In 2012, the documentary The Queen of Versailles chronicled Jackie and David Siegel, one of the wealthiest couples in America. In the early 2000s, David, who runs the timeshare empire Westgate Resorts, set out to build the biggest house in America, modeled after the palace in Versailles. As the documentary shows, the family lost much of their fortune in the 2008 recession - but that’s just one part of their story.
Since the film's release, the Siegel family has had major highs and grim lows. They’ve gained their fortune back but lost one of the most important people in their lives. The movie is a documentation of their excess, but the truth of their rise and fall is far more nuanced than it may seem at first glance.
David And Jackie Siegel Set Out To Build The Biggest House In America
Queen of Versailles follows David and Jackie Siegel as they set out to build the world's largest home, a 90,000-square-foot residence on the outskirts of Orlando, FL. The mansion was designed to have a wild assemblage of amenities, including 14 bedrooms, 32 bathrooms, 11 kitchens, a movie theater, a roller rink, and two elevators - one gold and one standard. Its construction was made possible by the real estate bubble and David's successful timeshare company.
Jackie told the Toronto Star that her inspiration behind the home came from her honeymoon in France when she and David visited the actual Versailles:
We were on our honeymoon in France and we went to see Versailles. He was totally inspired. But we were thinking maybe 10 or 15,000 square feet. Not where we ended up... I kept saying you’re not going to build Versailles for me.
They Put The Unfinished Mansion Up For Sale In 2009 After The Recession Hit
When the 2008 recession hit, the Siegel family took a huge loss. Not only did they have to sell one of their properties, but all work on the house came to a standstill. Finally, the Siegels put their unfinished mansion on the market in 2009 for $100 million. With no buyers in sight, the pair dropped the price by $10 million, but there still weren't any bites.
As opulent as the in-progress palace may be, it's obvious why the house kept sitting on the market. It's not just a massive building - fit for multiple families - but one worth a lot more than even extremely wealthy prospective homeowners are looking to spend. The house sat on the market for so long, the Siegels were able to reverse their financial fortunes and resume construction on the home without having to sell off their lifelong project.
At One Point, The Family Had Five Dogs That Pooped Everywhere
Throughout the film, the Siegel home is overrun by small dogs that defecate all over the place. As the family loses money, they aren't able to pay people to clean up after their pets. It's a section that shows how unprepared the Siegels are to live a somewhat normal life - or at least a life without hired help. After seeing the film, Jackie noted that the presentation of this sequence was without context, arguing that her dog Paris was actually sick at the time. She explained:
There are scenes, for example, where you see dog [feces] all over the house. Well yes, there was dog [feces] all over our house at that time, but only because one of our pets had cancer and was getting radiation treatment. The dog was called Paris, in fact, and he just passed.
When the Independent reached out for comment from director Lauren Greenfield, she rebutted that during filming Paris wasn't even around:
The dog poop and pee on the carpet was documented over a 16-month period, well before Paris was sick. In fact, we had almost no contact with Paris, who was a dangerous... dog and consequently was kept locked away when we were filming. The dog poop and pee was from the other four dogs, who roamed freely and were not house trained.
David Siegel Suggests He’s Partially Responsible For George W. Bush Being Elected
Before David Siegel was stanning for fellow businessman Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaign, he was doing whatever he could to help fellow conservative George W. Bush win the contentious 2000 election against Al Gore. While speaking to the Telegraph, Siegel alluded to the possibility he helped elect Bush by using tactics that would "not necessarily have been legal."
While speaking with Business Week in 2012, Siegel elaborated on the strategy he used to convince his employees to vote for the Republican candidate. He sent his employees clippings along with their paychecks. He told Susan Berfield:
Whenever I saw a negative article about Gore, I put it in with the paychecks of my 8,000 employees. I had my managers do a survey on every employee. If they liked Bush, we made them register to vote. But not if they liked Gore. The week before [the election] we made 80,000 phone calls through my call center - they were robo-calls. On Election Day, we made sure everyone who was voting for Bush got to the polls. I didn’t know he would win by 527 votes. Afterward, we did a survey among the employees to find out who voted who wouldn’t have otherwise. One thousand of them said so.