“I STILL GET A FRIGHT”

SHE’S ONE OF THE MOST SCRU­TI­NISED (AND PHO­TOGRAPHED) WOMEN IN AUS­TRALIA. AS SHE TELLS STEL­LAR, BE­ING SA­MAN­THA ARMY­TAGE RE­QUIRES A VERY THICK SKIN

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy STEVEN CHEE Styling GEMMA KEIL Cre­ative di­rec­tion ALEKSANDRA BEARE Words JOR­DAN BAKER

Sun­rise’s Sa­man­tha Army­tage is used to be­ing in front of the cam­era. Yet the in­ad­ver­tent star of Undie-gate says she’ll never feel com­fort­able with the pa­parazzi’s ob­ses­sion with her.

Aday in the life of Sa­man­tha Army­tage means check­ing her rear-vi­sion mir­ror in case she is be­ing fol­lowed by pa­parazzi. It means in­ves­ti­gat­ing which beaches she can visit with­out be­ing snapped in her swim­suit. And it means she’s re­signed to the fact that her rub­bish bin col­lec­tion has be­come a news­wor­thy event.

Not even global su­per­stars Hugh Jack­man or Cate Blanchett are “papped” with the en­thu­si­asm de­voted to Army­tage, a hum­ble break­fast-tv host. Ru­mours about her love life and on-set feuds can be found on gos­sip web­sites al­most daily, and when no more mileage can be wrung out of those, pa­parazzi scratch around for some­thing else – pic­tures of her pre­ferred re­sort, close-ups of a mys­te­ri­ous new ring, and, most fa­mously, a vis­i­ble panty line.

“Sun­rise host Sam Army­tage dares to bare with granny panties show­ing a vis­i­ble line as she steps out in Syd­ney,” gasped a now no­to­ri­ous on­line piece pub­lished last month, caus­ing such a furore the ed­i­tors were forced to apol­o­gise.

It’s a sur­real life for a woman who grew up on a sheep sta­tion in the Snowy Moun­tains, rid­ing horses and recit­ing Banjo Pater­son po­etry. “I guess I am click bait, and that is not a great place to be,” Army­tage, 40, tells Stel­lar. “It has meant I have to read­just dra­mat­i­cally. It’s taken me a while to learn to deal with that and ac­cept it. I still don’t en­joy it, but I ac­cept it now.”

BANJO – THE 12-WEEK-OLD ca­nine ver­sion – bounces around Army­tage’s feet dur­ing Stel­lar’s photo shoot, his pa­tience mir­ror­ing his mistress’s as they swel­ter in the Jan­uary heat. The labrador is a Christ­mas present from Army­tage to her­self and the lat­est in a long line of Army­tage fam­ily labradors. He is not her only pet – she owns a few an­i­mals on her par­ents’ farm, one of which is a sheep named Lady Baa Baa.

In per­son, Army­tage comes across as a woman with a dry sense of hu­mour, a di­rect man­ner and strong sense of self. Per­haps that’s a prod­uct of her coun­try up­bring­ing and close-knit fam­ily. Or maybe it’s the re­sult of spend­ing most of her adult life on tele­vi­sion and hav­ing had years to work out strate­gies to cope with the spot­light that tends to at­tract and the ri­val­ries it tends to fer­ment (fore­most: don’t read chat­ter on so­cial me­dia).

She seems an­noyed by the in­tru­sions of pa­parazzi rather than mor­ti­fied, as a more sen­si­tive soul might be. But her an­noy­ance is in­tense. “If I had my time again, I would think se­ri­ously about [tak­ing the Sun­rise job], be­cause my life has changed. Dra­mat­i­cally,” she ad­mits.

In many ways, Army­tage is a vic­tim of tim­ing. When she set­tled full-time into the co-host chair on Sun­rise in 2013, break­fast had al­ready over­taken the 6pm news as the most talked-about TV times­lot, but her debut co­in­cided with the ar­rival of new play­ers into the coun­try’s on­line gos­sip mar­ket, which changed the char­ac­ter of lo­cal celebrity news and cre­ated a boom­ing mar­ket for pa­parazzi shots of well-known Aussies go­ing about their daily lives.

A young, sin­gle woman, Army­tage was more ob­vi­ous fod­der than her slightly older and mar­ried peers (un­til, that is, Nine Net­work’s Karl Ste­fanovic’s mar­riage split last year, which has also made him prey for lo­cal pa­parazzi). “Who knew I would get so much at­ten­tion?” says Army­tage. “It’s ridicu­lous.”

The fact is that Army­tage, as she would be the first to ad­mit, is not that in­ter­est­ing. At 40-and-a-bit, she’s more likely to be found tend­ing to her mag­no­lias than par­ty­ing. She gets up at 3.15am, and goes to bed early. The year ahead will be spent fo­cus­ing on re­cal­i­brat­ing her work-life bal­ance, gar­den­ing and learn­ing to surf. (She’s en­listed Seven Net­work col­league Larry Em­dur as a surf in­struc­tor, al­though they’ll have to find a beach with­out pa­parazzi. “I know the places to hide, be­lieve me,” she says wryly.)

Nev­er­the­less, headlines have fol­lowed Army­tage since she be­gan at Sun­rise. They started when she did, amid ru­mours Seven bosses had dumped her pre­de­ces­sor, Melissa Doyle, for a less “mumsy” an­chor, and gos­sip un­der­min­ing Army­tage swirled for months af­ter­ward.

Then there was the con­stant dis­cus­sion of her weight, which seemed to up­set many com­men­ta­tors used to see­ing more waif-like women on TV. That line of en­quiry, how­ever, seems rare th­ese days. “I don’t think they made much head­way; it was so un­nec­es­sary,” she says. “So many women look like me that they re­ally couldn’t con­tinue with it be­cause they were go­ing to lose fe­male read­ers, and fe­males are im­por­tant to them as a de­mo­graphic. They had to pull their heads in.”

Now it’s less about Army­tage’s weight, and more about the minu­tiae of her life. Such as her bins. Her jew­ellery. Or her choice of un­der­pants, the lat­ter on which she’s re­fused to com­ment un­til now.

“All I will say [about the in­fa­mous ‘granny panties’ story], and I haven’t said any­thing to date, is I ac­tu­ally feel re­ally sorry for the guy that wrote that,” she tells Stel­lar of so-called Undie-gate. “I can­not imag­ine hav­ing such a soul-de­stroy­ing job that would re­quire you to breath­lessly de­scribe a strange woman’s un­der­wear as your oc­cu­pa­tion. I think, ‘Poor bas­tard’. Imag­ine do­ing that job.”

Her skin might be thick, but the in­tru­sions into her pri­vacy still up­set and some­times scare her. “I still get quite a fright when I see a pho­tog­ra­pher, which is ridicu­lous after four years, but it still gives me a bit of a shock,” says Army­tage, ad­mit­ting some­times she’s not sure whether the lurk­ing stranger is a pho­tog­ra­pher or some­one more sin­is­ter.

“There are new [pho­tog­ra­phers] ev­ery day. While there is a mar­ket for pic­tures of me putting out my bins, or Karl pick­ing his kids up from school, they are go­ing to be out there.

“What gets me the most is they are not look­ing for nice pic­tures, where you have make-up on and are dressed up. They are look­ing for mean pic­tures. Where you are bend­ing over and there’s a fat roll, or you are get­ting in the car. It’s un­nec­es­sary and it’s mean, and that makes me an­gry at times. [But] you have to live your life; I don’t want to waste emo­tions on peo­ple like that.

“Some part of me chooses to be flat­tered that they are all so in­ter­ested. I think they should give me a cut of the pro­ceeds; they are mak­ing so much cash out of me with th­ese stupid pho­tos.”

Her Sun­rise co-host David Koch, who, as a 60-year-old grand­fa­ther who just cel­e­brated his 38th wed­ding an­niver­sary, does not hold the same lure for gos­sip

“I GUESS I AM CLICK BAIT, AND THAT IS NOT A GREAT PLACE TO BE. IT’S TAKEN ME A WHILE TO LEARN TO DEAL WITH THAT”

sites, has ob­served the cir­cus around Army­tage. “She wouldn’t be hu­man if she didn’t get up­set about it – I get up­set about it,” he tells Stel­lar.

“The bal­ance to it is, we are in a pretty priv­i­leged job, and to a cer­tain ex­tent it goes with the ter­ri­tory. It’s just when it crosses the line with ridicu­lous in­va­sions of pri­vacy – she has had to be­come more guarded, more cau­tious.”

While Sun­rise got a run for its money in 2016, with ri­val the To­day show win­ning the OZTAM break­fast show rat­ings for the first time in over a decade, both Army­tage and Koch in­sist it’s their job to fo­cus on the task at hand and let their bosses worry about the rat­ings.

Hav­ing worked along­side Army­tage through­out the highs and lows of live TV for four years, Koch con­sid­ers her to be a fan­tas­tic broad­caster. “View­ers love her,” he says. “She has re­ally brought a ter­rific el­e­ment, that sense of hu­mour.”

Army­tage ad­mits that her ex­pe­ri­ence as pap fod­der has quelled her own taste for gos­sip. And it has high­lighted the value of her strong group of old friends, with whom she can let her guard down, and who have her back. “If there’s a pho­tog­ra­pher sit­ting out­side a restau­rant, they are pulling faces and jump­ing in front of me – they are very pro­tec­tive.”

Army­tage’s close friend­ships out­side work, and the way her friends pro­tect and sup­port her, have left her cyn­i­cal of what she calls the “selec­tive sis­ter­hood” in the me­dia. “I find the idea that ev­ery woman in the me­dia is sup­posed to get on with ev­ery­one else to be com­plete rub­bish,” she says. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the women who talk the loud­est about sup­port­ing women in pub­lic of­ten do the least be­hind the scenes. Men are get­ting sick of women try­ing to talk each other up in pub­lic then rub­bish­ing each other pri­vately.

“I have many great friends, but there are plenty of women who I’m like, well, we aren’t mates, but that’s OK; she does her thing, I do mine. It’s so silly that we have to force this sis­ter­hood when it’s such bullsh*t be­hind the scenes. The men [in the me­dia] are re­ally bitchy, much bitchier than the women. They just don’t get writ­ten about.

“I have got no time for dis­loy­alty,” she con­cludes. “That’s why I got a dog.”

Now that she’s proven her­self in the Sun­rise chair, Army­tage plans to take her foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor a lit­tle, and “start to en­joy the scenery. Life is too short to race to the end-of-year rat­ings.”

She loves her job, es­pe­cially those three-and-a-half hours on air. “In its purest form, it’s like you are fly­ing.” But Army­tage doesn’t want to get up at 3.15am for­ever. She has other things to do. “[ Sun­rise] will have me for as long as they want me and as long as I want, but I am not out to break any records here,” she says. “I do think there’s more for me in life. My cre­ative side gets left a bit in this job. I am in­ter­ested in houses and home­wares and in­te­ri­ors, maybe one day I will start a busi­ness.”

A book or even a script could be on the cards. As a kid, Army­tage wanted to be a writer on The Simp­sons. She be­lieves she has at least one sit­com in her. “My life is a sit­com,” she says. “Peo­ple wouldn’t be­lieve the char­ac­ters around me – you couldn’t make this stuff up.”

Now she has a house and gar­den and dog, ev­ery­one is wait­ing for Army­tage to take that next, bor­ing mid­dle-aged step of meet­ing that spe­cial some­one who wouldn’t mind be­ing wo­ken at 3.15am and be­ing fol­lowed by pa­parazzi.

Her re­ported suit­ors have in­cluded ev­ery­one from Rus­sell Crowe to her gay-pal Stephen Sy­mond. She only needs to look at a man when there are cam­eras around, and she’s re­port­edly “in love”. “I have told peo­ple, ‘Please be aware that if you stand next to me, they will say we are dat­ing.’” But in re­al­ity, she says, there’s no one spe­cial right now, and she’s OK with that.

“It is very flat­ter­ing that peo­ple are so in­ter­ested, and that peo­ple would love me to find some­one and get mar­ried – as would my mother,” she says. “And it’s flat­ter­ing that older women come up to me in the fruit shop and try to set me up with their sons, but you know, I’ll be fine. I have the faith. I be­lieve in my­self. I know that my life will be good.”

“THE WOMEN WHO TALK LOUD­EST ABOUT SUP­PORT­ING WOMEN IN PUB­LIC OF­TEN DO THE LEAST BE­HIND THE SCENES”

SA­MAN­THA WEARS Misha Col­lec­tion dress, misha­col­lec­tion.com.au; Carla Zam­patti top (worn un­derneath), car­lazam­patti.com.au; Pas­pa­ley ring, pas­pa­ley. com; Witch­ery shoes, witch­ery.com.au. Banjo wears stylist’s own bow

SA­MAN­THA WEARS Rachel Gil­bert dress, rachel­gilbert.com; Pas­pa­ley jew­ellery, pas­pa­ley.com

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