“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

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy JU­LIAN AN­DREWS Words ALICE WASLEY

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.

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