WITH A SMILE

We catch up with the al­ways ef­fer­ves­cent Jes­sica Rowe in Noosa

Australian Traveller - - Contents - WORDS LARA PI­CONE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY EL­IZ­A­BETH ALL­NUTT

Some­one slung a small car be­neath a he­li­copter, flew it across the wa­ter and de­posited it onto Noosa Main Beach a couple of days be­fore the Aus­tralian Trav­eller shoot team rolled into town. Be­mused beach­go­ers fum­bled for their smart­phones to snap the air­borne au­to­mo­bile and the rather ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing stunt was all any­one could talk about. That is un­til a day or so later when morn­ing strollers clocked a leggy, cropped blonde in a blaze of sunny yel­low bounc­ing along the board­walk. Lat­tes in hand and with sweaters draped over their shoul­ders in the early spring sun, peo­ple stopped to watch the smil­ing vi­sion as she skipped back­wards and for­wards along a five-me­tre stretch of path. “You look beau­ti­ful! That colour is won­der­ful on you,” called the passersby, and Jes­sica Rowe, to whom the en­cour­ag­ing quips were di­rected beamed widely, halt­ing the pho­to­shoot to shake hands and chat with who­ever wanted to snatch a few min­utes of her time. Such is the def­i­ni­tion of true grace, to have time for ev­ery­one and give it gen­er­ously. It’s a qual­ity that Jes­sica em­bod­ies seem­ingly with­out any ef­fort at all. It’s a part of her nat­u­ral ease, which is some­how en­dear­ingly en­hanced by her long-limbed and al­most Bambi-esque stature. Quick to laugh and hon­est to a fault she ad­mits her can­dour of­ten lands her in un­favourable wa­ters. “I’m a no­to­ri­ous over-sharer,” Jes­sica says, true to form, over a cof­fee at Hast­ings Street’s Aro­mas cafe, where she has fre­quented on more than 14 Noosa hol­i­days. “Of­ten Peter [Over­ton, Jes­sica’s hus­band] texts me while I’m on the set of Stu­dio 10 and says ‘zip it, zip it now!’, but it’s too late by then, I’ve al­ready said it!” Net­work Ten’s morn­ing talk show Stu­dio 10 is where Jes­sica has hap­pily landed af­ter rid­ing out a few tu­mul­tuous ca­reer ma­noeu­vres, in­clud­ing the very pub­lic run-in with Ed­die McGuire at Nine, which led to her los­ing the co-host po­si­tion at To­day while she was on ma­ter­nity leave. Al­though she de­scribes her ex­pe­ri­ence at Nine as “bloody aw­ful”, she’s quick to iden­tify a sil­ver lin­ing in be­ing preg­nant with her first child, Al­le­gra, at the time, which ar­moured her with the per­spec­tive to see a big­ger, more mean­ing­ful pic­ture. “I don’t re­gret it [the job] for a mo­ment. When you go through dif­fi­cult times, that’s when you dis­cover what you can en­dure. You don’t learn any­thing about your­self when you’re just cruis­ing along,” she re­flects. Now back at Net­work Ten af­ter an of­ten try­ing eightyear hia­tus, she couldn’t be more de­lighted with the role, which ma­te­ri­alised at a point in her life when all the dots were fi­nally link­ing up. “It’s the hap­pi­est I’ve been at work and it’s a job where I can be my­self and that’s very free­ing,” she says. “I’m at a point in my life where I feel com­fort­able in my own skin; the plan­ets have aligned!” Yet Jes­sica is the first to ad­mit she doesn’t have it all to­gether, all the time. In fact, she has been com­mend­ably open about the per­sonal strug­gles that have ac­cented her own child­hood and jour­ney into moth­er­hood. An am­bas­sador for the men­tal health aware­ness group be­yond­blue, and the au­thor of three books, in­clud­ing her most re­cent, a mem­oir called Is This My Beau­ti­ful Life?, Jes­sica has par­layed her ten­dency to ‘over-share’ into an hon­est di­a­logue that in­tends to abol­ish stig­mas and en­cour­age greater sup­port. Watch­ing Jes­sica ham it up for the cam­era on our shoot, as she slings a lithe leg into the arms of an un­sus­pect­ing life­guard and ex­ag­ger­ates the spot­ting of an imag­i­nary whale, it takes some men­tal gym­nas­tics to imag­ine how the same ef­fer­ves­cent per­son could have been har­rowed by post-na­tal de­pres­sion. But then, that’s ex­actly the point Jes­sica is try­ing to make: there is no shame in men­tal ill­ness; be open, get help, and you’ll re­dis­cover the joy in life. As some­one who had pub­licly shared her ex­pe­ri­ences of watch­ing her mother, Pene­lope, suf­fer through bipo­lar dis­or­der in their book to­gether, The Best of Times, the Worst of Times, Jes­sica re­calls how shocked and ashamed she was to dis­cover she was mentally ill her­self, fol­low­ing the

Quick to laugh and hon­est to a fault she ad­mits her can­dour of­ten lands her in un­favourable wa­ters…

birth of her daugh­ter, Al­le­gra. “I felt the stigma, I felt like I had failed. I thought: ‘what gives me the right to feel like this? I’ve wanted this baby for so long, I’ve been through IVF, I have a sup­port­ive fam­ily, we have a won­der­ful life.’ ” Then, in what could be a scripted plot line in a mid­day drama, be­yond­blue came knock­ing to ask if Jes­sica would be the pa­tron of their new peri­na­tal pro­gram. They, of course, had no idea she was suf­fer­ing the same con­di­tion they were ask­ing her to lead the cause for. “It was so ironic. I asked them to send me some brochures so I could look into it, and I was go­ing through their check­list of symp­toms, think­ing, ‘yes, yes, yes’. I thought if I put the brochure aside, it would go away, but it didn’t.” At that point, when she hadn’t yet ad­mit­ted her sick­ness to her­self, much less her hus­band, ex­tend­ing an olive branch to arch-neme­sis Ed­die McGuire would have seemed like a more re­al­is­tic propo­si­tion than go­ing pub­lic with post-na­tal de­pres­sion. Even­tu­ally the words came: at first to her­self, then to her mother, and then to Peter, who she says took his wife in his arms and told her ex­actly what she needed to hear: that ev­ery­thing would be OK. “As soon as you voice some­thing that has been in your head for so long, it loses a bit of its po­tency,” Jes­sica says. When the dark­ness had dis­si­pated she con­tacted be­yond­blue. “If I didn’t speak up, I would be a hyp­ocrite. There is still so much stigma around men­tal ill­ness and es­pe­cially post-na­tal de­pres­sion. There is so much ex­pec­ta­tion around be­ing a mother. All this, ‘Oh, isn’t it the best time of your life?’ And when you keep hear­ing that mantra, it di­min­ishes you.” As she’s bun­dled into a boat and sent off down Noosa River with our pho­tog­ra­pher in tow, Jes­sica is clearly en­joy­ing her­self, throw­ing her head back in that deep laugh reg­u­lar view­ers of Stu­dio 10 will know well. Her pos­i­tiv­ity is a great ex­am­ple of how a life touched by men­tal ill­ness can be re­newed, but what’s more ad­mirable than bear­ing her scars is the sin­cer­ity with which she does so. She’s com­pletely with­out judg­ment and de­ter­mined to em­power those who are feel­ing in­ca­pable. And af­ter the tribu­la­tions in her own life, which she is swift to point out are much less than oth­ers en­dure, Jes­sica seems un­will­ing to in­dulge the dan­ger­ously ba­nal ‘crap’. “I do Bo­tox,” she de­clares. “But I’d rather say that than say, ‘Oh, I wear sun­screen and drink lots of green juice and that’s how I look like this!’ It’s crap! And, OK, you’re de­lud­ing your­self, but more than that, you’re de­lud­ing other peo­ple and that’s not very sup­port­ive.” With so many opin­ions in the me­dia shout­ing each other down in a re­lent­less and of­ten self-serv­ing di­a­logue, Jes­sica’s sup­port­ive, sen­si­ble voice is more needed than ever – even if her hus­band some­times wishes she’d keep it zipped.

“I felt the stigma, I felt like I had failed. I thought: ‘what gives me the right to feel like this?’ ”

OP­PO­SITE: Jes­sica wears a Rachel Gil­bert Ad­dyson skirt, $2599; Pas­pa­ley ear­rings and bracelet, POA.

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