Craig Conover on Finding Himself and Finding Love With Paige DeSorbo (Exclusive)
By Brice Sander
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Craig Conover calls writing his first book "a giant therapy session."
"This entire process was staring in the mirror for a year and really looking at myself," the Southern Charm star shares with ET ahead of the release of his memoir, Pillow Talk: What's Wrong With My Sewing? (named after a pretty iconic comeback Craig issued in season 5 of the show).
"I've always been able to kind of blame others, or blame other situations or circumstances, for the situations that I've found myself in, and this book was really -- and finally -- an honest look at myself, from myself, to be like, 'You got yourself here, and maybe by sharing your story, you'll help people get through it like you did also,'" he says.
The collection of essays looks back at Craig's journey to, then journey through, reality TV fame. It unpacks childhood bullying, a battle with an Adderall addiction and the lessons learned from Craig's first, true heartbreak (with co-star Naomie Olindo). He calls it the story of "what also happened" for Southern Charm viewers.
"The goal was never to be a, 'This is what actually happened...' book," the Sewing Down South founder explains. "I really didn't want it to be that. I just wanted it to be, 'This is what also happened...' book. We only film for a couple months a year, and I wanted to tell kind of the rest of the story. I think we accomplished that. So, that was kind of the goal was just to tell more of the story."
Craig says writing the book (along with co-author Blake Dvorak) was the first time he accepted some truths of his reality. While he owned up to abusing Adderall -- an ADHD medication -- at Southern Charm's season 6 reunion, he says he didn't realize the insidious impact the drug had on his day-to-day life until he started putting stories to paper. The 33-year-old rewatched the first seven seasons of the show to refresh memories he wanted to share, but struggled to play back some episodes that proved "really painful" to revisit.
"That's what I learned most about myself, is how connected my Adderall use and addiction was to everything happening in my life," he says. "And I had never admitted it... I don't think I realized how deep into it I was, until I started writing this book. And as I was doing it, everything kind of came back to that."
Craig is now three years clean from the amphetamine-based prescription, finally living with mental clarity that's helped put the past in perspective. The book is Craig's latest achievement in the world outside of his Bravo shows, which plays into a piece of advice he received from castmate Kathryn Dennis back in season 5 that's proven to be a guiding principle for Craig: "Prove your worth to yourself, not someone else."
"When I started to live for myself ... is kind of when you find that inner peace, which has been really nice," Craig admits, but confesses he's yet to share just how much Kathryn's words affected him.
He's also excited for Naomie to read the book. A big chunk of Craig's story is tied up in his years-long relationship with the L’ABEYE boutique owner. Southern Charm documented their tumultuous relationship from (almost) the start, as well as its crash and burn ending in 2017.
"It was a tough thing because I kind of felt responsible for the breakup, for letting TV get into it," he says. "Then, as the years go on and you process stuff, you realize that no, all that did was expedite the issues. Once I realized that it was no one's fault, it just didn't work out, that brought peace to me."
Craig tended to blame Naomie for calling it quits, but now owns his part in why things didn't work out.
"[In writing], I started to realize how I could have been a way better partner in my relationship with Naomie," Craig reflects. "Just liking each other and just being faithful isn't really enough. Looking back, I could have put a little bit more effort and it would've gone so much further. I was fighting with my own demons so much. Adderall was just a huge catalyst, and I never gave it credit."
Naomie sat for interviews with Craig's co-author to corroborate events; she and Craig also sat down for some heart-to-heart conversations, some of which Craig promises will air on season 8 of Southern Charm. Naomie returns to the cast after stepping away from the show for all of season 7, which aired last year.
"I was pressing for it as hard as I could," Craig says of capturing those moments on camera. "These were conversations that were four years overdue. It was just closure. I didn't know how they were going to go, but it was just something I think that I had been seeking or missing for a long time."
With that closure, Craig seemingly found himself ready to love again. He's been dating Summer House star Paige DeSorbo for more than six months now. (Watch the clip above to see Paige deliver a surprise video message for Craig.)
"I've kind of always searched for a partner and a teammate to share this stuff with, and I couldn't have found a better one and it's really nice," Craig says of Paige. "She has so much going on, with her clothing line launching and stuff happening that we get to celebrate each other's wins. And it's kind of a unique thing that comes with being in this business together. And we're just enjoying it."
Craig says his relationship with Paige feels "more mature" than any of his past romances. It also doesn't hurt that she fully understands the very unreal world of reality TV, and all the good and bad that comes along with it.
"It's an adult relationship," he reiterates. "We talk about marriage and having kids and the things we agree on -- and don't disagree on -- and we really hope to be married."
"She does feel like 'the one,' and I think she feels the same," he continues. "It's challenging going through TV together, but we survived and we just did a really great project together in Vermont [seemingly season 2 of Bravo's Winter House], where it even brought us closer, which was a lot of fun to do with her. And I think ever since then we've just been like, OK, this is the real thing. This is it.'"
Paige and Craig's love story is starting to play out as season 6 of Summer House wraps airing on Bravo. The two went exclusive near the tail-end of filming the show last summer, though Craig isn't watching the episodes back.
"I was really excited to see our date they recorded, they filmed our first date and it was really great, but when that didn't air, I understood that we didn't have time for cutesy, sweet moments," he explains, "and I'm human, I don't want to watch the bad stuff."
Craig is hopeful the final episodes of Summer House's current season shed a little more light on his and Paige's love story. He can pinpoint the moment he knew he was falling in love with the fashion influencer.
"We had been openly dating or whatever the word is -- we had just been seeing each other but weren't exclusive for a couple months -- and it really did work for us, but then it happened fast," he says. "And I don't know where I was, but I was across the country and I was just like, 'Look...' I remember going home early from a party or something, and I was like, 'I don't want to see anyone else.' It wasn't even like, 'I don't want you to see anyone else.' I was like, 'I have no desire to see anyone else anymore, you're my person.' And she texted back immediately the same thing and that's kind of how it happened."
And viewers will get to see even more unfold on season 8 of Southern Charm. While Paige isn't an official cast member, she did film with Craig and his crew.
"I thought it was awesome, because it's just such a different show than Summer House," Craig gushes. "It was funny to see Paige come down and interact with our friends and cast members and just be like, 'You guys are nuts!' And it made for a really great season."
"She's down in Charleston a decent amount," he adds, "and you'll get to see who she became friends with. It was really a neat experience. And when you are filming and you look across the room and you see your partner doing the same thing, it puts a smile on your face, because it felt like, we're a great team. And when you'll see some of the cast members come after her, and you don't have to feel responsible. Paige is a big girl. She can handle herself greatly. And that's kind of a good feeling when you can just walk away. 'Well, you picked a fight with Paige, that's on you.'"
Craig also hints that some of the Summer House drama has some aftershocks on Southern Charm, namely when it comes to Austen Kroll, who caused a little controversy on the Hamptons-set show when he pursued Ciara Miller and Lindsay Hubbard at the same time during a weekend visit.
"With Austen-- this is why it's tough, how we film these shows, because it was eight months ago and since that weekend he's done so much to get better and grow as a human," Craig shares. "We didn't talk for two months after that weekend because Ciara's like a sister to me, and when I heard what he had done, it broke my heart for her."
"He had a really bad weekend and he needed to figure his stuff out, and you'll actually get to see a lot of that on Southern Charm," he notes. "[Now], him and I are in a great place. We're about to go on tour [for our podcast, Pillows & Beer], and him and Paige are like sister-brother, and you'll get to see a lot of that on [Winter House]."
As for what version of Craig fans will get come season 8 of Southern Charm, he offers this: "Shep [Rose] and I are going to look nuts at certain points."
"I've been working on being calmer and not getting so reactive to situations on camera, and in life, and not letting things bother me, but it's part of the game," he offers. "Coming out of it, at least I'm happy with everything that happens. So we'll see what appears [on the show]."
When filming reportedly wrapped, there was a surge of online murmurs that something major had gone down between Craig, Austen and co-star Leva Bonaparte.
"Austen and I make it hard for each other sometimes," Craig teases. "With the Leva stuff, you'll just have to see it play out on Southern Charm. Charleston's such a small city and things boil over sometimes. So, I would love to talk to you more when that starts to air because I have a ton of opinions about stuff like that."