Porsha Williams is clearing up rumors surrounding her departure from ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta.’
The reality star returned to the Real Housewives universe on Thursday with the premiere of season 3 of Peacock’s Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip— a show that marks the first time she’s been back on the airways since 2021’s Porsha’s Family Matters, the seven-episode Bravo spinoff she led after leaving RHOA that same year following a nine-season run.
“It’s good to be seen again,” Williams exclusively tells PEOPLE about her homecoming. “It’s been a minute, but it was nice to get a little taste, a little twang, of this world again. Though sometimes it’ll sting you a little bit!”
Williams sure knows that. Her departure from RHOA came months after news broke that she was engaged to now-husband Simon Guobadia, whom she had met while filming season 13 of the franchise through his then-wife Falynn Pina, a recurring guest on the show introduced to viewers as Williams’ “friend.”
Guobadia and Pina were separated by the time he and Williams started dating, though fans didn’t know that when the two went public with their romance, soon after season 13 finished airing. Rumors swirled that Williams had “stolen” Pina’s husband, and Williams’ announcement that she was leaving RHOA only made her look to some like she was afraid of being held accountable on camera.
But that wasn’t the truth at all, Williams says. “I wasn’t running away,” she notes. “And I don’t think any of my followers who truly knew me would believe that I would run away from the show for that.”
Indeed, RHOA cameras have captured Williams through many ups and downs in her personal life. She was married to former football star Kordell Stewart when she first joined the show in season 5 — but learned not long after via a post on social media that he was divorcing her. Her engagement to ex-fiancé Dennis McKinley fell apart when he cheated on her, and though they had a child together — 4-year-old daughter Pilar Jhena McKinley — the birth led to a struggle with postpartum depression.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of harsh things on the show,” Williams recalls to PEOPLE. “And I’ve been there at the beginning of every season to film, with the camera on. So no, this had nothing to do with that.”
Instead, Williams said she came to the conclusion that she wouldn’t be returning to RHOA for season 14 months earlier.
“I had already decided that it was time for me to step away at least six months before I told any of the executives what I was going to do — and long before I even met my now-husband,” she says. “I was turning 40, I was hitting my 10-year mark on the show, and I really just had to reassess where I was and what I wanted totally out of my life. So that’s where that decision came from.”
Returning to Housewives through Ultimate Girls Trip came at the right time for Williams, she says. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been this much of myself on television before,” she notes. “And that’s really something to say since I’ve been on TV for 10 years!”
Part of that has to do with the happy developments in Williams’ life, including her marriage to Guobadia, 58, and the tight bond she has with Pilar Jhena. But being away from the reality TV lens also helped.
“Think about it — I’m the only one on the show who wasn’t currently on a show,” says Williams, who appears on RHUGT alongside Real Housewives of New York City‘s Leah McSweeney, Real Housewives of Potomac‘s Gizelle Bryant and Candiace Dillard-Bassett; Real Housewives of Salt Lake City‘s Heather Gay and Whitney Rose, and Real Housewives of Miami‘s Alexia Nepola and Marysol Patton. “So I wasn’t talent at the time, I was like a real housewife for real, who just jumped into TV and got all up in these girls’ tea!”
“It was like a fresh start,” she admits to PEOPLE. “I wasn’t connected to any of their current drama, so there was no baggage for me. It was really free and refreshing. I really just enjoyed introducing myself to these girls and having some authentic moments with them. They were able to get to know me and I was able to get to know them without having to dig into some old messes.”
Of course, some of those old messes did come up, including those aforementioned rumors about Guobadia. She also finds herself defending comments she made about Dillard Bassett, while defending Dillard Bassett’s former RHOP costar and rival Monique Samuels.
But Williams didn’t mind dealing with a little shade.
“I kept it moving,” she says. “Peacock’s whole vision for Ultimate Girls Tripwas for us to feel like we were really on a vacation and production really encouraged that. It was, ‘Talk about what you want to talk about, break the fourth wall if you want, discussion something from 10 years ago or yesterday — whatever you want, just have fun.’ And I was having a time with these girls. These girls don’t mind letting their hair down, and when you’re doing something like this, everybody’s got to be about it. When it’s time to wild out, everybody needs to say, ‘Yes.’ If something comes up? ‘Let’s do it.’ And we did both. It was a party like, every other night.”
As for whether Williams would return to RHOA, she hints to PEOPLE that the door isn’t closed on going back, but that she would hope the experience would be different than before.
“It would be great if we brought back the RHUGT energy to these shows,” Williams says. “The ‘Hey, let’s let all that go. Let’s really get to know each other. Let’s dig in and form real relationships with each other, and really have fun. Stop thinking about the camera. Just enjoy yourself and be yourself.’ And I think if we did that, we’ll end up having more positive, fun seasons.”
Another thing Williams would do different? Look at the bigger picture.
“A lot of times, you can get caught up in what somebody’s saying to you. They’re reading you, they’re insulting you or other people, or pushing it on and making it worse,” Williams says. “You have to think about the end goal. How did this relationship start? Where do you want it to end? I wish I would’ve done that in some of my other relationships — shut out the noise, called a girl up and say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this. Forget about the comments, forget about what Twitter is saying, forget about everything else that’s going on. Let’s talk about this. Are we going to be cool after this? Is that the intention, or do you just want to fight me forever?'”
“If I would have shut all that out and just dealt with that person, I think I would see better outcomes with some of this stuff,” she says.
If you haven’t watched ‘RHUGT’ season 3 — you’re missing out! The first three epsidoes are now streaming on Peacock.