“I WAS MORTIFIED”
THE NOTORIOUS EMERGENCE OF LEAKED FOOTAGE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR SAW AMBER SHERLOCK JOIN THE RANKS OF THOSE WHOSE LIVES GO FROM NORMAL TO ABNORMAL IN AN INSTANT. BUT WHO IS THE REAL WOMAN BEHIND THE GLOBAL HEADLINES, CHAT-SHOW PUNCHLINES AND SOCIAL-
TV journalist Amber Sherlock opens up to Stellar about how she coped after a terse on-camera exchange with a colleague turned her into a viral villain.
The day that journalist Amber Sherlock’s world upended began like any other. She cleaned up the aftermath of her two-year-old’s breakfast. She changed nappies, tripped over toys, and cajoled little arms into little T-shirts. Then she kissed two little foreheads and went to work. As she monitored stories and read scripts, a colleague came over and said, “Hey, I have just seen this pop up.”
“This” was a video on media site Mumbrella showing Sherlock having a terse off-air exchange with reporter Julie Snook, in which she commanded a defensive Snook to fetch a jacket because they were both wearing white. As Sherlock watched it for the first time, her heart in her mouth, the leaked footage was already going viral.
The 41-year-old arrived at work an afternoon news presenter, and left an internet sensation. “It was quite phenomenal, it really was the eye of the media storm,” she tells Stellar.
For five days, Jacket-gate, as it was dubbed, was the talk of Australia. It crossed borders and datelines, even bobbing up on comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late night chat show in the US, which is watched by around 2.4 million people. Columns were devoted to raking over the nuances of Sherlock’s behaviour. Trolls swarmed. Talkback callers put in their two cents. Sherlock had joined a small and unenviable club: she had become a viral villain.
“One moment I am just doing my job, and the next I am in every newspaper, on every social outlet,” says Sherlock, who has not spoken about the incident until now. “It felt almost surreal.
“At first I thought, how silly. But when it really escalated, and I was trolled on social media, it really started to get nasty. I was absolutely mortified, and, of course, hurt. I think I’m a kind, generous person. I am a mum, I have a family. And I was devastated. I am only human at the end of the day, and I think people forget that.”
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11 was an insufferably hot day in Sherlock’s hometown of Sydney. The mum of two took her kids to the beach that morning, but admits it was a bad idea. “The heat was getting to us, we were all hot and bothered,” she says. They went home, and Sherlock left her children Piper, six, and Zac, two, with her parents when she went to work, which, for the past nine years, has been as a journalist for the Nine Network.
She gets to work at 11.30am, fronts Nine News Now at 3pm, then presents the weather on Sydney’s Nine News bulletin at 6pm. Sherlock loves spending the mornings with her kids, but they don’t always run smoothly.
“Like any mum, I am sometimes tired or have a bad day, but I try to leave it behind,” she says. “We did the show that day, the incident happened, and then I went on and did my weather that night and went home.”
The “incident”, captured in the now-famous leaked video, was sparked by an unhappy coincidence; Sherlock, Snook and guest psychologist Sandy Rea all fronted a three-woman panel dressed in what appeared to be white. Off-air, but on-camera, Sherlock told Snook to get a jacket. Snook said she’d been too busy, and suggested that rather than fetch one, she should not appear on the panel at all. There was a terse stand-off before the cameras went live and all three women slapped on a smile.
Viewer consensus was the video showed Sherlock in a bad light. “Someone who works behind the camera at Ch 9 hates Amber Sherlock,” wrote a Twitter user. “Producers of #Imacelebrityau, you can’t, you mustn’t, go past Amber Sherlock… She mean,” wrote another.
In hindsight, Sherlock admits she could have handled the situation better. “I am the first to put up my hand and say that for whatever reason – I was stressed, I was tired, I possibly overreacted, there are better ways to deal with it.”
“It was a live-tv environment. Things aren’t always perfect. You don’t have time to have a cup of tea and talk something through, you just don’t have that luxury. What’s done is done. Julie was fine with it, I was fine with it. Everyone has their opinions, but if you look at the tape, I feel everyone massively overreacted. It was two female colleagues talking in an abrupt way because we were on deadlines.
“There was no hidden agenda, there was no back story, it was what it was.”
Sherlock says she and Snook put the incident behind them straight away. Neither had any inkling of the storm to come. Even when her colleague alerted her to it online, Sherlock didn’t think it was a big deal.
“People love water-cooler stuff,” she says. “[I thought] ‘Someone has posted it on there for a laugh.’ Honestly, I thought that was it. Julie thought that was it. We had a laugh about it.”
A few hours later, it wasn’t so funny. Journalists began calling Sherlock, asking for comment. Her name was trending on Twitter. The Nine Network’s publicity department stepped in, and Sherlock called her husband, Chris, who was at the hardware shop. “I said, ‘I think we could be in for an interesting few days,’” she says. “He will never forget that.”
Chris Sherlock was worried for his wife. “When you look back on it now, no one really knew where it was going to go,” he tells Stellar. “It was one of those things that evolves as the hours go by. What I kept trying to say is, like any news story, it will pass. The thing for me was to make sure I was there to talk her through. As horrible as it was, there were two young kids running to the front door when Amber got home – we had to try to keep it real.”
“For me, being a mum put it into perspective more than if I hadn’t been,” Sherlock says. “Before you are a mum you are working, and your career is everything. When you have children, [you realise] it is very important, it gives you a lot of satisfaction in life… but it isn’t everything.”
“I WAS ABSOLUTELY MORTIFIED AND HURT... I AM ONLY HUMAN AT THE END OF THE DAY, AND PEOPLE FORGET THAT”