LOOKING FOR LIGHT
HER RAZOR-SHARP SUMMATIONS OF THE BACHELOR PAVED THE WAY FOR A BOOK DEAL. BUT DESPITE HER BURGEONING CAREER AND DEVOTED FOLLOWING, IT’S BEEN A TURBULENT YEAR FOR ROSIE WATERLAND
She’s a hugely successful writer, but life hasn’t been easy for Rosie Waterland.
Within 10 minutes of meeting me, Rosie Waterland has talked about abortion, reality TV, alcoholism, eyelash extensions, post-traumatic stress disorder and her love-hate relationship with Twitter – and all in what seems like a single sentence. All things considered, this is quite a skill.
Waterland earned her public profile in 2013, thanks to weekly recaps of The Bachelor (in her words “the most glorious show in the history of shows”) that went plague-level viral. She has acquired a reputation as a hilarious, outspoken personality, who boasts the same oversharing gene as Lena Dunham and a sharp talent for satire. Radio presenter Richard Glover once called her recaps “the best television writing since Clive James”.
In person, Waterland is more reserved than one might expect of a woman who has posted naked selfies to Facebook and written extensively on a range of bodily functions. Sharing so much with her followers means they “sort of feel as though they know me”, Waterland tells Stellar. And that’s a double-edged sword for a self-professed introvert.
Waterland has joined me in Sydney’s inner west at a cafe so self-consciously hipster we decide there must be a staff-wide ban on smiling at customers – they just stare stony-faced at Waterland, a dazzling blonde wearing a lavish faux-fur coat, floor-length pink skirt and an oversized diamanté necklace. It is 10am on a Tuesday.
Their standoffishness is something she quietly welcomes. “People approach me on the street, and it means so much,” she says. “It means that what I’ve written resonated, but it’s also really uncomfortable. The biggest misconception is that I’m loud and gregarious and the best girl to drink wine with. But it’s like, not unless you want to do it in my bed, under the covers watching TV. And we don’t have to talk.”
Those who know her will confirm the contrast between Waterland’s public and private selves. “My first impression was that she was painfully shy,” says former Mamamia editor-in-chief Jamila Rizvi, who discovered Waterland via her blog and began commissioning her for freelance work. She then brought Waterland in-house at the women’s lifestyle website, where her recaps for The Bachelor were published.
“My earliest memories of her are of infectious laughter, coming out of this person who was shy and almost wanted to blend in with the wallpaper,” Rizvi tells Stellar. “But along with her career exploding over the past few years, I think her confidence has exploded in a similar way.”
Exploding is the right word for it. “Rosie Recaps” generated more than six million unique views per week and averaged 450,000 online shares. One commentator called them a “teat-haemorrhaging cash cow… raking in the kind of audience numbers that professional TV critics only dream of”.
They also earned Waterland a vast online presence, but figuring out how to harness her sudden influence has been a learning curve, she admits. “I got this huge online following but I never really cultivated it – it was just there. I’m thankful for it, but I still don’t consider myself an online personality.”
Her feelings about her following are myriad – chief among them, however, is gratitude. After all, popularity helped Waterland score a book deal in 2015. A resulting memoir, The Anti-cool Girl, was an instant bestseller. In it, she delved into a childhood itself worth a dozen jam-packed memoirs.
The 31-year-old was born to heavy drinking parents, on the run at the time from bikies to whom they owed money. Her father died when she was eight; her mother, described by Waterland as “a heavy drinker with a pretty severe mood disorder”, would disappear for days at a time, leaving her three children home alone.
By her own estimate, Waterland attended at least 20 schools – “I lost count” – and passed through multiple foster homes. Not surprisingly, she entered adulthood with severe posttraumatic stress disorder and a battery of mental health issues.
Despite the trauma of her upbringing, Waterland remains in contact with her mother. “We’ve always maintained some kind of relationship, however strained, but it got to the point where she was told she didn’t have long to live,” she says.
Her mum achieved sobriety last year, and has since moved in with Waterland. “The strangest part has been reconnecting with someone I thought would have died by now,” she says. “I had prepared myself for her to be gone, and essentially she was gone. It’s been not so much a reconciliation, but more just getting to know someone who I’ve never met – my mother as a sober person.”
On the subject of her own mental health, Waterland has been consistently open although she admits that, in the memoir, she framed the subject in the past tense, and a tumultuous 2016 challenged that narrative. “I had been telling myself I was OK for a while, and I wrote about it as a thing that was in the past like, ‘It was really bad but now it’s all right and I’m totally fine,’ but that hadn’t been hugely tested.”
That changed with the sudden, accidental death in July last year of her best friend Antonio Sergi, who she had described as “my human safety blanket”, “my cheerleader” and “the closest thing I’ve ever had to a life partner”.
“I didn’t know how to get through life without him holding my hand,” she says now of her loss. “I had to recalibrate how I was going to survive the things I had really relied on him for.” As it happened, the tragedy coincided with the peak of The Bachelor frenzy, and the impact of his death on her mental health has since been revealed – by her – as the reason she was forced to exit the gig before the series concluded, surprising and disappointing her legion of fans.
“I ended up having what could politely be called a nervous breakdown,” Waterland said in a statement issued about a week after the event. She was hospitalised, and since then has developed a different approach to what she now understands may never be a closed subject. “Because I went back to this really dark place that I never ever expected that I would go back to, I realise now it was kind of cocky of me to write about it like it was all over. You can’t control the places mental health takes you. I’ve just been really humbled since last year.”
Amid all this, Waterland’s career has continued on an upward trajectory. Her talent, cliché aside, is irrepressible. Besides another book – autobiographical essays loosely linked to small and not-so-small lies she’s told over the course of her life, alternatively hilarious and raw – she’s breaking into film and television writing, and planning, in the longer term, to write fiction.
“Ever since I was a little kid, hiding in my room from my drunk mum or standing in the middle of a road not knowing what to do after my dad had passed out, I knew I would write my way out of it,” Waterland says. “I think anyone who’s been to dark places will always want to seek light. Sometimes it feels like people are looking to me for answers about things, but I don’t bloody know. I have to be OK with the fact that I’ll always be figuring things out, and writing will be how I do it.” Every Lie I’ve Ever Told by Rosie Waterland (Harpercollins, $30) is out July 24.
“ANYONE WHO’S BEEN TO DARK PLACES WILL ALWAYS WANT TO SEEK LIGHT”