“WE GOT ON WITH IT”
“We just got on with our lives” ONCE LABELLED A “HOLMES WRECKER” OVER HER RELATIONSHIP WITH STAN GRANT, TELEVISION PRESENTER TRACEY HOLMES IS RIDING HIGH – BOTH PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY
Journalist Tracey Holmes opens up to Stellar about married life with Stan Grant – post scandal.
If childhood experiences influence career choices, then Tracey Holmes should have been a pro surfer. As a three-year-old accompanying her parents as they set off from Sydney to follow the big breaks of South Africa and Hawaii, she was primed for a life of adventure on the ocean.
But Holmes chased waves of a different kind. Now 50, she has carved a distinguished career in broadcasting, her latest role as presenter of the new Q&A Extra program on ABC Newsradio and Facebook Live.
It airs immediately after the Monday night Q&A TV show, which has a habit of triggering debate on national issues.
Watching Holmes in action quickly conveys that she is not a person who shies away from challenges. She’s simultaneously sliding dials, cueing music, checking the time, talking to a studio guest, turning her head to the Facebook camera and somehow making sense as she goes. It’s impressive multi-tasking. “I was worried about that, how I’d do it all,” Holmes laughingly admits to Stellar.
But really, this is just a routine day in the office for the mother of one and wife of fellow media personality, Stan Grant.
“As you get older, the days go faster and there is no time to relax because there are too many things to do, but I love my job, the people I meet; the world is a fascinating place,” she says.
Holmes also presents The Ticket, a sports issues panel program on ABC Newsradio on Sundays, is a senior reporter for the network and lectures in journalism at the University of Technology Sydney.
“There has never been a time when Stan and I are not busy, but that means we have fascinating conversations all the time, about what he’s doing, what I’m doing,” she says.
Unlike Grant, who always wanted to be a journalist, Holmes came to the profession more by chance than by design. Born into the “surf’s up” culture of the 1960s, Holmes spent hours at the beach with her parents, firstly in Sydney and then overseas.
In South Africa, mum Lynne, now 69, was a key organiser of the Durban 500, a world pro surfing competition later renamed the Gunston 500 and won by legends including Midget Farrelly, Tom Carroll, Mark Occhilupo and Layne Beachley. Dad Darryl, now 73, distinguished himself as a surfboard shaper. At age 10, Holmes moved with her family – including sister Jodi, four years her junior – to Hawaii. (Jodi, now 47, still lives there, and is the general manager of the World Surf League.)
Those early years fuelled in Holmes a passion for travelling, but she admits that after completing high school back in Australia, at the independent Pittwater House in Sydney’s Collaroy, she didn’t know where to go next.
“I thought I’d enjoy sleeping for the next six months, but Mum had other ideas. One morning in late December, she rang me around 11am – I was still in bed – and said, ‘I’ve had enough of this; when I get home, you’d better have found a job, be enrolled in a course or have moved out.’ So I did all three.”
Taking a public relations course at TAFE, Holmes was offered a job by one of her teachers, Kim Mckay, whose PR firm had landed a contract to represent the world surfing circuit.
“I knew everyone in surfing so it was a great fit,” she says.
Broadening her interests, in 1988 Holmes became the publicist for the Australian Bicentennial Authority’s Sport 88 Program – “We did 1500 events, and I was in touch with the ABC throughout that time, giving them story leads; I also started filing stories for AAP if they couldn’t send a journalist.”
When a traineeship became available at the national broadcaster in 1989, Holmes leapt at the chance. She went on to become the first female host of a national sports program, Grandstand, and in 1996 took a coveted role as international media spokesperson for the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.
Two years later, an offer from SBS to cover the FIFA World Cup in France proved irresistible, and by 2000, Holmes had switched to commercial television, working on The Games program at the Seven Network.
That’s where she crossed paths with Grant, then host of Today Tonight. The pair was sent to Greece to cover the lighting of the Olympic torch, and an unexpected attraction developed. Months later, Grant separated from his wife Karla – mother of his daughter Lowanna, now 29, and sons John, 23, and Dylan, 20.
When Seven Network management disapproved of Holmes and Grant moving in together, they both resigned, with Holmes telling her boss, “With all due respect, you’re my employer, not my father.”
Labelled a “Holmes wrecker” by the press, she has never been able to work out what all the fuss was about.
“I didn’t know what the fascination was then, and still don’t know – even as we speak, people are getting divorces and marrying other people, and plenty are more high-profile than me and Stan. During the whole period, we just got on with it – we were a new family.”
In August 2000, Grant reportedly abused a journalist for taking his picture in a shopping centre, but Holmes insists that there was no “breaking point” for the couple.
“It didn’t drag us down, but it was annoying – when people start climbing over your neighbours’ fences in the middle of the night, that’s beyond any sort of reasonable expectation.”
Seventeen years later, Holmes says life with Stan is “fabulous”, as it’s always been.
“We have an incredible marriage and have been able to give the kids great experiences, travelling overseas and living in other countries.”
In late 2001, when the couple’s son Jesse was just six weeks old, they went to work in Hong Kong, returning briefly soon after for a surprise wedding at Sydney’s Moby Dicks Whale Beach. “All our friends thought that we were having a birthday celebration for Jesse, so they gave us Thomas the Tank Engine presents,” she laughs.
Grant’s anchor role with CNN later took them to Beijing and the Middle East, where Holmes worked for China Central Television and Dubai Eye radio respectively, as well as CNN.
Their 11 years abroad were shared with John and Dylan, with their mother Karla, a journalist for SBS’S Indigenous current affairs program Living Black, agreeing the move would be a great experience. (Their older sister was heading into her final years of school, so remained in Australia.)
“We are all very close,” says Holmes. “Right from the start I said to John and Dylan, ‘Your mum is always your mum. I’m happy to look after you like a mum, but I’m not your mum.’ The boys were always treated the same, brothers equally. Dylan, who is studying communications and playing rugby union for Manly, still lives with us.”
Life in the Holmes-grant household in Sydney’s inner west is never dull.
As Holmes tackles her new gig, Grant is settling into his, as host of The Link on Friday nights on ABC TV, and the station’s first editor of Indigenous affairs.
Of the significant appointment, Holmes says it’s not a case of Grant embracing his Indigenous roots, but of “broader Australia” embracing him.
“Stan has always been very close to his family and proud of his heritage, but the [ABC TV] appointment comes at a time when there is a lot more discussion about the Indigenous population and our history.”
Grant, 53, has played an instrumental part in that discourse. The author of two books, The Tears Of Strangers and Talking To My Country, he spoke out in July last year against the mistreatment of Aboriginal boys in detention in the Northern Territory.
Accepting an honorary doctorate of letters at the University of New South Wales, Grant shelved his prepared speech to speak from the heart about his “pulsating rage”.
Like her husband, Holmes is not afraid to give her opinion. If this makes her a target, particularly on social media, then so be it.
After the first Q&A Extra aired last month, one detractor called it “leftwing nonsense”, and another “a futile exercise in sharing ignorance”, but Holmes is unperturbed.
“If you look at where people grow up, their cultural background, education, experiences, you’ll get some men and women who are enlightened, some who don’t want to be and some who are in the middle.
“What we’re trying to do is extend the conversation – it’s more than the Twitter feed or the live audience on TV, it’s a way for everybody in the country to have their say.
“The world is full of all sorts. We wouldn’t want everyone to think the same, and without challenges, we don’t push ourselves.” Q&A Extra airs 10.40pm Mondays, on ABC Newsradio, while streaming simultaneously on Facebook Live.
“I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE FASCINATION WAS – PEOPLE ARE [ALWAYS] GETTING DIVORCES AND MARRYING OTHER PEOPLE”