MR EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

HE’S BEEN A FIX­TURE ON AUS­TRALIAN TV FOR THREE DECADES, WITH A WELL-DOC­U­MENTED PER­SONAL LIFE TO MATCH. BUT FEW PEO­PLE UN­DER­STAND WHAT RE­ALLY MAKES RICHARD WILKINS TICK

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy JUSTIN LLOYD Styling GEMMA KEIL Cre­ative Di­rec­tion ALEKSANDRA BEARE Words JOR­DAN BAKER

His pri­vate life is as event­ful as those of the celebri­ties he in­ter­views, yet be­hind the showbiz fa­cade, Richard Wilkins is a fam­ily man at heart.

Be­fore his hair made its own head­lines, be­fore he be­came a red-car­pet reg­u­lar, even be­fore he was pop star Richard Wilde, Richard Wilkins was a teen dad from the north is­land of New Zealand.

On the night of his 18th birth­day, Wilkins con­ceived a child with his 16-year-old girl­friend. Less than a year later, he was mar­ried, work­ing in an abat­toir, and had be­come the fa­ther of a beau­ti­ful baby boy with Down syn­drome.

A gen­er­a­tion of Aus­tralians has only ever known Richard Wilkins as a fix­ture on the To­day show desk, at which he has sat for al­most 23 years. But he has a fas­ci­nat­ing back­story, and the defin­ing mo­ment of that story is the birth of his first son, Adam.

“I have al­ways de­scribed Adam as my rock,” he says. “I had the po­ten­tial to be the black sheep of the fam­ily, cer­tainly the po­ten­tial to have a wild side. I fell in love with the new mu­sic. I was sort of ready to run with all of that, and then Adam came along. He forced me to grow up.”

Wilkins is a case study in showbiz longevity, a man whose abil­ity to rein­vent him­self has kept him on our screens for the bet­ter part of 30 years. Per­haps a big­ger achieve­ment, though, and one al­most ev­ery­one whose path he has crossed would agree upon, is that he has sur­vived decades in the pub­lic eye, three marriages, five chil­dren to four moth­ers and count­less gos­sip col­umn inches with­out be­com­ing jaded.

De­spite all the twists and turns in his showbiz life, Dickie, un­like many in his in­dus­try, never be­came a dick­head.

WILKINS USHERS ME into the lounge room of his pad on the lower north shore of Syd­ney. It’s breath­tak­ing; from the deck there is a sweep­ing view over Wil­loughby Bay, which he punts around on the week­ends with his To­day show mates Ross Green­wood and Ben Ford­ham. There’s a clifftop pool, a bar, and a gym which is dec­o­rated with a poster of Richard Wilde.

There are also two dozen-odd pairs of or­phaned sun­glasses on the kitchen counter, left be­hind af­ter par­ties. At 62, Wilkins is still the first port of call when there’s a cel­e­bra­tion re­quired. He of­ten hosts To­day’s end-of-year bash. Even when Stel­lar ar­rives one Fri­day af­ter­noon, there’s pâté, cor­ni­chons and dip wait­ing hos­pitably.

The best party he’s even been to, he says – and he’s cer­tainly been to plenty – was his daugh­ter Re­becca’s wed­ding in Queen­stown, New Zealand, last year. He whips out an al­bum of pho­to­graphs of the day, which in­cludes the most spe­cial pic­ture of all; a shot of Wilkins sur­rounded by his five chil­dren, the first pho­to­graph ever taken of all six of them to­gether (as pic­tured be­low).

One thing is clear: Wilkins is a de­voted dad. So proud, he’s al­most burst­ing. There’s Adam, 43, “the rock that stopped me run­ning off the rails”. Re­becca, 33, “the glue that binds us to­gether”. Nick, 31, “the heart and soul, he’s such a solid guy”, Chris­tian, 21, “the the­atri­cal one in the fam­ily”. And Estella, 12, his daugh­ter with Collette Din­ni­gan, who is “mad about horses”.

“My chil­dren have al­ways been paramount to me,” he says. “Of all the nice things that have hap­pened, they are my in­fin­itely great­est achieve­ment. I’ve al­ways been am­bi­tious and al­ways had stuff I wanted to do, but I would hope that I have never ne­glected fam­ily life. There are times when I prob­a­bly haven’t pri­ori­tised it, and there are times that I am not in­cred­i­bly proud of, noth­ing spe­cific, but I think it’s all turned out OK. There’s no such thing as a nor­mal life or nor­mal fam­ily.”

That’s a les­son Wilkins learnt early – in March 1973, to be ex­act, not long af­ter Adam was born. “I re­mem­ber go­ing in and look­ing at Adam, and I hate even re­peat­ing these words, but I sensed there was some­thing un­usual, dif­fer­ent. I went home, and Mum said, ‘How is ev­ery­thing go­ing?’

“I said, ‘He looks a bit funny – I hope he’s not Mon­goloid’ [an early, deroga­tory term for Down syn­drome]. I re­mem­ber say­ing those words.”

Adam did have Down syn­drome, a con­di­tion in which a baby is born with an ex­tra chro­mo­some. “It was a shock. I think we won­dered what it meant, what do we need to do, how does it work, will we be able to cope?” The Wilkins fam­ily urged the cou­ple to put Adam into a home; his wife’s fam­ily urged them to keep him at home with them.

Ini­tially, they did the lat­ter. Wilkins, whose clas­si­cal vi­olin train­ing had mor­phed into a pas­sion for rock mu­sic, played in a band by night, worked in the abat­toir in the early

“I’ve never ne­glected fam­ily life. Though there are times I haven’t pri­ori­tised it”

14

RICHARD WEARS T.M. Lewin shirt, pants, and bow tie, tm­lewin. com.au; braces, David Jones; his own watch and bracelets

GOOD TIMES (clock­wise from top) Richard Wilkins with his chil­dren (from left) Ni­cholas, Adam, Re­becca, Chris­tian and Estella; on the cover of Smash Hits with Ja­son Dono­van in 1988; as pho­tographed for Stel­lar.

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