Never afraid to try new things has certainly worked in favour for Chrissie Swan who shares the breathtaking highs and hard hitting lows on her ascent to stardom.
Chrissie Swan has time for only a brief chat, sitting in her car ahead of an imperative commitment – her son and a gaggle of his Grade 2 classmates are performing at the school assembly. She keeps a watchful eye on the time to ensure she doesn’t miss getting a decent seat.
“If I see too many other mums arriving I will have to run,” she says before unleashing that distinctive, hearty laugh. It is a comforting revelation that behind her astronomical success as commercial radio broadcaster, Logie winner, TV star and presenter as well as author, columnist, fashion label ambassador, at heart she is a dedicated and relatable mother of three.
Thanks to modern technology, complete with connection failures and each believing the other was washed up on some deserted sandy beach from all the static interference, we both find ourselves slotting in our talk amongst the throngs of motherly commitments.
“I can’t wait to see him. It will be so adorable. He even has some lines to speak into the microphone,” she gushes about her eldest son Leo.
Who would have thought when the sassie Melbourne born-and-bred brunette threw open the doors to the voyeuristic Big Brother house in 2003, she would become one of the country’s most enduring and much loved personalities? Obviously coming runner-up to Tasmanian fish and chip store owner, Reggie Bird, has worked out pretty well.
“I have a beautiful life. And for the most part I always land on my feet even if it life turns me in a different direction. I would never change it.”
Never afraid of hard work or taking a risk, Chrissie harbours an admirable ability to dust herself off and try something else when things don’t go smoothly. Perhaps observing the monotony of a career-focused, military father unleashed her carefree attitude about her own career.
“Stability is rare in the entertainment industry, but I think that has kind of suited me. I’m happy to wait and see what opportunities are around the corner,” she admits candidly.
“I have been lucky enough to have been offered some life-changing opportunities and met some amazing people who I can now call my friends. That is more than most people ever get out of their career.”
You could easily be mistaken for thinking her trajectory to stardom has been effortless, dabbling in a bit of morning radio in Queensland shortly after leaving the house, before packing up and heading home to take her seat between radio veteran David O’Neill and then newcomer Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson on Vega 91.5FM breakfast radio. She quickly garnered a loyal following of fans thanks to her warmth and quick wit.
But she openly admits she was the wrong fit for the struggling station that was subsequently re-launched as Classic Rock and then again as Melbourne’s 91.5 after she was axed at the end of 2009. But paying her dues to the airways opened the door to Network Ten’s morning chat show The Circle alongside Yumi Stynes, Gorgi Coghlan and Denise Drysdale in 2010. This stint cemented Swan as a household name after snaring the coveted Most Popular Female Presenter Logie in 2011 and a nomination for the elusive Gold Logie.
Amongst the bustle of car tyres and slamming doors of fellow school mums flooding into the surrounding carpark, she recalls her time on The Circle as one of the highest peaks of her career, a setting that allowed her true colours to shine. But after two years as part of the ensemble Chrissie stepped back into the arms of brekkie radio citing the elusive hunt for better work-life balance with two little boys tugging her heartstrings.
“I remember the discussion I had with my partner Chris about my work on The Circle when I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore.” There is a distinct solemness to her voice.
“I loved the work so much so it was a tough call but I had to choose between an amazing job or savouring the opportunity of being mum. You don’t get to do over being a mum if you miss it. So I had to leave knowing another opportunity in television might never come my way.”
The switch from The Circle to Melbourne’s MIX 101.1 to form one half of the side-splitting duo with Jane Hall finally gave Chrissy a radio gig that felt like home, she claims; ”proof of the old adage that when you work with your friends, you never work a day in your life”. And her hesitations over never returning to television were quickly squandered when the offer came knocking to host the second, and third series, of Can of Worms.
After a particularly unceremonious eviction from MIX she didn’t have to wait long for the phone to ring, and in typical Chrissie fashion she shrugged and said “why not?”, and signed up to the jungle asylum on Network Ten’s reality show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
“Six weeks of having absolutely nothing to do gives you plenty of time to untangle a lot of thoughts,” she muses that this was really the only positive to being homesick and starving in a bug-ridden jungle, apart from befriending Joel Creasey and putting on the backburner plans for a comedy duo.
“I can’t believe I survived without my kids or partner for so long. It was so much harder than I ever expected. But I would have missed out on some great life lessons if I had gone home early.”
There was a moment in that South African jungle that still brings a tear to Chrissy’s eye – when young Leo peeked around the shrubbery to see her for the first time in weeks, the rawness of the embrace etched in TV history.
“I missed him so much, I never wanted to let him go. It was a beautiful moment and people still come up to me in the street to tell me how moved they were and we have a little cry together,” she brims.
Alongside her loyal devotees are the ever-watchful critics and Chrissie has felt the dagger more than most, harshly taking aim at her parenting choices and body weight. But she holds her head high, claiming since her debut appearance in the entertainment industry 13 years ago not one personal interaction has proved negative.
“If anybody in the public eye listened and lived according to what was written about them, we’d never leave the house,” she is uncharacteristically brusque.
“People in general are supportive, yet something happens when they are sitting behind a computer screen, but that is only a very small amount of people so it doesn’t really make sense to give them a lot of energy.
“I don’t care about scandals or what people think about my decisions because only I know all the facts. I adore my kids and I really enjoy my work without taking anything for granted and without seeing my career as all that I am.”
She humbly says her career is a place for personal growth and boundless new friends. New to her friendship rolodex are the jaw dropping pint sized word whizzes she embraced with big-sister-like support on The Great Australian Spelling Bee.
“Weren’t they just amazing?” she gushes.
Her words hasten as she describes the completion of filming the second series of the hit show earning her another 18 little friends, but she is cautious with her promise that it will air sooner, rather than later, without giving a specific launch date.
She relays anecdotes of backstage happenings and post production catch-ups, proudly boasting involvement in a secret Facebook group with her “gang”, old series and new. It is clear she was the right person for the job.
“I love keeping in touch with them and hearing all the goss from their lives. They are such amazing kids.”
Her love and compassion for people has also bid her in good stead for her latest role on the television series Long Lost Families, reuniting families from all walks of life, which also filmed this year.
“Oh man, that show is just extraordinary,” she boasts. “I just had no idea about people, the resilience and the heartbreaking stories. That show has been my baby for the past seven or so months and I just love it. I am so proud of it. It has been eye opening and heart warming at the same time.
“Stability is rare in the entertainment industry, but I think that has kind of suited me. I’m happy to wait and see what opportunities are around the corner.”
“I remember sitting in the lounge room with this gentleman in the Northern Territory, there was just the cameraman, him and me and he starts telling me this incredible story about his life and it hit me that he has probably never shared this with anyone ever before and here I am, listening and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all. I have come to realise what an honour I have been given being a part of all of this.
“Some stories make you realise how fortunate a life you have had. I have a beautiful life. And for the most part I always land on my feet even if it life turns me in a different direction. I would never change it. Life is always a work in progress.”
And her life’s current progress sees the juggling act of yet another gig on breakfast radio as host of Chrissie, Sam and Browny on Nova 100 alongside the filming of the two television series, yet she tells me this is the first time that her life hasn’t felt completely manic.
“The kids are all in their own beds – well, no – they all go to sleep in their own beds – there are no more nappies, bottles or plastic spoons around the house. It feels that there are no more babies and things are a little more manageable,” she says with a sigh of relief.
Chrissie’s partner Chris Saville – affectionately referred to as The Chippie on air – has taken on the challenge of being a stay-at-home-dad to their three kids, Leo (7), Kit (4) and Peg (3), in an effort to balance homelife with Chrissie’s hectic professional schedule.
And what do the kids make of having a famous mum?
“It is pretty normal to them. They have never known anything else, but the seven-year-old is not really impressed by it, but he likes the shows I work on,” she stifles a laugh to avoid startling a passerby.
“I just got the strangest look sitting in my car giggling to myself,” and she starts laughing twice as hard.
Her sanguine acceptance of reality doesn’t mean she doesn’t experience self doubt or remain wary of her future career prospects. She claims she’s learnt that sometimes, a gamble doesn’t pay off – and that’s OK – you just have to see what is around the next corner.
“I’ll keep slotting swimming lessons and football games alongside filming and radio commitments for as long as I can,” she says. “Maybe one day I will work out what I really want. I would like to write a novel, one day, when I find the time.
“I have got to run, there are loads of other mums arriving and I don’t want to miss getting a good seat.” And she is gone in a flurry of adieus to soak in her son’s fleeting youth.