Carrie Bickmore: ‘I’m not having a midlife crisis!’

 

When Carrie Bickmore cut her hair short for the first time in 23 years then promptly followed it up with her first tattoo, her mum Jennie tentatively asked if she was having a midlife crisis.

"She asked me how I was feeling about coming up to 40. I said, 'I'm not having a midlife crisis!'" Bickmore recalls with a laugh. "I'd just been in lockdown so long I was happy to be released so I could do some stuff."

The tattoo, she says, is a tribute to her family, while the short hair indicates she's finally overcome the horror of her schoolgirl crop. "Seeing the photo of my Year 12 formal, I can see why it's taken me so long to get back to having short hair," she reveals.

"I'm the daggy girl with braces looking at her partner hoping he would give me a pash by the end of the night, but there was no chance!"

“I’m only just beginning. I feel I’m just discovering who I really am. To think of all those years of women missing out is just crazy.” (Picture: Damian Bennett)
“I’m only just beginning. I feel I’m just discovering who I really am. To think of all those years of women missing out is just crazy.” (Picture: Damian Bennett)

Probe a little more, however, and it soon emerges that the snipping and inking - not to mention the willingness to pose in a bikini for our shoot - are perhaps a little more symbolic than the mum-of-three and popular host of The Project would have us believe.

While it's only a haircut and the tiniest of tattoos, the boldness of both for a woman who admits to liking structure and the status quo is emblematic of a major shift in Bickmore's life.

Indeed, it's only while talking to Stellar that she realises these outward changes are a manifestation of an inward resolve that has been years in the making.

"It's probably why, without even thinking about it, that with the tattoo and cutting my hair, I just want to be a bit more carefree," she says. "I don't throw caution to the wind very often and I'd like to do that a bit more."

After years of coping and keeping on, the TV and radio host is now experimenting with living a little more lightly and loosely (she admits she stepped outside her comfort zone and took an "Ah, whatever" approach to this photo shoot).

If her 20s were marked by caring for her first husband, Greg Lange, through his battle with brain cancer, her 30s began newly widowed and with a young son to raise. Only now, as she turns 40, re-partnered and with two more children, does she feel sufficiently free and unburdened to embrace the breezy life she missed out on in her youth.

“I feel I should bow down to the women who’ve come before me because they paved the way for me to have the career I’ve had.” (Picture: Damian Bennett)
“I feel I should bow down to the women who’ve come before me because they paved the way for me to have the career I’ve had.” (Picture: Damian Bennett)

"In my 20s, at the time when everyone around me was pretty carefree, I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders," she reveals.

"I grew up quicker than most people do. In my 30s I already had a child then, much later, I went on to have two more. Obviously, with building my career and family life, I think of all of my 30s as exhaustion. Now I just need to take a few more risks, be a bit more carefree and see where life takes me."

There's no doubt 2020 has been a big year for Bickmore. As well as turning 40 on December 3, she chalked up 20 years since graduating as a journalist. Yet as she points out, since she can't have a party for her 40th due to COVID, she's postponing it until she's 41.

I love having parties and I want all my friends and family together, but some are in Western Australia and South Australia, and have been unable to leave. It won't be enjoyable unless I'm with people I love, so I'm going to stay 39 for another year."

As for her two-decade career, she says she had low expectations when she graduated from Curtin University in Perth back in 2000, so much so she also studied public relations in case she needed a back-up plan.

She moved from Perth to Melbourne the following year to work in radio, before getting her start in television as the newsreader on Rove Live. Years later, as jobs tumble and experienced TV hosts now find themselves out of work, Bickmore is busier than ever, with a staggering portfolio that reflects not only her talent but also a healthy dose of ambition.

“Our family is a very busy family so, weirdly, it was a reset I badly needed even though I wouldn’t have asked for it.” (Picture: Supplied)
“Our family is a very busy family so, weirdly, it was a reset I badly needed even though I wouldn’t have asked for it.” (Picture: Supplied)

Despite observing how "everything that's happened has come about by accident", she also acknowledges that she's deftly parlayed her skills with diversity and agility.

As well as The Project, she has her Hit Network radio show with Tommy Little, there's her extensive charity work, including Carrie's Beanies 4 Brain Cancer, which has raised nearly $18 million - oh, and there's her 736,000-strong Instagram following, which needs feeding as regularly as her family of five.

"I've never used the hashtag #blessed, but I 100 per cent do not take for granted that I have work," she says. "I try to keep adding new strings to my bow because I know one will go by the wayside. It's about constantly learning new skills as well."

To watch Bickmore on The Project is to observe a woman at the top of her game. The only host to have been on the show since it started in 2009, she not only ushered in a fresher and funnier news and current-affairs format, but also ensured it became a fixture in the Australian television landscape.

“I don’t throw caution to the wind very often and I’d like to do that a bit more.” (Picture: Damian Bennett)
“I don’t throw caution to the wind very often and I’d like to do that a bit more.” (Picture: Damian Bennett)

Over the years, she's partnered with a series of hosts, including Charlie Pickering, Dave Hughes, Rove McManus and now Waleed Aly, but unlike many comedy-leaning shows, she has never been the female sidekick, always the main act.

 

"I just feel very fortunate to be able to be on a show that long," she says. "It's a good fit for me. I love news, but I also love conversation and chat. I love comedy, having started on Rove Live where I wasn't a comedian, clearly, but I loved [the comedians'] energy and I just loved being around them."

She's also grateful to have hit 40 in an era when ageing is less of an impediment for women. "I still think there's some hangovers that haven't gone and the experience for women and men on TV is different, but it's come a long way," she reflects.

"I feel I should bow down to the women who've come before me because they paved the way for me to have the career I've had."

She pauses, before adding: "It makes me quite angry to think I would have got to this age and it would've been, 'Time to shuffle off now.' I'm only just beginning. I can't speak on behalf of other women, but I feel I'm just discovering who I really am. To think of all those years of women missing out is just so crazy."

It would be simplistic to attribute Bickmore's popularity - cemented when she won the Gold Logie in 2015 and donned a beanie to raise awareness of brain cancer - to the "girl-next-door" factor.

“I still think there’s some hangovers that haven’t gone and the experience for women and men on TV is different.” (Picture: Supplied)
“I still think there’s some hangovers that haven’t gone and the experience for women and men on TV is different.” (Picture: Supplied)

Undoubtedly, she has a sunny-natured, self-deprecating, Jennifer Aniston-style ease, but her appeal is greater than that. Suffering has made her empathetic - she says she has given up trying not to cry on live television - while grit and gratitude are her ethos, both at work and home.

Indeed, life with her partner Chris Walker, 39, and children, Oliver, 13, Evie, 5, and Adelaide, 2, may look like a picture of domestic cuteness, but it's not without its challenges.

She's posted pictures of Sharpie drawings on the sofa, admits she forgets birthdays and is currently taking turns with Walker to sleep on their youngest daughter's floor. "It's about survival at the moment," she confesses.

"Addie has a huge amount of words but she's an absolute shocker when it comes to sleep. We've joked that we may need to move a bed into her room permanently. At the moment, we're sleeping on cushions on the floor and it's not helping any of our osteo bills." She laughs: "Still, by your third, you know it will pass."

She's honest, too, about the challenges of Victoria's extended lockdown, revealing that a slower life was initially confronting. "I'm not good at just 'being' but I had to 'be' quite a bit," she explains.

"I'm also not good at playing but I had to just play. Our family is a very busy family so, weirdly, it was a reset I badly needed even though I wouldn't have asked for it."

“I just feel very fortunate to be able to be on a show that long.” (Picture: Supplied)
“I just feel very fortunate to be able to be on a show that long.” (Picture: Supplied)

Mostly she was worried about her parents, who divorced when she was young and now live alone. She could go for a walk with her mum but couldn't hug her. "I was still working and didn't want to bring anything back, so I felt I couldn't give her the love she needed, and the touch and closeness."

For her part, Jennie Bickmore-Brand tells Stellar that her daughter's love was always evident, irrespective of any barriers. "Carrie spent the first five years of her life as an only child but once she became part of a blended family, she learnt quickly that things didn't always go her way," she says.

There was often drama and tension, like in many families, and she watched how it was all handled. I think she learnt the power of love and commitment whatever the circumstances. Carrie's own personality can brighten up a room. I'm very proud of her resilience and generosity."

Emerging from lockdown quickly grew overwhelming, particularly since she could tell her family had become closer and, she believes, her children had benefitted from being bored. When she asked Ollie to tell her the best bits of lockdown, he replied, "All the time I got to spend with Evie." Bickmore was touched, but also amused.

 

"Most of the time they're annoying the crap out of each other. But they only had each other to play with... so they did."

Carrie Bickmore stars on the cover of this Sunday’s Stellar.
Carrie Bickmore stars on the cover of this Sunday’s Stellar.

As for her relationship with Walker, Bickmore says they make a great team. "He's such a good sounding board, always has great advice and is always encouraging. I know he has my back, which is a great feeling."

The family has decided to have "stress-free" fish and chips on the beach on Christmas Day, and Bickmore hopes to find time to practise the piano over the summer break, expanding her repertoire beyond the Coldplay hit 'Clocks'.

"I used to play piano as a kid and watching my son play now made me want to get into it," she says. "Every now and then I sit down for 10 minutes and have a tinkle. I love the sense of achievement, but I won't be playing at the Opera House any time soon."

 

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Originally published as Carrie Bickmore: 'I'm not having a midlife crisis!'


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