“WE’RE SO EXCITED”
BY HER OWN ADMISSION, SHE IS 33 GOING ON 75 AND IS MOST AT EASE WEARING GUMBOOTS ON HER FARM – ALL OF WHICH MAKES THE NEWLY ENGAGED EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW A TELEVISION ANOMALY
Newly engaged Edwina Bartholomew opens up about her wedding plans, and reveals why she wants to start a conversation with Australian women about fertility issues.
Neil Varcoe can consider himself warned. When he asked Sunrise star Edwina Bartholomew’s father Iain for permission to marry his daughter, Iain offered a caution. “She’s pretty strong-willed and headstrong, Neil.”
Nevertheless, Varcoe, a journalist, persevered. He worked with a jewellery designer to re-create a ring he knew Bartholomew once liked. He asked the Seven Network’s wardrobe department to secretly measure her finger. And he hid the ring at their farm in Lithgow, NSW, waiting for the perfect moment.
Bartholomew didn’t make it easy. Varcoe was twice forced to scratch plans to pop the question, because she had invited 30 of her friends for a weekend sleepover or brought her sister to dinner. Finally, one chilly Tuesday morning, they went for a walk. Tucked inside his sock, rubbing uncomfortably against his ankle, was a little box.
At the farm’s gate, about a kilometre from the house, he asked. She said yes. He dropped the ring. They both fell to their knees, and scrounged around in the grass until they found it. “I have never been so nervous in my life,” he admits. “I had trouble getting the words out. There was always a chance she would say no. I had been wanting to do it for so long, and I wanted to get it right.”
That night they sat in front of the fire, talking about their future together. “We talked about how special it was and how excited we were,” Bartholomew says. “We knew it would be a crazy year before we get married, but we knew the focus was not on the next year, but on the next 70 years.”
In many ways, Bartholomew and Varcoe are already like an old married couple. They spend weekends on their farm, feeding cows and fixing fences. They share a love of gardening programs. They even sleep in separate bedrooms (only during the week) so Bartholomew doesn’t wake him when her two alarms buzz at an ungodly hour, signalling the start of the breakfast television day.
Bartholomew might look the part of a rising television star, but underneath the make-up and fashionable frocks she’s a self-confessed dork. By her own admission, she is 33 going on 75; she loves an ABC drama, would rather interview a centenarian than a celebrity, and is happiest on her farm in gumboots.
She has a Pollyanna-like enthusiasm, and her lack of self-consciousness lets her have a crack at anything, despite the risk of embarrassment. The traits that endear her to Sunrise viewers are the same ones that attracted Varcoe, who remembers embarking on his first date with a short, bubbly blonde and, many hours later, farewelling a woman who seemed much taller. “She has a personality that seems to extend feet above her,” he says.
AFTER FINISHING A week of 3.30am starts, Bartholomew would often spend Friday night flopped on the couch watching Better Homes And Gardens. On Facebook, she noticed one of her former 2GB workmates posting about the same show, and the two began messaging about landscaping and feature walls.
Their renovation repartee became flirtatious. “He had good chat,” Bartholomew recalls. She asked Varcoe out for a drink; he suggested a movie instead. She turned him down. “If a girl asks you out for a drink, you just go, right?” Varcoe maintains he was trying to escalate the romance, but it took another few months of Friday Facebook flirting for Bartholomew to try again.
This time, she asked him to The Diary Of A Madman, an absurdist play starring Geoffrey Rush that lasted almost four hours. She figured if he’d sit through that, he was her type of bloke. He did (despite an attempt to lure her to the pub at interval) and later that night, in 2011, she went to a friend’s house and predicted that one day, she’d marry him. As Varcoe tells Stellar of their courtship, “You can’t make this stuff up… and if you did, you’d make yourself sound more interesting.”
A week before Varcoe proposed, Sylvia Jeffreys, from Sunrise’s rival Today, set the bar for breakfast TV weddings when she married fellow Nine journalist Peter Stefanovic. The appetite for the apparent TV wedding of the year was so intense that a paparazzi drone hovered over the ceremony and the nuptials gave Today a ratings boost the following Monday.
“It would be my absolute worst nightmare to have a drone hovering above our vows”
Bartholomew’s engagement is being seen by some as a Seven sequel to the Today nuptials. That’s uncomfortable for the young couple; they just want a relaxed ceremony on their farm. Bartholomew already has her white vintage dress, and a friend will be making the cake. One of their most extravagant expenditures will be on port-a-loo rental, which costs $12,000.
Far from seeing Jeffreys as a bridal rival, Bartholomew had coffee with her to discuss how to navigate media interest around one’s wedding. They are close friends from their days as on-the-road reporters, albeit for opposing networks. “It’s a unique experience to have so much public interest in your wedding,” Bartholomew says. “It was something we have never really had to deal with before. It would be my absolute worst nightmare to have a drone hovering above our vows.
“We want it to be a casual day. We are going to have a lunchtime wedding, just really simple. We don’t want it to be fancy. The Sunrise guys will be there, we’re not going to be filming it for the show, and we’ll be paying for the whole thing ourselves, like any young couple.”
Bartholomew had long been teased by her Sunrise colleagues about how long it was taking Varcoe to propose. The truth is he’d been wanting to do it for some time, but he was waiting to finish work on the perfect venue, their ramshackle 1890s farmhouse in his hometown of Lithgow.
When they bought it a year ago, there was a colony of frogs in the toilet and 51 birds’ nests on the side of the house. They spent months adding stone, timber and brass to create a modern, country feel, before adding a few of those decorating tips they’d picked up from Better Homes And Gardens.
They also built fences and dams and introduced a fold of Highland cattle, which they want to breed. They plan to produce honey and restore habitat for endangered wildlife. “I could see us living in the country full-time,” Bartholomew says. “What would we do? I don’t know. It’s all pipe dreams now.”
There is one thing that is definitely in their vision for the future: children. “I can’t wait to have kids,” Bartholomew says. They want to do things the oldfashioned way and get married first, but Bartholomew recently had a series of fertility tests to give her a sense of just how quickly she’ll need to get cracking.
“There was some concern I might have lower fertility that would be hereditary, so I wanted to get that checked out,” she says. “I would hate to leave it too late and miss out on that experience, so I have had it tested. It’s a simple test anyone could get; it’s not foolproof, it doesn’t give you an exact time frame, it gives you an answer about whether you might have a few issues.
“I’m super glad I did it. It puts your mind at ease in some respects. For some reason I have this thought I might have issues having kids – so many of my friends have gone through that same battle – I thought gee, I hope it’s not me.
“It is probably career suicide having this conversation when you are 33 and working in media, but it’s an important conversation women should have. I’d be heartbroken if I couldn’t have kids.”
ENID BLYTON WROTE many books about girls’ boarding schools, and described her ideal student as “a nice, straightforward, trustable girl”, and one who “looks as if she has good brains”. The mistresses probably thought the same of a young Bartholomew when she arrived to board at Abbotsleigh school 20-odd years ago. Her father Iain worked for BHP, so the family moved frequently – from Whyalla to Sydney to Tokyo. When Bartholomew was in year eight, she was sent to the private girls’ school in Sydney.
“I loved boarding school,” she fondly recalls. “If there is any way I could send my kids to boarding school, even if I lived in Sydney, I would do it. It is
“I can’t wait to have kids. I would hate to leave it too late and miss out on that experience”
like living with 30 of your best mates, who are still my best mates now.”
She wasn’t quite a goody-two-shoes, but she never caused much angst – the worst thing Bartholomew ever did was put honey on the bannisters on muckup day. She could be overly chatty, too – “I was always outspoken and sure of myself” – but by the end of her high school years, Bartholomew was head girl. “I was well into the school spirit.”
Perhaps it was this type of education that gave Bartholomew social confidence, or maybe she would have had it anyway. But not every Charles Sturt University journalism student would have thrown themselves into Sunrise’s The Intern competition in 2004 – modelled on Donald Trump’s then high-rating series The Apprentice – with her level of gusto.
At first, Sunrise filmed the hopefuls competing in challenges that involved researching and interviews. But, says Bartholomew, “viewers thought it was too cruel. [So] instead we had to prove our worth in one day of work experience. I spent days putting together sample segments and researching fake weather crosses, and presented it all in a fancy folder to the executive producer. “I got the job. It changed my life.” “She was far and away the best intern we interviewed: smart, strong-willed, focused and witty,” David Koch tells Stellar. “My memory of that interview is thinking, ‘I have to stay nice to this young lady, because one day she will be my boss.’ You could tell she was going places. And she hasn’t disappointed.”
During her first week as an employee – which also happened to be the week of her 21st birthday – Bartholomew had to watch each minute of Jennifer Hawkins’s Miss Universe final, return a pair of glasses that Ita Buttrose had left in the green room, and hold the cafeteria door open for Irene from Home And Away.
She also printed out scripts, sourced an oriental rug for a performance by a barefoot k.d. lang, and was given the mighty responsibility of finding Kochie’s joke of the day. “Viewers would send them in, I would sort them out and choose the least unfunny one,” she says. “He would also find his own material. It would be a meeting of the minds.”
In the years since, she has also worked for 2GB, travelled, and co-hosted Dancing With The Stars, but has always come back to the show where she started. “I once wanted to be a foreign correspondent, to do murder and crime and death,” she says. “But actually I really love to smile and tell good stories with a bit of heart.”
Bartholomew doesn’t attract the same paparazzi attention that haunts Sunrise presenter Samantha Armytage, although she – just like any other woman on TV – does get criticism from viewers about her hair, or her clothing, or the way she scrunches her nose when she smiles.
“[ Studio 10 presenter] Sarah Harris once told me, ‘You’re not a f*ckwit whisperer.’ And that really stuck with me,” she tells Stellar. “I tried for a long time to address every criticism… and then I thought, gosh, what a waste of time. That’s something Sam is very good at, letting that stuff slide off her back. I am not very good at it. Hopefully I will get better at that over the years, but it still hurts a bit.”
Not content with being a full-time breakfast presenter and a part-time farmer, Bartholomew is also passionate about mentoring young women in media. “There’s this misconception that we are all out to get each other, whereas I have found it an incredibly supportive network of women within the media,” she says.
“People love to think there’s a feud between everyone, particularly Sam and I – people try to create a feud that isn’t there. Sam has been incredibly supportive of me. I go to her for advice, I go to her in tears, I go to her just to catch up. Not everyone gets along, but I resent the fact that people think everyone hates each other.”
“People love to think there’s a feud between Sam and I, but she’s incredibly supportive”