“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

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy KANE SKENNAR Styling KELLY HUME Cre­ative Di­rec­tion ALEKSANDRA BEARE Words JOR­DAN BAKER

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”

ED­WINA WEARS Acler top and skirt, acler. com.au; Pierre Win­ter Fine Jew­els neck­laces, pierre Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo shoes (worn through­out), 1300 095 224; her own en­gage­ment ring (worn through­out)

ED­WINA WEARS Acler dress, acler. com.au; Fame and Part­ners corset, fame­and­part­ners. com.au Above right: Ed­wina Bartholomew and her

ED­WINA WEARS Rachel Gil­bert dress, rachel­gilbert.com; Pierre Win­ter Fine Jew­els neck­lace (in her hand), pier­rewin­ter Be­low right: Bartholomew with her Sun­rise col­leagues. HAIR Keiren Street us­ing Oribe Dry Tex­tur­is­ing Spray MA

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