I first met Bec at the Cottesloe Hotel in the summer of 2002–03.
It was a Sunday afternoon, time for a bit of R and R in the middle of the grind of the pre-season. Daniel Kerr and I were having a few beers, but I was keeping a lid on it because I was driving. I’d met Bec’s mum previously at a West Coast function, so when I came across Bec there was a natural starting point for a conversation. I remember thinking that Bec was very beautiful—and quite drunk! That was a common state at the Cottesloe Hotel on a summer Sunday afternoon. I found myself in the sort of moral dilemma many nineteen year-old blokes struggle to negotiate (and I dare say a few young women, too).
I had a girlfriend at the time who was overseas. I’d swear I mentioned this to Bec that first afternoon, but Bec is adamant that I did not.
We met again for coffee about a week later, and this time there’s no doubt that the topic of my girlfriend did come up. Bec said, quite reasonably, that she couldn’t start anything with me in those circumstances. But we seemed to get along OK anyway, and I thought that even if there were no romantic possibilities, it would be pleasant to catch up with her every now and then, as mates.
I was still quite new to Perth and did not have many friends outside the footy club. Apart from anything else, I wouldn’t have to drink myself silly whenever we met.
Typically, when you’re in your late teens and early twenties, catching up with mates involves a big drinking session, which is sometimes inconvenient for a professional athlete.
Bec and I could be mates on a different level. Bec is a Perth girl. She had lived and worked as a model in Thailand and Hong Kong for about eighteen months, but was now back in Perth, modelling and doing a media studies course at university.
The first time we caught up, strictly as mates, was at her house. We ended up playing Scrabble, which I realise is a somewhat unusual activity for a first meeting. I started like a house on fire, and Bec was looking at me as if I was some sort of Jedi Scrabble master. Now, I have to admit to another conceit typical of young men at this stage: I was fascinated by Bec’s beauty, but did not have a huge regard for her intellect. As my lead grew to unassailable proportions, I was nurturing horribly puffed-up thoughts about how, plainly, she wasn’t all that bright, and I with my superior brainpower was embarrassing her and her feeble mind by wiping the floor with her at Scrabble. After about half-a-dozen turns, I thought I’d better ease off , not wanting to humiliate her. So I did. And the tide turned, and before I knew it she’d won the game. Again—young man’s vanities—I was pissed off . I’d meant to give her a chance, but I didn’t mean to lose. It was the first and last time I underestimated Bec’s formidable intelligence.
Sometimes I wonder what Dean Cox would have made of my competitive instinct that day. I was competitive enough to want to win, badly, even at Scrabble, but then I broke the first rule of the ultra-competitive: I gave a sucker an even break! I don’t think Coxy would have been impressed.
Bit by bit our relationship blossomed, until it was heading to a fairly logical place. At the end of 2008, my first year at Carlton, Bec and I did a round-the-world trip, taking in Paris and New York, among other places, and stopping in Thailand on the way home.
We’d been together five or six years by then, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would come under a bit of pressure to do the right thing. We’d had a pleasant meal one evening in Thailand, but Bec was cranky, so I asked, ‘What’s up with you?’ She held up her wedding-ring finger and wiggled it at me. That led to a discussion about when would be a good time to get married. I said I didn’t think it should be before 30.
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I was working to a bit of a plan: I’d always thought that, when the time came, it would be good to stretch it out, on the under-promise-and-over-deliver principle. If I proposed any time before 30, it would come as a surprise. But it didn’t help Bec’s mood that night! Twelve months later, again in October (footballers’ holidays are always in October), we were in New Zealand, and the subject came up again.
By then I had the rings, and a date and a plan in mind, but just to make sure it would come as a surprise I started to talk about how I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to get married, and wasn’t even sure if the whole institution of marriage was such a good idea. You can imagine how that was received. We’re not the sort of couple who fight, but we did have a blue over this, and for a little while I thought I might have been a bit too heavy-handed in my scheming. But the element of surprise was important to me.
A couple of weeks later we were in Noosa Heads. Noosa has always been a special spot for me and my family. Every year of my childhood we’d drive to Noosa during school holidays.
My grandparents, Dad’s parents, would always spend the winter months there, and unfailingly we’d join them for a couple of weeks. Uncles, aunties and cousins from Dad’s side would come, too. Dad’s always had bad eczema. When we were kids, it was terrible, excruciating for him.
But Noosa’s climate worked wonders for it, so he loved it there, and we all came to love it, too. I’ve probably been to Noosa at least once every year of my life, and my folks still go to Noosa every year. When Bec and I started going out, she and I would go up there together, and soon enough she loved it just as much as my family. Even from my teenage years, I’d thought Noosa would be just the place to propose, and now the moment was upon me.
Of course, I had a plan. We were in our hotel room, getting ready for a night out at one of our favourite restaurants, Lindoni’s, which has since closed. She was sitting in one corner, reading a book. I started on a spiel I’d been rehearsing. I think I introduced it by talking about Dick Pratt, of all people. His advice on women and marriage was that you needed a wife who was strong in areas where you were weak, and vice versa. That way, you’d have every contingency covered. If you married someone too much like yourself, it might not make for an effective match.
Bec was still reading her book, half-listening, nodding in the right places. I went on, ‘That’s why the woman I want to marry has to be smart and organised and beautiful.’ There was more. By this stage, her ears had pricked up, because, for me, talking like this was out of character. She would have been thinking, either Chris is having a nervous breakdown or something serious is about to happen here. Then I went down on bended knee and asked Bec to marry me, and she threw the book across the apartment and said yes, and we went out to the restaurant and had a great night, and the rest is history.
The wedding was a year later, on a breathlessly hot New Year’s Eve, 2010, at Carousel in Albert Park. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’d always associated large numbers of people drinking alcohol with endless repeats of the same conversations about football. More often than not when I speak at a function, it’s to a roomful of people I don’t know, who are half-drunk and say things like, ‘Are the Blues going to win the premiership?’ or, worse, ‘Give us a chicken wing.’ They all think they’re being terribly clever and original. Not until I stood up to speak at my wedding did it strike me: these were all people I knew and liked and wanted to talk to. I realised it couldn’t fail to be a good night. And it was a ripper. Bec was ten weeks pregnant at the time, wasn’t drinking, and was exhausted. About midnight, she came to me and said she wanted to go home. I said, ‘You can’t. It’s your wedding. You can’t leave your own wedding.’ And she came around to the idea, and perked up a little and we ended up having a ball.
Bec’s very clever and funny, and to me they’re the two most important traits in a partner. She’s also incredibly busy. She has a speech pathology degree, although she doesn’t work in that field now. She owns a beauty school, and has a highly successful blog and several media and advertising gigs, and that’s just scratching the surface. None are token engagements; she collaborates exhaustively on every project. She’s driven and ambitious—characteristics I should recognise.
She’s also a great mum to our two kids. To be honest, I always had in mind an alternative reality in which I was married to someone who stayed home, looked after the kids and had the slippers out and the scotch waiting when my day’s work was done. I nursed that delusion for a long time. Clearly, I was born 60 years too late.
With her active and creative mind, Bec needs her professional interests as well as our family life. And her career is soaring. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about the idea of Bec the busy, high-profile ultraprofessional. When we moved from Perth to Melbourne in 2008 Bec spent a year completing her speech pathology course and then began working as a therapist, which suited her—and me.
I could see the end of my footy days in the middle distance, and a part of me was craving a more normal and anonymous life as a couple. Then Myer came calling for Bec, then Channel 9, and she began to spread her wings. Now we were on opposite trajectories: as my public profile was beginning to diminish, hers was growing. We would swap one sort of renown for another, and as a pair we would still be left with the sometimes irritating challenges of fame and celebrity. It was an unsettling thought.
But that was at an age and stage when I was hypersensitive about attention. I rarely engaged with the media. I wouldn’t watch television sports news, nor read stories about myself or Carlton. I guarded my privacy jealously. I was quite selfish about it. Since then, I’ve changed. Maybe having kids has given me perspective.
I don’t waste time now fretting over my image in the media and in public. The most important thing now is that Bec is fulfilled in her work, because that makes her happy and happiness is essential to a good relationship. It far outweighs any paranoia of mine about invasion of privacy.
Bec’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and my parents lived apart for a short time, too. I think that’s given both of us an appreciation of the challenges as well as the joys of married life. There will be bumpy periods, as there is in any partnership that you hope is going to last 70 or 80 years. We’re realistic about that. But we’re also utterly committed to making it work.
Other than that, I’m too young and new to this marriage business to offer any more insight or advice.