“I’VE MADE MISTAKES”
HIS MARRIAGE BREAKDOWN HAS MADE HIM THE MOST SCRUTINISED MAN IN AUSTRALIA THIS PAST YEAR. NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, KARL STEFANOVIC OPENS UP ABOUT FAMILY, INFAMY, AND FINDING NEW LOVE
The Today show’s Karl Stefanovic speaks exclusively to Stellar about his marriage breakdown, finding love again, and why he is determined to be a better man.
Here are a few of the events that have taken place around the world since news broke last September that you and your wife Cassandra Thorburn were separating: Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States, there were three terror attacks in London, and approximately 132 bills were passed in the Australian Senate. So why do you think the breakdown of your marriage attracted more ongoing attention in this country than just about any other story? When you put it like that, it lends great perspective to the coverage of my personal life. As my new partner Jasmine [Yarbrough] said during the height of it, “What exactly is going on here? You’re not Brad Pitt.” It was meant to be funny, but it was actually quite a serious comment about where things were at. I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t know what drives it; I guess as a public figure you’ve got to roll with it and I’m not as hard done by as many other people out there. From my perspective, I’m not interesting. I’m a boring guy. I’ve gone through some personal stuff that’s been difficult on everyone in my family. That has been the hardest aspect: the increased public interest, or coverage, makes it more intense to navigate through. But it isn’t a world event, it’s not a national event, it’s not a community event. I don’t know where to place it. It confuses the hell out of me. A lot of people seem to have been very shocked by it, which is presumably because of the intimacy of breakfast television in that viewers feel like they know the people who are beamed into their living rooms every morning. But only the two people inside a marriage ever really know what is going on, don’t they? And the circumstances surrounding any break-up are deeply personal and should remain so. I think that’s the right of people involved, who have
gone through marriage and have beautiful children, to keep that private. But the general public have been incredibly supportive. They don’t ask what happened, they don’t want to know every tiny detail. They just say, “Hey mate, are you OK? Chin up, everyone goes through it, hope the kids are all right.” Whenever a high-profile couple breaks up, people tend to carry on about it being the end of a “fairytale”, but you were married for 21 years and have three children, so it’s not all bad news… A hundred per cent. A huge number of couples go through this. Families break up all the time. When you’re the focus of intense scrutiny, it adds to it, but you’re not alone. And [when it comes to discussing it publicly] I shouldn’t be given any favours. I have to try to be – no, I have to be – who I am on television is who I am in person. The audience can see everything with me. They can see when I’m under pressure, they can see when I’m happy, they can see when I’m delirious, they can see when I’m tired, they can see when I’m upset. I am who I am. And I’m flawed and I’ve made mistakes. I want to be a better person. And I’m really, really trying to be a better person, to correct the mistakes that I’ve made and to try to move forward in a really positive way, but also a better way. That’s what life is, isn’t it? I hope so. To try to improve across the board; to be a better dad, to be a better partner, to be a better son, to be a better brother. I think it is what it’s all about – to try to continue to improve yourself. What can you tell me about your relationship with Jasmine? We are taking things really, really slowly. I certainly did not expect to meet someone five months after I broke up with my wife. That was not planned, I did not know her before. I met her on a boat in Sydney. We have a really lovely relationship, but it’s got to be slow for a variety of reasons. I’m not going to share too much on that publicly because I don’t think that’s fair on anyone involved. It was unexpected and lovely, but we’re going to try to keep a level of privacy to how we’re going and what we’re planning, especially considering I have three beautiful children who need to be taken into consideration. The media scrutiny you have been under these past 10 months has been pretty unbelievable. Can you talk us through an average day? When it first happened, it was so intense I was frightened to go outside. I don’t mean that in an unmanly way, but I can’t stand that kind of attention. People might find that weird because I’m on television, but it’s very different. TV’S very controlled. When your personal life is completely overrun by things out of your control and your life is under a microscope it’s like, “God, I can’t even walk without thinking I’m going to trip over.” You know, I can’t even go to the shopping centre without thinking, “How am I looking here? How’s this going to look when I’m buying some meat, when I’m getting some cheese?” You become so self-obsessed that you get further and further away from who you are. The one thing that should never happen in this country is identifying kids in shots. It is not their fault. I’d like to see a tighter restriction on what people are able to publish. The only thing you can’t control is what New Idea or Woman’s Day have written. You’ve just got to get on with it. It’s only when people point it out to you that you go, “Where did that come from?” Or, “Who’s done that?” I’ve had my own father talk to a magazine. I’ve had friends and family say things to magazines and stuff and it’s like, “How many more betrayals do you want?” You recently took aim at the Daily Mail for the way they treat women. It was a passionate speech that struck quite a chord. And that was a surprise to me. I don’t do things for the big reaction. I just did it because it was too much. The inference was that I was away with a Today show producer and there was something going on. The line was, “Where’s Jasmine?” It’s like, my girlfriend lives and works in LA. She’s a successful businesswoman [and] model. She doesn’t need to be thinking about something that’s going on in Australia. This young producer on the Today show was absolutely devastated there was an inference she and I were doing something. It’s disgusting. I can’t go away with a female of any kind and have them produce a story for me? Come on. What the hell has the world come to? So that was it for me… New Idea, Woman’s Day, the Daily Mail… what they print doesn’t affect me. What they print has consequences for other people who may not be as solid, who may not be as secure. The Daily Mail steals content. It is not journalism. It’s just clickbait crap. I think it’s a deplorable website. The way they conduct themselves and the way that they treat women, in particular, has been absolutely shocking. The only way you can stop them is by not clicking on them. I don’t give them the time of day. Some people would say that as a journalist yourself, it’s hypocritical to complain about media coverage of your own life. What’s your response to that? They’re 100 per cent right. There is a double standard there. What I will say is that through this experience, I’m much more careful about what I talk about and I’m much more considerate about what I say. I’ve learnt from it. [That] doesn’t mean I’m not going to cover some Hollywood person getting divorced or whatever, but the salacious detail and throwaway gags can really affect people. I’ve tried to limit that. It’s not funny for these people. You talk about wanting to be a better man. Often it’s after going through hard times that we become stronger; that we become empathetic. It sounds as though all of this might have changed you, not just as a journalist, but also as a human. I think I have stripped a lot of layers back. I don’t know whether I’m stronger, but I’m getting better. There were a lot of things that I put up, a lot of walls that I put up, a lot of emotions that I thought I should be and I’ve tried to be honest with myself about how I’ve failed in certain areas and how I can be better in other areas. To be able to
``i´m flawed and i´ve made mistakes and I´m trying to correct those mistakes´´
be honest with myself has been the hardest thing and I have had some very dark mornings and nights where I’ve felt ashamed and I felt that I’d failed. So you strip yourself back and you look at yourself and go, “Man, that wasn’t nice. What sort of person are you?” I think when you get to that point you can slowly start to rebuild a little bit of the person you want to become and try to improve in those areas. But I’m much more open now and I’m much more honest in the way that I approach everything and that’s harder. So I don’t know whether I’m stronger, but I’m certainly more open and I’ve got to try. I don’t want to live in some world where I’m pretending to be something I’m not. I’m trying my best to be as open and honest as I can be. I’m not succeeding 100 per cent, but I’m on the way there. I think it's a harder path, but it’s a more – for want of a better word – righteous path for me. I imagine you learn a lot about who you can trust, and who your real friends are, when you find yourself in the middle of a media storm like this. It’s fair to say my circle has gotten smaller and that’s by necessity. Because you’re going through something that you have to share with someone and it’s generally the people who are close to you and it’s all you talk about. It’s taxing on the people around you. I’ve now got a very tight circle of friends and a couple of family members who have gone way above and beyond. My new partner’s family have also been very supportive. Like anyone going through it, there’s a lot of self-analysis involved – probably too much – but if you don’t have family and really great friends around you, you can definitely go off the rails. Is it fair to say that self-analysis is something new for you that was absent when you were younger? Yeah. I was like a bull at a gate. From 17- to 40–odd, I was going for it. There was no time to look back, there was only time to keep going, going, going. Had to be on the Today show, had to be a correspondent, had to work for 60 Minutes… You just get really up yourself and you’re not taking any advice from anyone. You think your sh*t doesn’t stink. And at some point, something happens and you go, maybe it does? Like everyone else [laughs]. Sorry, that’s a terrible analogy! But you have to go back and you go, “Hang on a second, you’re a sh*t person. Are you going to do something about it? Or are you going to continue to be a sh*t person?” I’m trying to work on the things that needed improving. Part of that is being really brutally honest with myself. I’m not there yet by any stretch, but it’s got to start there. What sort of response do you get from members of the public when you are out and about? The general public are, essentially, my employers: the people I answer to, that tell me if
`There were a lot of walls that i put up´
I got it right, that tell me when I’ve got it wrong. They are the people that tell me when they laugh and tell me when they cry. If I’m not doing my job, they will tell me they’re upset with me, but worst of all, they’ll flick off. So I have no greater respect for anyone than the public. Everything rises and falls with the person at home with the remote. There has been speculation that events in your personal life have alienated female viewers. Radio host Jackie O, for example, said on air about you: “This is what a lot of women would think: this is a lovely lady who stood by him for years, they have a family and they see him leave her… They also believe that could happen to me.” What’s your response to comments
like that? Some of those comments about me alienating our female viewers did definitely hurt because I was trying to be as good a person as I can be. I know that’s hard and maybe there are some women out there who are angry with me, but I’ve never tried to be anything other than myself and I have to hope that the audience, and particularly females if that is true, that one day they’re OK and they come back and say, “I’m giving him another go.” I just hope that I’m producing content that they want to watch and eventually they’ll come back. As far as Jackie O is concerned, she has a right to her own opinion and she regularly does. It’s neither here nor there. If people come out and bag me, it’s my right to do it as well. But I would rather live a life where I don’t worry about that sort of thing and just try to make my circle as peaceful as possible. Ben Fordham recently reignited speculation you might leave the Today show soon. There have been so many people who have been taking my job over the years; I don’t give it a second thought. If at the end of the year, or the end of next week, Channel Nine goes,“karl, we have had enough of you and Ben Fordham is going to do the job,” I would say congratulations to Ben. Ben’s one of my best friends, so I will find a job, I will do another job and I’ll be good at it because I am good at what I do. I don’t rally against [the rumour mill]; I embrace it. I want to be able to take a little more time to smell the roses. This job can have really dire consequences on you mentally and physically unless you are rested. One of the lessons I learnt from last year is that I have to take regular breaks. And the better Ben Fordham is at my job, the more breaks I can have! Has your co-host Lisa Wilkinson been a support to you this past year? I don’t need people to feel sorry for me, because it’s not out of the ordinary to go through stuff like this. But there have been mornings when I’ve been really emotional and she’s just leaned across and touched my hand. Again, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because I don’t need them to, but she was there and she’s been a wonderful support and I’ll never forget it. In your new show This Time Next Year, which was shot over the course of 12 months, you meet people wanting to transform their lives and then revisit them one year later. That’s a pretty big commitment at a time when most things seem to have a short attention span. Everything in the world is so quick – unless you can say it in 140 characters, you shouldn’t be saying it at all. That’s what I loved about this. I mean, look what’s happened to me in a year. What could you do to affect positive change in your life? People have New Year’s resolutions, but they don’t have This Time Next Year resolutions. Bloody hell, that’s a good line [laughs]! I love everything about this job. Because it’s talking to real people who are trying to get on with their lives and are putting themselves out there to follow something through for a year. Gutsy people. Do you know the outcome before those doors open onstage 12 months later? No, I was never told. We have people with terminal illnesses and I don't know whether they are going to walk out or not. My reactions are completely the way that it happened on the day. Without all those years of live television under your belt, could you have pulled that off a decade ago? No. Well, I could have, but I just wouldn’t have been ready for it. There would be few people on Earth who have done as much TV as Lisa and I. I’ve done 13 years, but if you add up the hours there’s a huge amount of on-air miles. The name of the show is possibly more appropriate than you could ever have predicted when you started filming it. Looking back over the past 12 months, is there anything you would do differently? There is a lot that’s related to personal issues. But I’ve never been one to shy away from the mistakes I’ve made and try to improve on them moving forward. I wouldn’t predict anything. The commitments I’m making are personal. They’re not big public ones like these people because I think that there’s only so much the public needs to know. [Laughs] I’m sick of reading about myself! It’s about going: just continue to self-improve. This time next year, I hope I’m a better person than I am now.
This Time Next Year premieres 8.40pm, Monday July 31, on the Nine Network.
KARL WEARS AG jacket, (02) 8987 3400; Venroy top, venroy.com.au; G-star jeans, g-star.com
HAIR & GROOMING Alan White using R+CO and Kiehl’s
MAKING NEWS (from top) Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson; with ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn in 2011; with Jasmine Yarbrough earlier this year.