley tells ET over video chat, cradling her 5-month-old son Dylan during the chat. "I am not a drama starter, first of all. I just ask the questions that nobody likes, no one wants to hear."
"I was not coming from a messy place this time," she says, "and … I don't even know the word. It was like, it was, yeah, trollish."
Ashley isn't talking about her own behavior being "trollish," but rather the explosion of jabs Wendy Osefo unleashed on Gizelle Bryant. Last Sunday's episode ended in the middle of a fiery argument between Wendy and Gizelle, all sparked by Ashley. Wendy laid into Gizelle for having the audacity to speak about Wendy's marriage and false rumors circulating in fan blogs about Wendy's husband, Eddie, after Ashley let Wendy know that she and Gizelle had spoken about the reports. Ashley told Wendy that she and Gizelle were concerned that certain changes Wendy had made between seasons 5 and 6 -- from getting plastic surgery to seemingly adjusting her personality -- were somehow the result of these cheating allegations.
"She is a different person," Ashley remarks of Wendy. "Not just physically. She is carrying herself differently. Her choice of conversation and dialogue is different. Maybe if we had a better relationship with her, that would be different. But because she came into this group so strong and so firm in who she was, to all of a sudden be just so different -- and not in a bad way. No one says it's bad, but it is different -- to be so different, and for no one to call it out, then, A) I think we'd be fake, and B) we would definitely not be your real friends."
Wendy has described Gizelle and Ashley bringing up the rumors as malicious and premeditated, but Ashley doesn't see it that way. Both she and Gizelle have been steadfast is saying they don't believe the gossip.
"If Gizelle really wanted to be malicious, if she really wanted to shade Eddie, I guarantee you she would have had the one liners coming left, right and center that would have landed dead on. So, I'm not going to say it was malicious," Ashley offers. "And I think Wendy should know enough in this group that if we really do want to be malicious toward you, if there are people who want to really say underhanded things, i.e. Candiace [Dillard Bassett], then they have no problem doing so."
Ashley still hasn't fully processed what she calls Wendy's "overreaction" to the blog talk jumping from the internet to on camera, noting that it's pretty standard when it comes to existing in the Housewives universe. For Ashley, Wendy's response was concerning and, possibly, misdirected anger.
"I felt like there was more to her story -- not that story, but to her story -- than she was letting on, in that moment," she surmises. When questioned about the arguably questionable logic of Wendy changing her appearance and personality to fight back against false blog rumors, Ashley says she stands by the conjecture.
"I think that throughout the episodes so far, we have seen that there has been -- just and like with any couple especially during this pandemic -- there's just been some rockiness between Eddie and Wendy," Ashley notes, referencing moments of tension between the couple that have been part of Wendy's personal story in season 6. "For us to come to that conclusion, I don't think is too far-fetched, considering that there are things that I actually didn't know until I watched show [that] were happening between Eddie and Wendy. So I really don't think that it was too much of a shot in the dark myself."
Another theory behind Wendy's adjustments is that she simply wanted to change things she noticed about herself by watching back/experiencing her first ride on the reality TV roller coaster. If that is the case, Ashley says that disappoints her.
"That hurts me if that's the case, honestly," Ashley admits. "One of the reasons I think we are chosen to share our lives on this platform is because we are who we are, because we stand so firm and walk so much in our truth, that I get a little bit concerned, especially after one season, if a person feels that they have to do a whole revamp just so that they can meet the standards of the viewers or whomever. Because from what I gather, I don't recall anyone -- even if they did -- I don't recall anyone having a problem with Wendy's appearance. I don't know. She says it's for herself, and I guess that's fine. It's just not something that I would do, per se."
"One of the things about being a public figure like this and sharing -- because we're not actresses, we're sharing our real lives, our personal lives -- one of the things that that goes into that is, you really do have to have a strong sense of self," she adds. "You have to have a strong sense of self as soon as you start. And if you don't, you'll just get chewed up and... not spit out, but you'll get chewed up. And I think Wendy's getting the chew right now because she really is not the same person."
Wendy shut down the conversation with Ashley about the rumors almost immediately, storming back inside the cast's vacation rental to confront Gizelle about speaking of any of this in the first place. What followed was a deluge of insults flooded in Gizelle's direction, with Wendy going hard after Gizelle's relationship with her ex-husband.
"You're not just going to rattle off all of these really hateful and cut-to-the-white-meat remarks so quickly unless there is something that you have been thinking about or some other feelings that you have been having," Ashley says, suggesting Wendy’s jabs at Gizelle were rehearsed or planned in some way. "I just don't think it is a natural reaction right off the cuff to go so deep, so hard, so fast."
Ashley points out how Wendy also took the time to throw digs at Gizelle’s bestie Robyn Dixon, speaking ill of her relationship, as well.
"She has said in the past that she likes Robyn, Robyn is also in a sorority. They have that camaraderie. But you're going to sit here and say that she has a fake relationship?" Ashley asks. "Like, I don't get her logic with that."
Ashley did not have to bring up any of the Wendy stuff, but chose to after touching base with Gizelle and Karen Huger upon her arrival in Williamsburg. She says she has no regrets, and doesn't feel set up by Gizelle.
"I think everyone just gave me their own take on what was happening during the trip, and as for how I decided to approach Wendy, I didn't really think that there was anything," Ashley says. "Usually when Gizelle and I are in the kitchen together, we both know it. We both have our chef hats on. We have our spatulas and our spoons and we're just a cooking. But this was not that feeling. We were actually sitting in the restaurant being patrons this time, not cooking up the mess."
"I don't think she set me up and I don't think Gizelle had that intention, to be honest," Ashley continues. "Because as we know, if Gizelle really wants to shade you, if she really wants to throw you under the bus, she will have absolutely no problem doing it herself, OK?"
Ashley says she decided to get to the point with Wendy because she doesn’t "believe in talking behind each other's backs."
"I've tried that," she notes. "It never works out. So it’s really just better to, if you’re talking about something that you know someone is going to hear about, as soon as you can, just take it to the person. And so that's what I did."
Candiace took issue with that approach, however, following Ashley into the kitchen in the midst of Wendy's blow-up to corner her co-star about why/how she caused so much drama in such a short amount of time. The pair got into a mini-shouting match of their own, with Candiace telling Ashley to leave online gossip online, and Ashley alleging that Candiace is the source of leaks from their group.
"I feel like she has done Instagram Lives, and she has done other things on social media that have lent themselves to stories being fabricated or just blown out of proportion," Ashley explains of why she made the comment. "So I don't necessarily think she's a leak as in, she's feeding blogs. I think that some of her actions and the things that she does creates more narratives than... she creates more narratives than she wants to take credit for."
As for Candiace confronting her at all over the Wendy/Gizelle moment, Ashley suspects Candiace didn't even care about what happened.
"For Candiace to have such a harsh reaction, first of all, I don't think her issue with me was about what I said," Ashley offers. "It was more so the other things that she has about me that she's been carrying for the last four years. And she just was looking for an opportunity to explode."
The two have a complicated history. Candiace came on the show as a friend of Ashley's, having known each other from the pageant circuit. They were friendly in Candiace's first year on the show, season 3, but things took a nosedive fast, which only accelerated in season 5, when Ashley stood by Monique Samuels in the wake of a much-discussed physical altercation between Monique and Candiace.
"I'm still friends with Monique," Ashley notes. "How I handled the situation in support of my friend last year ... probably does still sting for [Candiace] a little bit. But for her to use that as an opportunity, and for it to be that the time that she decides to condemn me after all of the things she has said? It was just real, real golden. I mean Lord have mercy, was it golden.”
When ET spoke with Candiace earlier this month, she said her true issue with Ashley is that Ashley did not stand with her in the way she expected a friend to in her first season on the show. Candiace admitted to being shocked that Ashley shaded her in confessional interviews on the show starting on the first episode in which she appeared. This is all news to Ashley.
"I don't know if Candiace recalls, but she left me high and dry as soon as she and Monique sat down in my restaurant," Ashley recalls of Candiace's debut, which occurred at luncheon at Ashley's now-shuttered eatery, Oz. "It was like I was thrown to the curb fast, quick and in a hurry, as well. Because she bonded so closely with Monique, I just figured that that was who she connected with more than me and that was that. I didn't know that she felt I didn't support her because, also, she's never actually said anything like that to me ever."
"Like, that sort of vulnerability she's never had with me," Ashley shares. "She's always had this stoic wall. So, for us to ever make any progress… that's one of my biggest problems with her is she doesn't know how to just be vulnerable, be a real human, just be a person and tell me how you really feel. She always puts these walls up. And she hides her insecurities with insults. And I can't really be friends with someone like that who doesn't know to just be frank with me and be open."
While Ashley sees little to no friendship future with Candiace (she was excluded from making a cameo with her co-stars in Candiace's "Drive Back" music video, a decision Ashley says she is "quite content and happy with"), Ashley does have higher hopes for her relationship with Wendy.
"I feel like Wendy could clump me in with Gizelle and Robyn," Ashley muses. "I think that's possible. I was still really surprised at how she chose to handle the conversation with me. So that tells me that there is potential for us to be able to have more conversations. But she can be a little bit hard to crack, Wendy's egg, sometimes. And if she's not really willing to have a discussion with me that's free of maliciousness and free of her having this really strong wall up, then I don't know how we can ever make progress."
Ashley says there's a lot already to discuss at reunion, joking she’ll come with "rubber padding" on as the group hashes things out before noting that "those couches work wonders." There’s still quite a bit of season to get to before reunion day, though, including the highly anticipated "salad toss" between Candiace and newbie Mia Thornton. Ashley finds herself in the culinary crossfire, which unfolds on the group's second trip later this season.
"I mean, everything is going so smoothly… and then here's Wendy slurring her words, she's tipsy. What's his name? [Mia's husband] G is tipsy. Everybody's tipsy. And then all of a sudden, I don't know what happened, it was like a bomb went off, and literally salad is being hurled through the air," Ashley teases of the moment. "And then not just salads, something breaks, some dish or something. I mean, flying dishes, flying salad, it was just nuts. And I literally had no idea what was going on. I mean, I was really just trying to get a beer ultimately."
Ashley admits it's been interesting to see how Mia navigates the group, because as she’s shown the audience, she really doesn't have much allegiance to anyone. The only co-star who seemingly is off limits is Karen, who introduced Mia to the women.
"It was like a ping pong ball, for real," Ashley says of witnessing Mi'’s way of indoctrinating herself into this cast. "When you first meet someone, especially after being in this group for so long and we have a dynamic, there's a way that this group functions. And as dysfunctional as it may be, there's still functioning there. So when Mia comes in and just does her own thing... and I mean, talk about the wonkiest game of telephone you will ever play. She definitely changed how we interact with each other."
That game of telephone partially plays out on Sunday's episode, as Mia tells Wendy that Gizelle called Wendy a "weak b***h" in the aftermath of the battle in Williamsburg, a claim which Gizelle seemingly denies. As seen in a teaser, Mia does add the condition that it was "weak b***h" or "something along that line."
"Because one of the reasons that we have had arguments is because there has been misinterpretations or delivery of information that's been very skewed or just plain wrong that has caused so many problems, I thought Mia would not fit with the group," Ashley confesses. "But to my surprise, one of the things I appreciate about Mia is just as much as she's messy and crazy, she's very loving and she is very encouraging. So she's like that Sour Patch Kid. Like the commercials? Sour then sweet. That is definitely Mia to a T."
Ashley hints at her own sour-then-sweet moment to come with Mia, but adds, "What I appreciate is how things happen later, and how they play out in the aftermath. So that's why I can say that even if we don't necessarily always agree or we have points of contention, I do get down with how Mia handles things afterward."
Because Ashley gave birth while filming season 6, she finds herself popping in and out of group gatherings more than her co-stars. She’s busy at home, juggling baby Dylan and toddler Dean, her sons with husband Michael.
"This is the best thing ever," Ashley says of having kids, even showing ET how she multitasks by breastfeeding Dylan during her interview. "For these two, to watch them and to see how they're developing together, how they are... Dylan only watches Dean. And now Dylan is even starting to recognize Michael more. And it's just so great. Even with all the craziness that's happening in this world and thinking about how other people are suffering, and what other moms are going through, like in Afghanistan, for example, what just really keeps me even feeling the slightest optimism is these little people."
"I see why people have football teams of children," she adds.
While she and Michael said they were done expanding their family, Ashley admits the itch is still there.
"We just came back from the Bahamas last week and you know, there's potential that I could be pregnant, and we're thinking about what would that look like?" Ashley remarks. "What would that feel like? So, even though we said ‘No,’ it's like the possibility of that, it's still a little exciting. And I'm like, ‘Well, if we have that little gleam of hope, maybe we will have at least one more kid.’ And Michael is very aware that he's going to be... he's 62 now. So, does he necessarily want to do that and miss out on more things later in their lives? I don't know. So, we're really racing against the clock, but if Mother Nature has other plans, then we'll follow her lead."
While they wait to see what fate decides, Ashley is enjoying life as a family of four.
"After Dean, we had a little bit of a rough patch and that took a while for us to bounce back, for us to fully be 100 percent," she says. "And what Michael is doing that I really appreciate, is he is really reversing his behavior. After Dean was born, for example, as a mom, I was in my bubble. So, I was always feeding him. I really hardly left the bedroom after Dean. And Michael was going out."
"Now … he's really just stepping up and being the best partner ever," Ashley continues, "and it's helping me to see him in a different light. I see him more as a person, I see him more vulnerably. And I never thought that would happen because Michael is a businessman and he's very stoic and he tends to hide his emotions. And he is sharing himself more than ever before now."
The family currently resides in a 3,500 sq. ft. penthouse on the Virginia coast line, but as their boys get older, Ashley says a move to the ‘burbs is looking more and more likely.
“I do miss the yard, especially this summer, we got to go to different locations that had a beach and a backyard and to see how Dean just woke up in the morning and went straight outside. I'm realizing that that's probably something that's on the forefront very soon,” she teases. “But Michael says, ‘This is not the best time for us to buy a house…’ but we are definitely looking at one and he's even talking about design. So honestly, I'm more ready to move than Michael, but he's been budging a little bit more lately.”
In the meantime, Ashley will kick back and take it all in -- home life and RHOP life -- with a cool Corona, her (much-maligned by Housewives viewers) beverage of choice.
"A good beer is so good every now and again, and according to ancient Chinese medicine and you know, back then... the beer helps with breast milk. So, quite frankly, I think if a mom can imbibe and catch a vibe every time, then she should have a little bevie every now and again," she quips, explaining that her love affair with the brand started when she began dating her husband.
"Granted, I met Michael when I was 23 years old, so you know, I'd been drinking for two years... we shall say," she cracks, "and so, I didn't really have an affinity for beer yet. I was really a tequila and wine drinker. And then after we started dating and he would order them all the time, I realized how good they were. They're just so refreshing and not too hoppy. And just a perfectly balanced, refreshing beer. I'm actually salivating at the thought of it right now, which is, I don't know what that says about me."
The Real Housewives of Potomac airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.