I never thought I’d be on a reality TV show. Ok, I admit, I dreamt about a career in the limelight from the moment I performed my first childhood concert and I did inform my high school careers counsellor that my chosen profession was ‘famous singer.’ But I never predicted I would achieve that goal through the slightly obscure path of apartment renovation. However, eight years ago that is precisely what happened.
Like most Australians in 2002 I was obsessed with renovating and real estate, so when I heard an ad on the radio calling for contestants for a new renovating show I impulsively called the number. I was expecting maybe a few days work, a fun experience and a good story to tell. I certainly didn’t think it would change my life. Throughout the audition process, despite repeated requests, we were told nothing about the show. In fact, it wasn’t until we were finally offered the spot that we were informed it was a reality show, at which point my husband flatly refused to take part.
But the producers were persistent. They knew I had been working as a singer and trying to get a record deal since my teens and assured me the publicity from the show would give me the break I had been looking for. They said they would feature my music in the show, they would set up the meetings, they would help in any way they could. They offered me my dream on a platter and I, after much begging and pleading with my husband, unashamedly grabbed it with both hands.
Three months later Phil and I were driving to Bondi, to begin filming a new show called The Block. After some tense negotiations (between our lawyers and Nine and us with each other) we had essentially signed our lives away in a contract that gave Channel 9 the right to discredit and ridicule us. Although we did have a win when they agreed to drop ‘defame’ and remove clauses referring to hidden cameras and showing us in our underwear. We used to joke that there was a reference in there to Kerry Packer owning our first-born child, but so far no one has taken us to court to action that one!
Opening the front door to the apartment that day we had absolutely no idea what we were in for, with both the task at hand and the aftermath that followed. We would never have dreamed that in a few months time 3 million people would be watching us on TV, I would have a top 10 album and our photo would be in every newspaper in the country.
People still ask us if it the show was all set up or if it was real and the truth is, it was a bit of both. The deadlines were real, the workload was real and probably even harder and more tedious than it looked. And the drama was real, but often orchestrated. There were times we’d all be getting along too well (and who wants to watch that) so the producers would throw in a few sparks to set everyone off. A few ‘Did you hear they said that?’ or ‘Did you know they’ve done this’ planted amongst four exhausted couples and pretty soon you’ll get some drama.
But if we thought there was a lot of drama living at The Block, it was nothing compared to how our lives changed once it went to air. The cliché of an overnight sensation was a pretty accurate description, one day we were living regular lives, the next millions of people knew who we were. And every Sunday night we would sit down to watch the show for the first time and hold our breath, waiting to see what Australia would think of us in an hours time. Did we come across ok, or could we expect a week of ridicule from our friends, the media and the public in general. Having your character regularly assessed like that is indeed a daunting experience, and that was before social media. Thank god, the thought of doing the show now that there is Twitter and Facebook makes me break out in a cold sweat!