“IT’S BEEN HARD”

Ge­or­gia Love talks of her grief on the first Mother’s Day since her mum died.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words ALEXANDRA CARL­TON

Re­al­ity TV isn’t known for an over­sup­ply of gen­uinely en­dear­ing mo­ments, but in last year’s The Bach­e­lorette such a rar­ity took place when 10 suit­ors sur­prised the beam­ing Ge­or­gia Love with a song. “Ge­or­gia, oh Ge­or­gia... your eyes are sparkling blue,” the men sang, grin­ning with real warmth at the 28-year-old tele­vi­sion news re­porter, and al­low­ing an odd guf­faw at the ab­sur­dity of their shared sit­u­a­tion.

Al­most seven months since The Bach­e­lorette fi­nale went to air, the blue eyes that cap­tured the heart of al­most ev­ery man in that room – and even­tu­ally se­cured the long-term love of 35-year-old Mel­bourne plumber Lee El­liott – are just as be­witch­ing. But to­day the faintest tug of sad­ness dulls their shine. Some of the sparkle is gone. Be­cause while Love was break­ing the hearts of Aus­tralia’s most el­i­gi­ble bach­e­lors, her own was break­ing, too: her mother Belinda was bat­tling the pan­cre­atic cancer that would even­tu­ally take her life.

“It was ex­actly a year ago to­day that Mum had the op­er­a­tion to re­move her tu­mour,” Love tells Stellar. “At first Mum’s di­ag­no­sis was, ‘OK, you’re hav­ing an op­er­a­tion, you’ll get the tu­mour taken out and it’ll be a hard road of re­cov­ery, but…’” She trails off. There was a big “but”.

Within months, it was clear the op­er­a­tion wouldn’t be enough, and Love’s mother wouldn’t sur­vive. Belinda was even­tu­ally moved to pal­lia­tive care in the days be­fore the The Bach­e­lorette fi­nale aired. On Oc­to­ber 28, the day af­ter it screened, Love and El­liott should have been mak­ing the press rounds; in­stead, Love was in hospi­tal at her mother’s side. At 9.30 that evening, she went home. Three hours later Belinda passed away, aged 60.

Love was with El­liott when her fa­ther rang with the news. The pair had only be­gun to get to know each other away from the cam­eras and be­hind closed doors, as their con­tract stip­u­lated that they had to hide their ro­mance from the na­tion un­til the show had wrapped. It was sup­posed to be the day they went pub­lic, shar­ing their joy. In­stead, Love was in­con­solable. “There’s no emo­tion like that,” says Love of the phone call that shat­tered her world.

“The first year is the hard­est. I still have some fall­ing apart to do”

The cir­cum­stances put El­liott to the test right away. Love ac­knowl­edges that it was a huge strain on their new ro­mance but El­liott, she says, stepped up. “He was in­cred­i­ble. Within the first 48 hours he met ev­ery sin­gle one of my family and friends but in the most hor­ri­ble and emo­tional way. He did not once fal­ter. He did not once freak out. He was there ev­ery step of the way. Noth­ing will ever take that away. That’s some­thing that makes me even more in love with him. In so many ways it brought us very close.”

Love says those first sur­real days were “a to­tal blur”. She was in a new re­la­tion­ship that be­gan un­der the most bizarre cir­cum­stances, and tast­ing real fame for the first time. Pa­parazzi hid out­side her home and shot pho­tos of her mother’s funeral in early Novem­ber, an act Love’s fa­ther, Christo­pher, slammed as “dis­re­spect­ful” and “dis­taste­ful”. She had to force her­self to push aside the grief and con­cen­trate on ev­ery­thing else. “I’ve prob­a­bly swept my emo­tions un­der the car­pet a bit be­cause I had to,” she says. “I was so busy, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I’ll deal with that later… or else I’ll com­pletely break down.’” Out­side she smiled. Alone with El­liott, she would col­lapse.

De­spite El­liott’s strength, Love is not afraid to ad­mit the toll these cir­cum­stances have taken on their re­la­tion­ship. “There’s no point deny­ing that and it would be fake to say oth­er­wise,” she rea­sons. “It’s made our re­la­tion­ship re­ally hard. He’s the one who has to cop it when I’m hav­ing a bad day. He’s the one who’s there as I break down.”

GRIEF PLAYS OUT in dif­fer­ent ways for ev­ery­one, says psy­chol­o­gist Jo Lam­ble, but Love’s de­ci­sion to muf­fle the enor­mity of her feel­ings while she had other things to dis­tract her is com­mon.

“Prince Harry spoke of this re­cently, that he didn’t deal with his grief for years be­cause he felt he would fall apart,” Lam­ble says. “De­layed on­set can of­ten hap­pen when there’s a dis­trac­tion around at the time. It doesn’t mean she wasn’t think­ing of her mum. The big wave of grief of­ten comes later.”

Like Prince Harry, who re­cently ad­mit­ted he had sought help from a therapist at age 28 af­ter years of “stick­ing my head in the sand” fol­low­ing his mother Diana’s death when he was 12, Love is see­ing a psy­chol­o­gist. “I’ve never done that be­fore, but I’ve also had a re­ally easy life,” she says. “I’m not em­bar­rassed to say that I’ve been speak­ing to a psy­chol­o­gist and I’ll con­tinue to do that. Be­cause I don’t think any­one ex­pects me to go through ev­ery­thing I’ve gone through on my own. There’s no shame in think­ing that pro­fes­sional help is nec­es­sary. I can’t put it all on Lee.”

Love – who calls her­self a “mummy’s girl through-and-through” – says she was sur­prised the first Christ­mas without her mum didn’t feel as painful as she thought it would. “It’s al­most like it was so soon that it didn’t feel real,” she says. “It just felt like she wasn’t there that day.”

But it has been the loom­ing prospect of an­other mile­stone, one that falls to­day, that has proven to be a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult time.

“The thought of Mother’s Day is just a bit too much to fathom,” she tells Stellar. “Ev­ery radio and TV ad is about ‘What are you go­ing to get your mum for Mother’s Day?’ The ‘firsts’ are al­ways go­ing to be hard. The first Mother’s Day. My birth­day. The first ran­dom sec­ond of July will be hard without her. Ev­ery day in this first year is al­ways go­ing to be a ‘first’.

“Ev­ery­one I’ve spo­ken to has said that first year is the hard­est. And there is still a lot of that year to go. I think I still have a bit of fall­ing apart to do.”

The show it­self has also thrown its own curve­ball “firsts” her way, not all of them wel­come. Love re­ceived death threats when she chose El­liott

“Lee was in­cred­i­ble… in so many ways it brought us very close”

over run­ner-up Matty John­son, whose pop­u­lar­ity has seen him picked to star in the next se­ries of The Bach­e­lor. She reg­u­larly fields catty com­ments on her so­cial me­dia – women telling her that her toothy grin makes her look like a “pageant queen” and men com­ment­ing on her “thun­der thighs” (which, for the record, are as lean as a long-dis­tance run­ner’s). Al­most ev­ery day a new tabloid story claims she’s bro­ken up with El­liott, or he’s cheat­ing, or she’s preg­nant. She sim­ply wants her re­la­tion­ship with El­liott – and her life in gen­eral – to come back down to earth.

Part of this means try­ing to put the brakes on the in­ten­sity of their part­ner­ship, and wind­ing back its fast-tracked be­gin­ning. “A wed­ding isn’t on the cards, and a baby def­i­nitely is not on the cards,” she in­sists. The pair do their best to bal­ance out ev­ery celebrity race day or fash­ion party they at­tend with Sun­day morn­ing runs around Mel­bourne’s Royal Botanic Gar­dens, fol­lowed by brunch or a game of footy. They still de­light in ex­chang­ing the goofy puns that were such a large part of their early con­nec­tion. They have yet to move in to­gether, and peo­ple are of­ten ask­ing why. Love says that while the raw­ness of her fa­ther’s grief is so fresh, she wants to stay close. Be­sides, she adds, nei­ther she nor El­liott have ever moved in with a part­ner this quickly. “We want to move in to­gether when we both de­cide we want to stay to­gether ev­ery sin­gle night, not be­cause of the pub­lic per­cep­tion,” Love ex­plains.

She is slowly piec­ing to­gether a ca­reer be­yond the show. Love says that she wants to land her next full-time role on her mer­its, not be­cause she was The Bach­e­lorette. She has guest-hosted Stu­dio 10 and ap­peared on The Project, as well as tak­ing on an am­bas­sador­ship with Palmer’s skin­care and charity work with the Pan­care Foun­da­tion, a not-for­profit fight­ing pan­cre­atic cancer. She chooses what feels right, and in­sists that she is in no hurry to take the first things that come along.

Step­ping onto the red car­pet at her first-ever Lo­gies last month, glow­ing in a cou­ture gown with a thigh-high split and El­liott on her arm, Love knew her mother would have been proud.

“I have vivid mem­o­ries of sit­ting on the couch with her when I was seven years old, eat­ing ice-cream and watch­ing all those beau­ti­ful women in those beau­ti­ful dresses. I’d say, ‘Oh I’d love to be there one day,’” she says. “She would have loved to see me do that. She would have loved to see me do all the things I’m do­ing.”

Pho­tog­ra­phy TIM HUNTER Styling SARAH FAR­RELL

GE­OR­GIA WEARS Max Mara dress, max­mara.com; Sport­max shoes (worn through­out), sport­max.com; (op­po­site) Max Mara top, as be­fore; Hugo Boss pants, (03) 9474 6304; her mother’s ring

GE­OR­GIA WEARS Ry­der top, ry­der­la­bel. com; Cos skirt, (02) 9231 3944

LOVE STO­RIES (from top) Ge­or­gia Love at this year’s Lo­gies with boyfriend Lee El­liott; with her mum Belinda; and some of her TV suit­ors.

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