I WON’T APOLOGISE”
EVEN FOR A FRANCHISE THAT TRADES ON SHOCK VALUE AND MELODRAMA, LISA OLDFIELD, THE BREAKOUT STAR OF THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF SYDNEY, ADMITS SHE MIGHT HAVE GONE TOO FAR
She’s the outrageous star of The Real Housewives Of Sydney. And, as Lisa Oldfield tells Stellar, she’s not about to stop being herself – onscreen or off.
Wherever she goes, Lisa Oldfield leaves a trail of chaos, confusion and – if she’s not careful – a spill or two of sauvignon blanc in her wake. So when The Real Housewives Of Sydney put out a casting call last year for its inaugural season, it was these very attributes that made her the perfect candidate. By the time the show finished airing this month, they had also turned her into a cautionary tale.
There is nothing, Oldfield admits to Stellar, that she will not share with the world. “Ask me and I’ll tell you straight. Why deny things? I am who I am.” A businesswoman and one-time TV presenter, Oldfield, 42, was long known mostly for her marriage to One Nation co-founder David Oldfield, 58, whom she wed in October 2001. For years, most Australians recognised her – if they recognised her at all – as little more than a professional plus-one.
Things have changed. Dramatically. When RHOS barrelled onto the nation’s TV screens in February, Oldfield proved an immediate standout – for all kinds of reasons. Viewers loved her. Viewers hated her. There was no in-between. “I knew I would be polarising,” Oldfield says, “because my mouth has always gotten me into trouble.”
Within the series’ first few weeks, Oldfield had lashed out at co-star Krissy Marsh, calling her “a slut”, complaining about “smelly” parts of her anatomy and likening her to Star Wars’ Chewbacca. She told her youngest son Bert, four, that he was “acting like a dickhead”. And in a particularly troubling scene, she admitted her marriage to Oldfield was in a shambles, pronouncing: “I just hate the mongrel that I’m living with.”
Oldfield’s onscreen behaviour is often unsavoury, to say nothing of her presence on social media (more on that in a moment). But on a pleasant afternoon at a pizzeria near her home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Oldfield exudes a different vibe. Over caesar salad and a few glasses of wine (none of them tossed, Housewives- style, in this interviewer’s face), she is friendly and relaxed. When a group of schoolchildren stop to peer in the window, she beams and waves back. “I’m huge with the 14- to 17-year-olds,” she says. “They’re so cute. [But] they shouldn’t be watching, [the show] is so rude.”
As she reflects on her dicey public persona, reveals the current (for now) state of her topsy-turvy marriage and tries to explain why her antics make such compelling viewing, the reason for her breakout success grows clearer. Reality TV exploded right around the time the Oldfields became newlyweds – and much like their union, it has changed in dramatic, not always positive ways. No wonder Lisa Oldfield has become its mascot of the moment.
TRYING TO SOLVE a problem like Lisa Oldfield is next to impossible – just ask her husband. “Lisa is an enormously intelligent person,” David tells Stellar, “and she really has a very sparkling personality. She is out there, she is edgy. But a lot of her approach to The Real Housewives Of Sydney did not, I think, project those natural talents. She could have maintained a bit more control.”
But “control” is not a word that seems to be part of Oldfield’s vocabulary, which is extensive in a way that buttresses her claim she falls asleep with a Kindle on her décolletage most nights. She grew up near Sydney’s Palm Beach, an outcast at school and at home. “I was always the odd one out,” Oldfield says. “I never wanted to hang out with the cool girls.” She points to the magazines she has brought with her. “I’m a nerd who reads All About History rather than Vogue. I’m obsessed with the Tudors, I don’t care about fashion. And I don’t apologise for being anything other than that person.”
In her youth, Oldfield used her wit like a cudgel as she tried to wrestle her parents’ affection away from her little brother, who was often sick. It rarely worked. “I was never their favourite,” she explains. “Mothers and sons have a special bond. And my dad wasn’t that interested in me because I was a girl. So I said things to shock people, to make them laugh, to remind them I was still there. My reasons weren’t nefarious… I just wanted some attention.”
When she was 29, Oldfield – whose father often accused her of being foolish – proved him wrong: she sold her parents’ software company for $60 million and sent her career in mergers and acquisitions into overdrive. In answering the question as to what exactly she does to earn a living, Oldfield admits her CV is under slight construction and that her Linkedin profile “doesn’t make any sense”.
Although she still consults for the tech industry, she spends the bulk of her working hours as general manager for business development at the Australian Egg Bank. Encouraging other women to freeze or donate their eggs is personal for Oldfield, a mother to two boys (older son Harry is six). A few years ago, she donated eggs to her best friend, who now has a son who’s nearly two.
Aside from her naturally acidic sense of humour and a self-diagnosed case of lifelong “verbal diarrhoea”, Oldfield blames “the construct of the show” for the reality-tv fallout she’s experiencing. “You have to see these people you find intolerable or obnoxious, three or four times a week,” she says. “So the Lisa you saw on the show was provoked and put into an unnatural situation.”
Oldfield’s attitude towards the truth ended up landing her in trouble with her co-stars, the viewers, the press and her husband – all in equal measure. Her fondness for a drink has caused just as much strife. “It’s too close,” is how David sums up her relationship with
alcohol. “It’s the source of the majority of our issues.” Lisa admits as much: “I love a drink. Unfortunately I can’t really handle it. I can go without. But once I start, it’s very hard to stop.”
Exhibit A: her notorious Instagram account, where cheekiness sometimes curdles towards churlishness. Oldfield seems almost constitutionally incapable of not taking the bait, replying to rude commenters with tart retorts and personal slams. On May 10, she seemed to insinuate a divorce from David, only to recant the next day. “I don’t often have a lot of common sense,” Oldfield admits. “And with a bit of bravado and Bollinger under my belt, I make mistakes.”
The Oldfields underwent marriage counselling on-air, and Lisa says it “very much [remains] on the agenda”. David suggests otherwise. “It’s spasmodic, and I don’t think it’s helpful,” he tells Stellar. “Because the source of the majority of our issues is her lifestyle – she smokes, she drinks, she isn’t healthy.” Nonetheless, each of them say they remain committed to trying to make the marriage work, citing their young sons as a key reason.
So why doesn’t Lisa just turn off the phone when things get heated? “I know, I should,” she concedes. “I stupidly look at Instagram like a diary, and my fans are terrific, so I get excited and I want to give them a peek behind the velvet rope. But maybe I’ve gone too far.”
YET GOING TOO far is exactly what reality TV now requires. Whereas once the genre peddled stories of aspiration and success, today it revels in the deterioration of friendships, fights between partners and dinner parties gone horribly, hilariously wrong. “Years ago, you were remembered for being someone fantastic or warm or honest,” says Kath Rose, who owns a Brisbanebased PR and marketing agency. “Now it has to be more. You use a word, you start an argument, you become a social-media event. It’s car-crash TV. And they cast The Real Housewives Of Sydney perfectly – we all enjoyed watching the Jaws of Life being brought in.”
Gamble Breaux, a childhood friend of Oldfield’s who joined The Real Housewives Of Melbourne in 2015, agrees. “They cast you because you’re badly wired,” she tells Stellar. “They want Stepford Wives – but not the ones who behave perfectly. They want the ones whose circuits have started to break.”
Even so, Oldfield says, producers stepped in during the initial episodes of RHOS to drum up the hysterics. “We were sat down like errant schoolgirls: ‘You’re not bringing it, there’s not enough drama,’” she reveals. “People watch these shows expecting a train wreck. So we had to figure out how to give Australia the show that they wanted to see. But you get to a point where you don’t even know what’s real and what’s not anymore.”
The instant ratings success of the Melbourne series, which debuted in 2014 and has since earned a run in the US, only amped up expectations for its northern counterpart. “The pressure was on,” Oldfield says. “[Executive producer] Kylie Washington said it: ‘We want Sydney to be a punch in the face.’ Well, they certainly got that.”
Breaux insists the RHOM cast is under no similar instructions to turn the dial to 11 for their upcoming fourth season in the wake of Sydney’s headlinemaking bow. “If anything, it’s the opposite,” she demurs. “Those women are ruthless. We’re not. We don’t throw drinks in each other’s faces.” Although, she allows after a pause, “I also haven’t filmed with our new cast members yet.”
If the franchise opts to expand even further in Australia, Brisbane would seem the logical next location. “Unlike Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane doesn’t believe its own hype,” Rose tells Stellar. “There wouldn’t be as much make-up. Fewer cat fights. A lot of sauv blanc, a few rum and Cokes. And you’d probably see someone wearing double pluggers.”
Given she’s a well-known identity on the social scene, would Rose put her hand up for a role on The Real Housewives Of Brisbane? “Not in a million years,” she vows.
Oldfield, meanwhile, has “indicated that I would” do a second season – which is almost certainly on the cards. She claims onscreen bête noire Marsh is out – “she was so difficult to work with and so unprofessional” – and questions whether Melissa Tkautz will be asked back.
Arguably the only household name ahead of the show’s premiere, Tkautz spent much of the season shrinking away from the theatrics and earned very little screen time. “Mel?” Oldfield asks. “I call her Meh. Does she have a pulse? Why did she want to be on a reality-tv show? We’re hired to exaggerate, to embellish. That’s our job.”
Still, she says her emotional outbursts and more polarising actions were spur of the moment. “I never went in [to the show] with a plan; nothing was thought out in advance to get attention,” Oldfield says. “The consequence is that I get pilloried. I’m a pariah. Yet on the other hand, [people say] ‘She’s brave! She’s honest!’”
Oldfield takes a moment to consider such charitable assessments of her behaviour. “No,” she concludes with a Cheshire Cat grin. “I’m probably just a bit pissed.”
“We had to give Australia the show they wanted… You get to a point where you don’t know what’s real”
LISA WEARS Rachel Gilbert dress, rachelgilbert.com; Cerrone earrings and bracelets (all worn throughout), cerrone. com.au; Bulgari bracelet (worn on left wrist, worn throughout), bulgari.com; her own wedding ring “I don’t have a lot of common sense. And with a bit of Bollinger under my belt, I make mistakes”
LISA WEARS Carla Zampatti dress, carlazampatti.com.au
HAIR Kimberley Forbes MAKE-UP Jaclyn Hnitko
SHOT ON LOCATION At Marble Bar, Hilton Sydney, 488 George St, marblebarsydney.com.au