This wasn’t how Rachel Uchitel wanted it to go. After a decade, she’d decided at last to talk about her affair with Tiger Woods so the public might characterize her as something other than a mistress. Maybe they’d stop writing “homewrecker” in the comments of her Instagram photos. Or just understand that she’s a human who’s made mistakes and “deserves a f— break.”
But days before she broke her silence in the HBO docuseries “Tiger,” the Daily Mail published photos of her kissing a married lawyer. In a series of breathless headlines, the U.K. tabloid said the “infamous mistress” had met the man on the website Seeking Arrangement — where young, alluring “sugar babies” connect with older, wealthy “sugar daddies” — after which he proceeded to leave his wife and kids for her.
Uchitel denied the account, insisting the lawyer had been separated from his wife for months before they’d met. Still, she feared the writing was on the wall. He was the third married man she’d been romantically linked to in 10 years. She dated “Bones” star David Boreanaz in 2009, after he told her he’d been living in his family’s guest house for nine months; it was only when his wife went into labor that Uchitel says she learned they were not separated.
And then there was Woods. Uchitel met the golf star while working as a VIP concierge for a slew of popular nightclubs, where her job was to make sure wealthy clients were surrounded by top-shelf alcohol and attractive guests. But as she recounts in “Tiger” — the second half of which airs Sunday — Woods was more interested in her than the women she’d helped select to party with him. Their tryst was only one of more than a dozen Woods had while married to Swedish model Elin Nordegren. But it was also the first to hit the press, and after the National Enquirer broke the story, Woods and Nordegren got into such a big fight that he drove off in his SUV and crashed it.
“The reason I chose to do the documentary is because I wanted to tell my story in one place, at one time, and be, like: ‘Listen: This is what happened. I’m not an awful person,’” says Uchitel, now 45, video chatting from the New York City apartment where she lives with her 8-year-old daughter, Wyatt. “The media was really awful to me. They blamed me for something that happened between two people. One guy got to be a f— hero, while the whole world made a mockery of me.”
She was hopeful that the series “would attract a level of empathy,” but so far, she says that hasn’t been the case. Online, the comments she’s received are largely negative: ‘Oh, we don’t want to hear from Rachel again!’ or ‘You’re ugly. You’re so old. We don’t even know who you are. Disappear. Go crawl in a hole and die.’”
Maybe it’d be different if it had come out closer to the beginning of the #MeToo movement, she says. Or if the Daily Mail stories about her last relationship hadn’t coincided with the HBO premiere.
But Uchitel has always found happiness to be hard-won. When she crossed paths with Woods in 2009, she had only just landed back on her feet after years of tumult.
At 13, she was sent to CEDU High School, a Running Springs, Calif. residential treatment center for troubled youths. As detailed in the UCP Audio podcast “The Lost Kids,” about the disappearance of a student, the school, which closed in 2005, allegedly employed abusive practices in the name of “tough love.” Uchitel was traumatized by the experience. “They made me dig a grave with a spoon and then lay in it,” she recalls.
While Uchitel was at CEDU, her father died from a cocaine overdose. She was 15.
Still, she managed to complete the program and move to New Hampshire, where she studied psychology at the state university. After graduation, she landed a job at Bloomberg News, where she started on the assignment desk and worked her way up to segment producer. It was there, during her 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift, that she watched a plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Her fiancé, investment banker Andy O’Grady, had an office in one of the towers. In the ensuing chaos, she made fliers with his face on them in the hope that he might still be alive. A photograph of her pained face clutching one of the handouts was published on the cover of the New York Post, becoming one of the images that defined the tragedy.
After O’Grady’s death, Uchitel found that continuing to work in the news industry was too triggering. So she decided to start over, embarking on a road trip to Las Vegas, where a childhood friend said he might be able to find her some work. That friend, Jason Strauss, happened to be the founder of The Tao Group, the nightlife and restaurant company whose flagship Las Vegas club was just taking off. And the job he gave her was one she ended up being really good at.
“I was the director of operations for the No. 1 nightclub in the world. I had a real, serious job. I was making close to a million dollars a year,” says Uchitel. “People think I was a waitress, but I don’t even know how to open a bottle of champagne. I was responsible for every table that was set, all the income that came in from bottle service. And I was like: ‘I’ve got this.’ I had my earpiece in, and it was something I knew how to do.”
But Uchitel didn’t meet Woods in Las Vegas. She met him in New York, where she’d moved back to help a few of Tao’s new clubs get off the ground. It was there that business and pleasure began to overlap; she no longer counted celebrities only as her clients, but sometimes as her boyfriends. She dated Derek Jeter and, on vacations to St. Tropez, she’d “get caught up and dabble,” hooking up with the likes of Ryan Seacrest and Stephen Dorff.
But Woods was different. After their first night together, she remembers in “Tiger,” she thought: “How am I ever gonna be with a mere mortal ever again?” She describes a relationship in which he showered her with attention, begging her to fly across the world for emotional support during the Australian Open and telling her she was the only woman he’d ever really loved.
But now that she’s completed her eight-hour sit-down with the “Tiger” directors, Uchitel will no longer discuss Woods. Though she alludes to a confidentiality settlement in the docuseries — she says Woods told her to “get as much as you can” — she won’t say if or how much he paid her. Asked if she signed a non-disclosure agreement that perhaps gave her the freedom to talk about the relationship after 10 years, she would say only: “I can’t get into that. But it’s interesting that you’re the first person who has brought that up.”
When it comes to her attraction to married men, though, Uchitel is surprisingly candid.
“Now, every time I date somebody, I’m going to be like, I need to see your documents,” she says, only half-kidding. “I need to know that you’re divorced. Because it’s embarrassing now. Obviously, going forward, I can’t even date anyone that’s separated. They have to be 100% single.”
She’s also spent time reflecting on why she’s been attracted to unavailable men. She thinks it has something to do with being chosen.
“I mean, it’s a problem that I derive my credibility from someone else loving me who I think is important,” she acknowledges. “Everyone thought David Boreanaz was super hot, but David Boreanaz is blowing up my phone and wants me. I pick powerful men. It could be a speaker in a room that everyone’s like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re so smart.’ It’s not like I’m trying to pull them away from anyone. The thing is that they want to know me.”
She describes herself as a love addict, a label first given to her by Dr. Drew Pinsky when she went on VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab” in 2010. After the Woods tabloid storm, Uchitel was bombarded with reality television offers. The first came from Donald Trump, whom she says called her at 7 a.m. to offer her a spot on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” After a dinner meeting with Trump’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, she accepted, thinking the show would give her an opportunity to fix her image.
“I thought Donald would be nice to me,” she says. “I thought he’d think I was cunning and see I was smart. I don’t know. I thought it would be a good move for me.”
But she was simultaneously being courted by VH1 executives, who were desperate to have her appear alongside Leif Garrett and Janice Dickinson on the fourth season of “Celebrity Rehab.” Uchitel balked at the idea, but agreed to meet with Pinsky anyway. Over breakfast, she felt such a connection with him that she began bawling and checked into his Pasadena rehab that night. The $400,000 paycheck — more than 10 times what “Apprentice” was offering — didn’t hurt.
Since the affair with Woods, Uchitel says she has struggled to find consistency in her life. In addition to the stint on reality TV, she earned a graduate certificate in forensic investigation. She got married, had a baby and got divorced. She opened a New York children’s clothing boutique named after her daughter, Wyatt Lily; it has since closed. She says she was one of five finalists considered for the open slot on the 12th season of “The Real Housewives of New York City.” (It went to Leah McSweeney.) Recently, she’s been working with a recovery center called Transcend, trying to raise awareness about love addiction.
“I would love some opportunity [to come from ‘Tiger’], because I haven’t been able to get a real, normal, sustainable job for the last 10 years,” she says, noting she has been turned down for jobs at Bloomberg and MSNBC. “I would love to go work in a newsroom again. I would love to do something normal again. They’ve told me flat out that I’m too scandalous.”
And she gets it. By her own admission, she doesn’t “necessarily come off as the most empathetic or sweet.” She can have a “bad tone,” get a “little harsh,” a “little defensive.”
“So I think I get misunderstood a little bit, and people don’t like me,” she says. “I try my best, and sometimes I don’t do a good job. I’ve made some wrong turns. But that doesn’t define me. … I have a daughter. I love animals. I’m not this person who is trying to sleep with married men and be scandalous or whatever. I’m just doing my best to be happy and figure out my purpose in life. And I think people are really hard on me.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.