Australian national Darling, Kate Ritchie, whose roots in Home and Away, have lead to a high-profile career in Radio and Writing, chats with Ann Marie Bradstreet about managing the Spotlight and being Mum to her precious daughter, Mae.
Most Australians feel like they own a little share in the life of Kate Ritchie. For 20 years, the nation watched her grow up in a record-breaking stint as the beloved character, Sally Fletcher, in the popular soap Home and Away. One moment she was an eight year old with an imaginary friend called Milco, the next a grown woman with her own family, and the country was with her, every step of the way.
An adaptable stalwart of the entertainment industry, from child star to AFI nominated actress and with a cache of Logies, two of them Gold, she currently makes up one third of Nova’s highly successful National Drive Show.
Recently, Kate added the feather of author to her bow releasing her first children’s book I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You. Although Kate has thrived in the spotlight, she reveals it’s not always been easy basking in it, yet continues to manage a lifetime’s attention with perennial grace. Sharing the story of her new book and strong bond with daughter Mae a discerning depth emerges from her endearing affability.
Nervous and fearing I may sound lobotomised conducting my interview with Kate Ritchie off the back of a horror night’s sleep spent writhing with my three year old, I start by asking how she copes with work after a rough night. With a degree of tongue-in-cheek, she points out that her radio gig at Nova isn’t exactly rocket science and sleep deprivation probably aids the desired headspace for the studio’s afternoon antics.
“It’s probably the perfect job for it. An awful sleep is not such a bad thing and a hard night with Mae (her daughter turns three in August) is nothing on dealing with Tim and Marty and their childlike behaviour,” she says with a chuckle.
“All I want is for her to be brave, I don’t want her to be crippled by feelings of low confidence or fear, right now she has no fear, you see that when she jumps from the dining table into my arms or struts around the supermarket with my lipstick on without a care. It’s a good reminder of who we should be, I want to protect that.”
My mind drifts, she had me at “afternoon” and I yearn, longingly for Kate’s charmed life, where being drunk with fatigue is considered a strength. The myth is slightly dispelled as she lets on that it’s not so great on a photo shoot as the face of QV Skincare: “I’m sure they don’t want me coming in with bags under my eyes,” she says.
I take a quick glance at the state of myself and piously offer thanks that school drop-off was my only public appearance for the day, no amount of airbrushing could rescue this, I decide as Kate quietly concedes, Mae is, “a pretty good sleeper most of the time.” She is reticent to expound on the attribute for fear of tempting fate or driving those of us less fortunate over the brink. I note down “Sensible” as a useful adjective to describe her later, I’m running on an hour and a half’s shut eye and have already cut my finger making lunches. Having concluded that sleep is not essential job criteria at Nova and parenting skills are deemed an asset, in light of her colleagues, Kate admits it’s hard to write when she ‘s tired, with that I can concur – where’s the coffee?!
Scribblings on scraps of paper evolved into a letter to her unborn child as a way to quell the anxiety and excitement she was feeling in anticipation of the birth.
The recently published children’s book I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, released by Penguin Random House Australia, is Kate’s first public offering as a writer. She tells me she has always filled notebooks and exercise pads with various tales in the hope of one day being published. She has been asked to write things in the past, fending off several requests for her memoirs, wondering if she should be offended and quite certain she’d need at least another 20 to 30 years rustling up enough grit for a worthy one, we both chuckle that it would be prudent to check out soon after dishing the dirt and Kate Ritchie states she’s not going anywhere yet.
Kate began writing while pregnant with daughter Mae Webb, born in August 2014. Scribblings on scraps of paper evolved into a letter to her unborn child as a way to quell the anxiety and excitement she was feeling in anticipation of the birth. “It was a way to write down my feelings, I had a good pregnancy generally, physically good but it was a challenge mentally and there was fear attached. I was writing to silence that.”
“Kate before Mae belonged to lots of people in some way and I wouldn’t change that for the world, for the lady at the supermarket to tell me she feels like my grandmother and is proud of me.”
Wondering if others felt the same, she decided to share her writing and, with the guidance of her publishers at Penguin, was partnered with illustrator, Hannah Sommerville, who captured all the tenderness of Kate’s words to create I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You. The collaboration resulted in a beautiful book about pregnancy, birth and a mother’s connection to her unborn child. Kids love hearing about their birth and the time spent in their mummies’ tummies and the book provides an opportunity for precious discussions. But Kate also wrote the book for expectant mothers who may be processing similar emotions to what she experienced.
Through book signings Kate has connected with a range of people and says, “You don’t know what people are going through, what their individual story is and I have been so overwhelmed by the response. Everyone has been so warm and lovely, which has been important because the book came from a good place within me.”
Kate describes being moved by a woman sharing her IVF story who bought the book in hope of reading it to her child one day. A nurse revealed she’d used the book as a resource, guiding young teenage mothers struggling to bond with their babies. “I’m really proud of the book and it makes me feel this is the way I was meant to be published,” Kate says.
Further collaboration with Sommerville hasn’t been ruled out and Kate is being inspired by the books she’s reading to Mae. “I’m learning so much from the beautiful books I’m reading to her and she is teaching me so much, I see what’s she’s feeling and what the story means to her and I’m responding to that in my writing.”
When asked about Kate’s bond with daughter Mae, with husband Stuart Webb, she becomes pensive: “I do think that we are the parents and are meant to teach and guide her but Mae has equally if not more been a teacher to me. She’s made me more me than I’ve ever been.”
When asked to elaborate, Kate reveals a sensitive insight into the realities of a lifetime devoid of anonymity.
“Being a parent is a great leveller, everyone’s lives and stories are so different but as parents we are all on the same team or at least we should be.”
“I’m thinking of taking her somewhere tomorrow – just the two of us. Stuart will be at work, it’ll just be us. Years ago, going out in public by myself and buying tickets to somewhere and exposing myself in that way, well, my anxiety levels just couldn’t have handled it but since Mae has arrived, I just get on with it. Being a parent is a great leveller, everyone’s lives and stories are so different but as parents we are all on the same team or at least we should be.”
I read something Kate wrote about Mae being the only person to come into her life that has no preconceived idea about who she is; When Kate discusses this she is emotional, generous, open and apologetic.
“Kate before Mae belonged to lots of people in some way and I wouldn’t change that for the world, for the lady at the supermarket to tell me she feels like my grandmother and is proud of me, I wouldn’t change that, but to Mae I am just Mummy and she adores me purely because I’m her mummy, for all the right reasons, everything about her is so true and good, nothing is tainted, she has no agenda.”
“Mae and I are a team. I have my extended team, Stuart, parents, siblings but sometimes when she’s giving me a hard time I’m like ‘we’re doing this together, it’s ok, we’re in the same boat’,” she laughs, “one of my favourite parts of the book is the line ‘although sometimes you challenge me, I know we will be okay’. And she does challenge me, it’s meant to be challenging but hopefully, we come out the other side.”
Kate’s writing aspirations reach beyond children’s literature and she tells me, “I’m working toward writing for young teens. I want to write fiction that makes young girls feel great, body confident, willing to try anything.” She states self-effacingly that she has a lot to offer in this genre and I wonder from what inspiration she will draw.
Perhaps this will be the case for her daughter, Mae Webb, who shares her birthday and name with Mae West, a fearless woman also willing to try anything. When asked how she would feel if Mae wanted to be an actress, Kate says, “All I want is for her to be brave, I don’t want her to be crippled by feelings of low confidence or fear, right now she has no fear, you see that when she jumps from the dining table into my arms or struts around the supermarket with my lipstick on without a care. It’s a good reminder of who we should be, I want to protect that.”
“Mae and I are a team. I have my extended team, Stuart, parents, siblings but sometimes when she’s giving me a hard time I’m like ‘we’re doing this together, it’s ok, we’re in the same boat’.”
I add “Fierce” and “Passionate” to my list of descriptors and ask Kate what are her important family values. “I have very fond childhood memories. My brother and sisters (Kate has three younger siblings) are all such great friends and I would love to have more children,” she offers. “I don’t think I’d make it to four though!” she laughs, “unless I to get a hurry–on.
“I am very grateful for everything my mum and dad gave me and it wasn’t everything we wanted or big holidays, it was simple things: Christmases together, a loving childhood. We all have our moments but we turned out ok. So, as a result of how I was brought up, I think simple things are best.
“When I was pregnant I just couldn’t wait to meet Mae and when she was born Stuart and I just couldn’t wait until she was on her own two feet and could climb up into to bed with us. So, the most important things are the simple things, when Mae climbs into bed with us and says, ‘Mummy I want a snuggle.’”