Matt Lauer Cleans Up the Hamptons
BY HODA KOTB
I am a relative newbie to the Hamptons, but Matt Lauer has been spending time on the East End almost his entire life.
There are many different interpretations of the Hamptons. For me, I go to get away and relax with friends, to spend a lazy afternoon at the beach, then end the day at Tide Runners, dancing to a cover band and eating lobster under the sunset. For Matt, the Hamptons is a place to call home and to spend time with family and close friends, a place where he is very much a part of the community. For the both of us, it’s a place to occasionally gather with friends at Rosanna Scotto’s house for a fun dinner party.
Matt is hands-down the most talented journalist I have ever seen, and he is one of the funniest people I know. He is also compassionate, and I think it’s that characteristic that drives him to motivate others to take care of their community.
HODA KOTB: When did you start going to the Hamptons?
MATT LAUER: My folks used to take us out there when we were about 8 or 10 years old. We went to Amagansett, which seemed like the end of the earth at that time, and you would literally drive through cornfield after cornfield and potato field after potato field to finally get out to this just incredibly ideal spot along the ocean. I’ve been going out there now for the better part of 45 years.
HK: What has changed the most about the Hamptons from the time you were a child to the way you see it now?
ML: It has changed enormously. Growing up, when you would go from Southampton to Bridgehampton to Water Mill, there were little pockets of stores and houses, but then the space between them was filled by farms and dunes. Clearly, the development has been enormous, and we can argue about that and scream and moan and complain, and yet the fact is we have all been part of it and are all guilty to some extent.
HK: With all the additional people comes the litter. Is it a big problem?
ML: I think you know me well enough to know that I am a bit of an OCD person. I love order; I love neatness in my apartment. God forbid someone comes over and moves a coffee-table book; I move it back three inches to where it was. So litter is something I’ve always been aware of, and not only in the Hamptons, but also when I travel across the country. The fact that we tend to trash our communities is something that we should be absolutely ashamed of. We have just a terrible sense of keeping what is beautiful pristine.
About four or five years ago in the Hamptons, I started to drive on some of these back roads—and maybe this isn’t as big a problem in the south-of-the-highway estate sections—but I would look along the tree line and I just saw more and more trash. Within the past two years, it’s become epidemic. It’s unbelievably embarrassing and depressing to me to drive down a street in a stunningly beautiful place but then see how carelessly people have treated it. And I’m not one of these people to point a finger or blame, but what I do know is that people are not doing enough to fix it.
HK: So you and your daughter actually get out there and pick up litter.
ML: We go up one side of our street and down the other every couple of Saturdays with our big Hefty green trash bags and our rubber gloves. I should tell you the number of looks I get as a driver goes by, and some of them honk the horn in recognition, but I don’t see them stopping their cars and jumping in to help.
HK: Do you hope that from people seeing you do this, it becomes a grassroots kind of effort?
ML: I don’t want people to think that I am up on a soapbox here. I’m not. This isn’t something I talk about to every single person I meet. All I’m saying is that it would be nice if people took the initiative. Do I think it’s happening? I’m afraid not, because the evidence on the side of the road suggests otherwise. All I’m asking people to do is when they walk or drive down the street, look to the side and then ask themselves, “Is this the way we want to treat our country and our community?” And I hope they answer no. I just want people to appreciate the Hamptons and try to have the same experience with it that I’ve had over these past 45 years.
HK: Do you see the Hamptons as a quiet place or, like a lot of people outside of the Hamptons see it, as this party spot?
ML: I think it depends what stage of your life you are in. I think at a certain phase of my life, when I was single, yeah, it was a rocking, hot party beach location, but now [my wife, Annette, and I] raise our family here; my kids go to school here. Now it’s gone back to the basics—what I dream of it being is this beautiful, picturesque paradise. Is it always that? No. But that’s what I look for when I head out there now.
HK: Where do you and your family enjoy spending time?
ML: I think the image that people have is that it’s all polo fields and cocktail parties. And the fact of the matter—my experience and Annette’s experience with the Hamptons now—is about parent-teacher conferences and Little League and music lessons. We have a painfully normal existence out here, and I think some people would be rather shocked by that. We go to the local drug store, and we walk the dog on the beach on weekend mornings and take pony-riding lessons and spend an awful lot of time at Southampton Youth Services, watching the kids compete in basketball and baseball. It is very much small-town America—it just happens to have a reputation and a name like the Hamptons.
HK: And your wife is a big equestrian, too?
ML: My wife rides probably five days a week, which is great for her. Our daughter rode for a long time and is actually taking a little break from the sport right now, but she’s still very much into it. She would do the walk-trot-canter at The Hampton Classic, and she would do pony camp in the summer over at Two Trees Farm—that’s a real big part of our lives.
HK: Describe what it’s like in the wintertime when your kids are out at school.
ML: It’s the best. Most of the locals—and you know I can’t consider myself a local—but the people who live here year-round always joke that we stand along the side of Route 27 on Labor Day weekend and wave to everyone driving out and say, “See you next year.” It is very quiet, and it takes on a real small-town feel. We live in Sag Harbor, which I’ve always felt is the most normal town—it’s a little bit like Mayberry on the French Riviera.
HK: What are some upcoming stories you’re working on for NBC that you’re excited to talk about?
ML: One of the things I get excited about every two years is covering the Olympics. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I tend to get more excited covering the winter Olympics than the summer Olympics, but for a very good reason—it has to do with the Hamptons. To pick up for three weeks and head off, away from the Hamptons, to cover the Olympics in London, it’s a little bittersweet because I feel like I miss part of the best part of the season. But clearly, the Olympics coverage is something that I think we do really well at NBC. I’ve just finished interviewing Michael Phelps for a big Olympics profile, and having a chance to meet some of these young men and women and then watch them going through what is the biggest moment of their lives, for better or for worse, has been enormously exciting and a real honor over the years.
HK: And Michael is such an interesting story now that he is talking about this as probably his last Olympics.
ML: Yeah. Michael started when he was 15; he was the youngest American male swimmer going to Sydney in 2000, and it was a real learning experience for him. And then in Athens, in 2004, he won six gold medals, eight medals overall; and then his last tour, in Beijing, he accomplished the impossible, winning eight gold medals—every one he set out to win. So now he’s looking at the end of the road, and I think he’s doing it with a certain sense of melancholy, but also, I don’t think he feels he has anything left to prove, and he feels he is going to let his record speak for itself. But even as I say that, we talked today and you could see that he has mixed emotions, that he is still uncertain about what he is going to do after his swimming career is over.
HK: You recently re-signed with Today, and we are over the moon. How does it feel to know that you’ve decided to stay with the show for a while?
ML: I gave a lot of thought about moving on, or doing nothing, but the fact of the matter is, even at that ungodly hour of 4:10 AM when the alarm goes off, I still like getting out of bed. I’m still excited about the things I get to talk about. I’m still thrilled by the fact that if news breaks, there is really a strong chance I’m going to be interviewing the person at the center of the story. I love the people I work with, and I think it’s a privilege to have this job, and so as a result, when you get it, you hang on to it. The only thing you have to be careful about is that you don’t hang on to it too long, and I think I haven’t quite reached that point yet.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL FILONOW; Styling by Rebecca Malinsky; Grooming by Mary Kahler; Special Thanks to The American Hotel in Sag Harbor; trash can courtesy of persan henry + sons hardware, sag harbor