Matt James Recalls His “Hard Conversation” With Rachael Kirkconnell After Antebellum Party Photos

Matt James opened up like never before in his debut book, detailing his “uneasy” conversation with Rachael Kirkconnell after her Antebellum party photos surfaced.

By Kelly Gilmore Mar 24, 2022 3:03 AMTags
Watch: Matt James Addresses Recent Bachelor Nation Controversies

Matt James gave an inside look on what was going on behind-the-scenes during his Bachelor Nation scandal last year.

In his debut book, First Impressions: Off-Screen Conversations With a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness, Matt detailed what went down when photos of partner Rachael Kirkconnell at a 2018 "antebellum plantation themed" party surfaced in early 2021.

According to an excerpt published in Cosmopolitan on March 23, Matt shared that he and Rachael spoke nearly every hour over the phone after his season wrapped filming. Matt was traveling from state to state for appearances. Meanwhile, Rachael was with her family in Georgia.

"She mentioned that some things about her past had popped up on the web, but I shrugged it off and told her not to worry about it," Matt explained. "The Twitter mob would have a new target soon enough. Then the picture dropped."

In early 2021, before The Bachelor finale aired, a Reddit post shared racially insensitive photos of Rachael at an event that the user described as an "antebellum plantation themed ball."

He recalled seeing the photo of her at a Rose Ball Formal at a campus fraternity, saying that media outlets "declared Rachael a racist."

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Matt said Rachael called him "immediately" about the photos, but he was be her side from the start. "I knew the woman I'd chosen to be with. Celebrity gossip, no matter how sensitive, wouldn't shape my opinion of her," he shared. "Her voice on the other end was strained and unsteady."

He said he consoled her in the moment: "I assured her that I knew who she was."

But the pair were in different states, Matt noted, so he wanted to have a conversation in person to discuss the controversial photos.

"I needed to see Rachael's face for the hard conversation ahead," he said in his book. "I hadn't felt so nervous to see Rachael since handing her the final rose. We'd come a long way, even since then, but there was a formalness to our meeting this time that felt unfamiliar and uneasy."

Matt explained that the couple retreated to a house in "middle-of-nowhere Georgia" to have the conversation away from the public. At the time, Rachael and Matt were not allowed to be seen together until their relationship was announced on the show, he said.

"She and I spent two days together, and then on the third day, we had the hard conversation," the former football player said. "I shared how it felt seeing her, a woman I loved, embody a role that had once so antagonized me. My emotions welled up, and she met me at their peak."

Matt said that Rachael "leaned forward and dove in" to explain her side of the story.

"She'd only been in the sorority a short time; she left the semester following the party," he wrote. "She didn't know about the context of the party when she chose to attend; it was just another college event in her mind. She didn't offer her ignorance as an excuse. Just a fact—she paired it with the facts of her remorse and regret. Tears streamed down both our faces."

After the tough conversation, "She apologized for the pain I felt. I forgave her."

Craig Sjodin via Getty Images

After their conversation in Georgia, Matt said he knew he and Rachael needed to be apart for a while, and they didn't speak for a couple of weeks.

"I needed to slow the train down," Matt wrote. "We both needed to reflect on the relationship we'd developed, to ask ourselves how deep its roots really reached."

Rachael broke her silence, a week before the After the Final Rose ceremony was scheduled. "I hear you, and I'm here to say I was wrong," she wrote in an Instagram post in February 2021. "They are not acceptable or okay in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist."

The two then began to speak again. "We decided to keep talking, to be open to our love building back," he recounted. And after the After the Final Rose ceremony, Matt and Rachael made a pact to keep working on themselves backstage, he said.

Yet, Matt admitted that during this uncertain time in their relationship, he reached out to exes.

"It was a mistake," he noted. "Rachael got wind and was justifiably hurt and feeling betrayed. After that, there was silence."

The pair eventually reconnected in April, which Matt described as fate. The former Bachelor star was in Atlanta for an event when suddenly he received a notification that Rachael was just two blocks away.

"Turns out, she hadn't meant to send the notification at all; she didn't even know I was in Atlanta," he wrote. "She had just unblocked my contact, which triggered the location sharing to return automatically—a crazy coincidence that felt fated. We met in the parking garage in her car, far from the public eye. We talked for four hours in that car about all of the issues that had kept us apart—her mistakes, my mistakes, insecurities, family drama, public perception, and everything else under the sun. I decided to be better going forward. She had done self-work that I hadn't reciprocated. I promised her that I was all in."