“IT HAPPENED SO FAST”
He might have a reputation as a fiercely outspoken television anchor, but off-air Paul Murray is an adoring husband and father. On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the devastating loss of his son, he reveals to Stellar some happy family news
He’s an outspoken talk-show host, but behind Paul Murray’s on-air bravado lies a loving family man. Now, as he opens up about the tragic loss of his firstborn son, he shares some exciting news.
Growing up in suburban Australia in the ’80s, most boys dreamed of captaining Australia’s Test cricket team like Allan Border or performing rock anthems for thousands of screaming fans like Michael Hutchence. A young Paul Murray had other ideas. “My dad always listened to talkback radio and I enjoyed the bombast of it even as a primary school kid. I had no concept of it being a performance,” the popular Sky News host recalls. “It started to click for me that these guys were all happy – Stan Zemanek had a yacht and Andrew Denton had famous friends – and that’s when I set this goal of how one day I would like to do that.”
Murray’s parents divorced when he was in Grade 3 at Sydney’s North Ryde Public School and money, which was never particularly abundant for the family, became even tighter. So a future involving yachts and famous friends held a certain appeal. “I was the type of kid who occasionally had to go to school with letters saying, ‘Sorry, Paul can’t
afford to go on the school excursion,’” the 39-year-old tells Stellar.
A tendency to go against the grain was evident in Murray from a young age. “I never listened to Top 40 music,” he says. “I was this nerdy kid who read the paper and had a briefcase.” But his avid reading didn’t quite extend to his textbooks, and at Epping Boys High School in Sydney he remembers being a “sh*thouse student” who was easily distracted and obsessed with the media instead.
The first break came early for Murray when the late radio guru Gerry Caufield discovered him as a 14-year-old doing the ground announcing at a Little Athletics carnival in the mid-’90s, and invited him to audition for Triple J. “He said, ‘You’re funny! Come in and do a tape,’” Murray recalls. “I did and I was terrible. But I was also sh*thouse because I didn’t listen to Triple J, I listened to talkback radio.”
Regardless, he must have shown some promise because he made it on the air – albeit for a short stint. “We got to a ‘bonking songs’ weekend and I wasn’t exactly across the topic, so I no doubt sounded like the 40-Year-old Virgin when I was talking about it on the air,” he laughs. “Unsurprisingly, I lost the job soon after and I thought that was my shot at happiness. Done. Finished.”
While in Year 11 at high school, Murray met his now-wife Sian, and was later approached by a community radio station. “I thought, ‘No, I’ve screwed it up, I lost my chance.’ [But] Sian was the one who pushed me to go and do it,” he says. “So I’m not here today without her pushing me back into it.”
DESPITE HIS ROCKY start, Murray has worked consistently in broadcasting since. He’s hosted radio shows for Triple M and 2GB; he joined Sky News in 2008 and his political program Paul Murray LIVE is currently the number-one talk show on Foxtel and the highest rating program on Sky News. Murray was also a key member of the network’s team that covered the 2016 election and went on to win both a Walkley and Logie Award.
Nonetheless, he is a divisive figure with both loyal fans and seething detractors. He’s known for expressing his often conservative views with ferocity and for equally venomous takedowns. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson is a regular guest on his show and an interview with her posted on the Paul Murray LIVE Facebook page during last year’s election coverage attracted comments such as “Great interview… actually stating what alot (sic) of Australians think of the current situation” and “Finally someone gives Pauline Hanson a chance to talk”.
Murray baulks at being labelled right wing and prefers to describe himself as a traditionalist, adding that when he was at university he was a “massive leftie”. It may surprise some to learn he is also a supporter of same-sex marriage. “It’s too easy to dismiss people if you’re able to define them,” he says. “So I don’t mind if people don’t like me because I give them the sh*ts… but it always annoys me if the reason you think you should turn the TV off is because I’m right wing. It seems a little close-minded to me.”
As for the term traditionalist, he puts it this way: “I’m drawn to a sense of traditional Australia that two generations ago people literally went to war for.”
His Sky News colleague Laura Jayes, who hosts her own program and regularly appears on Murray’s show (often disagreeing with him), says there’s a very different man who lurks underneath.
“He’s got this bravado on air, as all opinion makers do, but the other side of him is so soft, it’s almost unrecognisable,” Jayes tells Stellar. “He can be so cutting and brutal onscreen, which is completely at odds with his character and person. He would do anything for you. Paul is the kind of guy who if something was going wrong, or you’d done something horrible, you could call and he’d go, ‘OK darl, what do you want to do?’”
The huge outpouring of compassion that came Murray’s way when he and Sian lost their firstborn, Leo, is perhaps testament to this side of him. Having married in 2008, the pair conceived via IVF and Leo arrived on August 18, 2012. Tragically, he died just 33 hours later due to a velamentous cord insertion, a complication in which the blood vessels of the umbilical cord aren’t protected and the baby loses blood.
“I couldn’t see the birth of my son, but I could peek through the little flappy doors and could see an emergency C-section happening for Sian – which is brutal to look at – then he comes out grey,” Murray recalls. “And they put him under a heat lamp, gave him some transfusions and basically it was 12 to 18 minutes before they could get a pulse. We were told by the end of the first day that basically he wasn’t going to make it, but we didn’t expect it to be so fast.”
Approaching the fifth anniversary of Leo’s death later this week, Murray reflects on the powerful influence his son has had on his life. “I went back to work three weeks after Leo died. For the rest of that year and a few months on, I never really collapsed. I no doubt got angrier about things than I should have because I was dealing with the stress and grief of it. I would cry randomly just walking in the shops – when you see a kid roughly the same age, you just cry.”
“I WENT BACK TO WORK THREE WEEKS AFTER LEO DIED. I GOT ANGRIER ABOUT THINGS AS I WAS DEALING WITH GRIEF”
Naturally, the experience changed him forever. “It’s hardened me. Absolutely hardened me,” Murray says. “And, look, I get a death threat every week, so eventually this means little to you. But I got a handwritten letter after Leo died that said, ‘I’m glad your kid’s dead, so you can’t hand on your politics.’ So that certainly builds the ‘f*ck you’ gene.”
IN 2014, MURRAY and Sian fell pregnant naturally with their daughter Asher, who was born on Christmas Day that year. “When Asher was born it took a few days for us to relax, for us to be excited by what we had in front of us,” Murray says. “But I’ll never forget the first time I held her and I was just so thankful that it was a little girl because I didn’t want the pressure of the child after Leo to be, well, you’ve got to do it for you and for Leo.”
In more good news, Murray reveals exclusively to Stellar that his family will be expanding once again in November. This time he and Sian feel more relaxed. “I feel a lot more like I did [with] Leo the first time,” he says. “Until we got to a certain point, it wasn’t quite real and then in the final few weeks it will be very real.”
The sight of Murray playing with his daughter during the Stellar photo shoot and being teased by his wife is a picture completely at odds with the presenter’s public perception. In fact Sian, who is a university research coordinator – and votes for the Greens – steers clear of the onscreen incarnation of her husband. “She doesn’t watch the show,” Murray says with a laugh. “She doesn’t like the guy on TV at all. She doesn’t like the shoutiness. She doesn’t like it when I’ll go after someone with the ferocity of a freight train. She doesn’t like it when I say nasty things about nasty people.”
But Murray is not about to change his on-air style anytime soon. In fact, he says the memory of Leo is what drives him. “There’s a little-boy hole in my heart and it will always be [there],” he says. “On the day Leo died and I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, Sian said to me: ‘You’ve got to because you’re Leo’s dad. Go out there and be Leo’s dad.’ So when I fight on the air, I fight with the strength of a dad sticking up for their kid.”
“[MY WIFE] DOESN’T WATCH THE SHOW. SHE DOESN’T LIKE THE GUY ON TV AT ALL. SHE DOESN’T LIKE THE SHOUTINESS”
FAMILY MATTERS Paul Murray and his wife Sian; (opposite) the couple with their daughter Asher.
BREAKING NEWS (clockwise from top left) The Murray family are expecting a new addition in November; the TV host and his Sky News colleagues at the 2017 Logies; Murray on the set of Sky News; with political pundit Peta Credlin on Paul Murray LIVE.