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The Craig McLachlan interview was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen on television.

This article deals with suicide and allegations of indecent assault and may be triggering for some readers. 

Last night, 1.1 million Australians tuned in to watch 7NEWS Spotlight: Craig McLachlan.

At least, that was the official title of the tell-all special. Nonetheless, before each ad break, viewers were also shown the words 'Horror Show' up in lights with a sting of horror music, so the producers clearly wanted that concept... interwoven. 

Some of the allegations against Craig McLachlan happened during his time starring in The Rocky Horror Show, but he says the false accusations against him were a horror show... for him. So there's a double meaning. That Seven would like to point out. Repeatedly. Image: Seven. 

Over an hour and a half, Seven aired an interview with the actor and his partner, pianist and conductor Vanessa Scammel, alongside diary-style footage taken over the last few years, about the serious criminal charges that (almost) cost him his career.

At the end of last year, McLachlan was found not guilty of seven indecent assault charges and six common assault charges relating to seven alleged incidents. Among the accusations levelled against the 55-year-old were: that he put his tongue in the mouth of a co-star during an unscripted kiss and, while backstage, pressed his genitals against her during a hug; that he touched another co-star's genitals during a performance; that he twice kissed a co-star backstage; and that he tickled a co-star's inner thigh while she was performing.

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In delivering the judgment in December 2020, Victorian Magistrate Belinda Wallington made a number of unusual statements. 

First, she praised the accusers as "brave and honest witnesses".

She said while she accepted some of their evidence, she was not persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that McLachlan knew they were not consenting.

Referring to the thigh-touching incident, she said, "I'm unable to exclude the possibility that an egotistical, self-entitled sense of humour led the accused to genuinely think that … [the co-star] was consenting to his actions."

Magistrate Wallington noted that, while consent laws had changed since, she was required to apply the law as it stood at the time of the alleged offences. And that's when she made an interesting observation:

"Were the current law applicable, it is possible the result may have been different."

It's with this context that we begin the controversial Craig McLachlan interview.

We're introduced to the actor, looking dishevelled, saying it's March 2019 and there has been no resolution or vindication when it comes to the allegations against him. 

"What a f*cking joke," he says. "What a f*cking disgrace."

"Hope your lives are good. Treasure them. Because they can be taken away and you'll die trying to get it back."

The preview for the interview is so lengthy that we think the show has started, but it turns out we're just watching clips of footage that we'll see repeated shortly. 

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In case viewers don't understand the intended mood of the programme, Seven helps us. With lightning. And thunder. And waves. And McLachlan surfing at night. 

Nothing says 'false allegations' like lightning. Image: Seven. 

Then we start with Act I, because for some reason this TV special is divided into acts as though it's a Shakespearean tragedy, which depending on what side of the fence you fall on, I guess it could be??? 

McLachlan's partner Vanessa is playing piano and we're shown sweeping shots of the beach.

A voiceover of a young woman tells us, "back before the allegations that changed everything, life for Craig McLachlan and his longtime partner, Vanessa Scammell, was perfect."

And look, that's a bizarre exaggeration, but okay. 

McLachlan says he's very in love with his partner, to which the disembodied voice of his interviewer replies: "the suggestion is that you weren't in love enough in 2014. And you were after other people."

Just to clarify, that's objectively not the suggestion. But moving on.

Vanessa explains that she saw the cast every day and never even witnessed a "mild flirtation". 

But then the interviewer brings up the analogy of there being "no smoke without fire" and McLachlan takes that metaphor to its logical conclusion. 

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"Well, there was a fire," he says. "And we were all involved in the construction of that fire. We all had a stick in that fire, me included. And that fire was the backstage culture of that show [The Rocky Horror Show]. 

"The fire that burnt so brightly was the fire of shenanigans and consensual carry on, on that show. Yes, I mucked in with the rest of them, I tried to give as good as I got.

"I never behaved in a fashion that was disproportionate to what was going on around me."

We're shown behind-the-scenes footage of the ABC interviews - that aired on the 7.30 Report in 2018 - stopping and starting. 

A woman, whose face is blurred, is instructed by a producer to say something along the lines of, "he (McLachlan) is a big star, he has clout."

One of the women interviewed on the 7.30 Report. Image: Seven.  

Without context, this footage is confusing. It's unclear whether it's evidence of the ABC 'coaching' victims, or simply a producer helping a woman paraphrase what she's been trying to say.

The woman does not repeat the words of the ABC producer, and instead uses her own words to point to McLachlan's influence. 

This particular footage is replayed several times throughout the show, implying that Seven, at least, believes it's a smoking gun.

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Their second smoking gun is audio of a senior Fairfax journalist saying (again, out of context), "ultimately, we want him (McLachlan) out of that job." 

This could be evidence that there was a clear agenda in exposing the McLachlan allegations, but it could also have been a pragmatic line of conversation with the victims that by coming out, they were protecting other women from the actor's alleged behaviour.

McLachlan says the ABC contacted him the day before they were going to air the allegations about him, asking for an interview by midday the next day. He believes this timing was deliberate to get him out of his job. 

On the Sunday night, before the 7.30 Report ran on Monday January 8, 2018, McLachlan says he stood on stage at the Rocky Horror Show and heard the crowd's cheers. He says he remembers thinking he'd never hear people cheering for him again. 

Watch: Craig McLachlan's interview on Channel Seven tonight. Post continues below. 


Video via Channel Seven 

To that, the voiceover of a young woman clarifies: "And that was the end of Craig McLachlan's perfect life."

"From megastar to alleged monster, Craig McLachlan's life changed in an instant..." the voiceover says and it's unclear why the person scripting that line wanted a rhyme in there so badly. 

McLachlan says he hasn't worked since, and tells a story about how the day after 7.30 aired, a woman shielded her children from him in a shop. He went back to his car and burst into tears. 

His partner, Vanessa, argues that the presumption of innocence in this country has gone. 

The actor then delves into the very complex issue of his mental health, referring to a suicide attempt. When news broke that he would be criminally charged for the allegations, he checked into a mental hospital.

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What is strange is that in contrast to the sombre tone of McLachlan's disclosures about his mental health, we're suddenly told he and Vanessa decided to 'fight', and shown a montage of them at the gym and also McLachlan physically punching a bag. 

This doesn't seem... relevant. Image: Seven. Who... edited this. 

They move on to the specific allegation involving McLachlan kissing an actress on stage, unscripted.

And this is when things become truly bizarre. 

McLachlan and his partner reenact the scene, in extensive detail, showing at what point the kiss happened and how long it was for. But like most of this show, the point is buried in the distraction of performance.

Even once the kiss has taken place, McLachlan continues the scene and why are we being shown all this. It feels like an advertisement for him as an actor. 

At many points, but particularly here, it seems like Seven are trying to show us how talented he is, which isn't the point, really.

The interviewer touches - very briefly - on Magistrate Belinda Wallington's comments that McLachlan was not an impressive witness, and that the complainants were "strong, credible and reliable". 

But once McLachlan argues that those remarks were just a result of the 'Vinestein' context (he really does say Vinestein instead of Weinstein, as in Harvey Weinstein, at one point), we move on to the issue that upsets him the most: the friend who betrayed him.

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As McLachlan and his partner retell a story about one of the alleged victims rushing out of a cafe to hug them and say how good it was to see them - just six weeks before the allegations would come out - I notice something. 

McLachlan has been singing in the background, and he's singing about being falsely accused. The lyrics are all about this particular accuser and how she hurt him and he thought they were friends. 

Completely putting aside the validity of his response to these allegations, it is objectively bizarre to turn them into a performance. On national television. 

One of the many performance scenes in Seven's special. Image: Seven. 

As the music fades out, we return to McLachlan and his partner on the couch. He explains that "this girl actively maintained and pursued a friendship," after he worked with her on Grease, and then the Rocky Horror Show. 

"Even as a 100 per cent innocent, acquitted man, I feel I continue to be f*cked over day after day - by our friend," he says through tears. Vanessa encourages him to take a break, and as he walks out of the room, he shouts that he can't remember the last time he was able to wake up in the morning with a smile. 

It's a tense, emotional moment. But then we transition to McLachlan performing what seems like slam poetry about the false allegations and why. 

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The problem is this feels like a musical-drama written by Craig McLachlan. Which is odd. Given the sensitivity of the subject matter.

It's as though Craig McLachlan is trying to be Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, except the plot is about being accused of indecent assault and how hard that was for him. 

Perhaps there are insights to be gleaned from McLachlan's story. The severe psychological impact of trial by media, forcing you to live in a shipping container. The helplessness of being accused and feeling as though you have no recourse to clear your name. For Vanessa, the experience of having your partner accused of this behaviour on the same day your mother is diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable form of cancer.

I also can't imagine what it must have felt like for McLachlan's accusers to watch Seven's interview. Having to hear the suggestion that maintaining a friendship with someone necessarily means they didn't touch you inappropriately. Or having to watch your allegation role-played by your accuser and his partner.

But Seven's special was a lesson in how not to approach a story that's profoundly sensitive. In many parts, it felt like an infomercial for McLachlan, rather than a defence.

In the last week, more allegations against McLachlan have surfaced. Three more women made claims that revolve around the same themes - uninvited touching, kissing, sexual innuendos.

Has Craig McLachlan learned anything from this undoubtedly difficult experience?

Would he do anything differently?

Why would a group of female performers and journalists target him in a "campaign" to ruin his life?

We don't know. And Seven didn't ask. Or, at least, they didn't dedicate enough airtime to his answers.

The result was an entirely bizarre and unhelpful 90-minutes of television.

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on Instagram.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or  beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.