“I’M NOT INTO DRAMA”

THIR­TEEN YEARS AF­TER EN­TER­ING THE MISS UNI­VERSE PAGEANT THAT WOULD DE­FINE HER FU­TURE, JEN­NIFER HAWKINS GOES BACK TO THE TOWN WHERE IT ALL BE­GAN – AND WHERE, AGED JUST 20, SHE FIRST MET HER FU­TURE HUS­BAND “That’s the beauty of a re­la­tion­ship – you’ve got

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy TĀNE COF­FIN Styling NI­COLE BONYTHON-HINES Words VICTORIA HANNAFORD

As she re­turns to her home­town of New­cas­tle with Stel­lar, en­tre­pre­neur and model Jen­nifer Hawkins re­flects on the ups and downs of her ca­reer and why she feels her re­la­tion­ship with hus­band Jake Wall is her great­est achieve­ment.

Out of all of her achieve­ments – and there are many – Jen­nifer Hawkins seems most proud of one that be­gan out of the spot­light, in a time be­fore she was a reign­ing in­ter­na­tional beauty queen, and long be­fore she be­came one of the most recog­nis­able faces in Aus­tralia.

While chat­ting to Hawkins, it’s not talk of fash­ion or her many busi­ness in­ter­ests that are marked with the most en­thu­si­asm – on the con­trary, it’s when she speaks of her long-term re­la­tion­ship that the 33-year-old re­ally comes to life.

Hawkins, the model, en­tre­pre­neur and face of Myer with a port­fo­lio that spans beauty prod­ucts, a swimwear line, con­struc­tion and pre­mium al­co­hol, was just 20 years old when she first met her now-hus­band Jake Wall, 34. For a union that has en­dured – they mar­ried in 2013 – it had an in­aus­pi­cious be­gin­ning.

“We met in a bar, just like any­one,” Hawkins tells Stel­lar. “It was one of those nights I didn’t in­tend go­ing out, and then I went out and I met this guy, and slowly, we started a re­la­tion­ship.”

It was 2003, and Hawkins was in New­cas­tle, a few hours north of Syd­ney; she was only a mat­ter of months from en­ter­ing a com­pe­ti­tion that would lead to a Miss Uni­verse ti­tle.

Hawkins says that both she and Wall marvel at the fact they met so young. “We think back and we can’t be­lieve it. It hon­estly feels like an­other life­time. We’ve grown up so much. I guess that’s what hap­pens; some­times you grow apart and some peo­ple grow to­gether, and it’s been the lat­ter of those two be­cause it just feels like a real union. I don’t know how else to ex­plain it, I don’t want to sound mushy.”

Do they con­sider their meet­ing to be fate? “I don’t know; we talk about that. It’s weird be­cause we met ran­domly and we’ve had our ups and downs, got mar­ried, and it just keeps get­ting bet­ter. Maybe it was meant to be.

“I don’t know whether that sounds all spir­i­tual, but some­times you’ve just got to be­lieve that, be­cause it’s just too strange how we’ve main­tained this re­la­tion­ship and it feels so com­pletely dif­fer­ent to any­thing else in my life.”

But the model is at pains to point out that no re­la­tion­ship, not even one forged by such a pho­to­genic pair, is with­out flaws. “It was very ca­sual and up and down at the start,” she says. “That’s what hap­pens when you are young and you break up a mil­lion times and then you come back to­gether.

“We’ve had a lot of downs, I guess, with Jake’s mum pass­ing away and a few things hap­pen­ing in my fam­ily, so it hasn’t been per­fect. I think peo­ple see a pack­age and they go, ‘Oh, it’s per­fect.’ But that’s the beauty of a re­la­tion­ship – you’ve got so many lay­ers you be­come this in­ter­twined team and you feel like you can do life to­gether.”

So when Hawkins re­turned to her home­town for her cover shoot with Stel­lar – New­cas­tle was also one of the lo­ca­tions for Myer’s up­com­ing spring cam­paign Aus­tralia Lives Here – she ad­mits it gave her pause to re­flect on her life.

“Def­i­nitely, af­ter all these years and then go­ing back and shoot­ing in New­cas­tle, and see­ing some of the spots where I used to hang out as a kid and teenager, I be­came nos­tal­gic,” she says.

While she still has fam­ily and friends who live in New­cas­tle, Hawkins doesn’t spend time won­der­ing about how, but for a few twists of fate, her life might have more closely mir­rored theirs.

“I don’t re­ally think about that too much,” she says. “I think I still would have wanted to travel and that was the whole rea­son I leapt into Miss Uni­verse – I wanted to travel. You never know where things can lead; I’m just happy with where I am. I wouldn’t want to change any­thing.”

AS A CHILD, Hawkins spent a lot of time out­doors, bush­walk­ing with fam­ily or at the beach. The fit, toned woman who’s made her body her busi­ness was also a sporty teen; run­ning cross-coun­try and play­ing net­ball. She also did touch foot­ball and at­tended bal­let classes. Hawkins ad­mits to a com­pet­i­tive streak with her ath­letic pur­suits. “I was just on the go all the time,” she says.

While it’s easy to see how a sporty and fo­cused out­look were a good foun­da­tion for the suc­cess she en­joys to­day, in her late teens, Hawkins tried her hand at a more con­ven­tional ca­reer path. Af­ter fin­ish­ing high school, she be­gan work­ing in a lo­cal le­gal firm in 2001.

Kate Ma­her, a part­ner at Braye Cragg, the le­gal prac­tice where Hawkins landed her first job af­ter school, has fond mem­o­ries of Hawkins work­ing in the of­fice.

“As the of­fice ju­nior, she did a bit of fill­ing in on re­cep­tion and did the mail,” Ma­her tells Stel­lar. “She also be­came a cheer­leader with the New­cas­tle Knights. She was a very nice, easy­go­ing mem­ber of staff.”

It was while Hawkins was jug­gling of­fice du­ties with her time at the Knights that she was crowned NRL 2001 Cheer­girl of the Year.

“I re­mem­ber we all rang up and voted for her,” Ma­her says. “I don’t quite know if she knew what she wanted [for a ca­reer]. I re­mem­ber we’d have many con­ver­sa­tions when she started to get into mod­el­ling, and then when she won the cheer­leader com­pe­ti­tion, about what she was go­ing to do. It was a big step for her to leave the se­cu­rity of a full­time job and em­bark on mod­el­ling. It was ob­vi­ously the best thing she ever did, and we’re very proud of her.”

Ma­her be­lieves the ap­peal of Hawkins is that she seems largely un­af­fected by her celebrity sta­tus. “When Jen won [the Miss Uni­verse ti­tle] and she did that air punch – she was just be­ing natural, that was her. She was ob­vi­ously thrilled and ex­cited, but she wasn’t as con­strained to for­mal­i­ties as I con­sider a lot of the beauty pageant queens are. That was Jen be­ing Jen.

“I haven’t seen her per­son­ally for years, but af­ter she made the very good move and left us and started her other ca­reer, I do re­call run­ning into her in a night­club in New­cas­tle and she came up and gave me a cud­dle. She was just the same Jen as she was be­fore.”

Nev­er­the­less, Hawkins has now de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for

“I’m just not into drama, not into the bullsh*t. I pre­fer to step away from any­body or any toxic sub­ject around me”

main­tain­ing an im­pos­si­bly sunny dis­po­si­tion in in­ter­views, giv­ing care­fully worded, of­ten neu­tral-sound­ing an­swers, at pains to avoid stray­ing into con­tro­ver­sial ter­ri­tory.

This wari­ness was tested late last year, when a 2011 video of Hawkins on­stage with Don­ald Trump in Syd­ney resur­faced in the lead-up to the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last Novem­ber. Trump – who was the co-owner of the Miss Uni­verse con­test at the time of her 2004 win – ap­peared to in­sult and at­tempt to hu­mil­i­ate Hawkins dur­ing their on­stage ex­change, but the model re­fused to crit­i­cise him when asked to com­ment on the resur­faced footage.

Hawkins says now that her in­stinct – when in­ter­est in her re­la­tion­ship with the mogul-turnedAmer­i­can-pres­i­dent was at fever pitch – was not to get in­volved.

“With what­ever sub­ject it is, I’m just not into drama, not into the bullsh*t,” she tells Stel­lar. “I pre­fer to just step away from any­body or any toxic sub­ject that’s around me.

“It’s not even a game plan – I hate con­flict, I get ner­vous – I’m just not into it. That’s my hon­est an­swer; it doesn’t sit right in my stom­ach.”

She says she won’t be swayed by the de­sire for head­line-grab­bing sound­bites from celebri­ties. “Maybe some­times [the de­mand of] ‘more, more, more, more’ isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a good thing. I’ll just step back. All I want is to be with Jake, be with my fam­ily, and just be able to sleep. If you get into drama, you can’t sleep, so that doesn’t sit well with me.”

But af­ter more than 13 years in the fash­ion in­dus­try, Hawkins knows the rules, too: she is a brand. She started young, has had a long, lu­cra­tive ca­reer – she’s now in her 11th year with Myer – and that’s at least par­tially due to nav­i­gat­ing the va­garies of celebrity life with­out any sig­nif­i­cant scan­dal. She’s found a way to align her hus­band’s ca­reer with her own – to­gether they run a home con­struc­tion busi­ness and own a te­quila la­bel – and keeps her in­ner cir­cle close. Hawkins might be famous, but she’s also shy.

“You know, peo­ple wouldn’t be­lieve it if I said it, but when it comes to step­ping into a room, there’s a cer­tain sense of you hav­ing to work your­self up to that if you’re not an ex­tro­vert,” she ex­plains. “Peo­ple want to see your life, and you’ve got to be grate­ful for that. I mean, I love what I do, that’s for sure, and I’m re­ally com­fort­able with it, but there are days where some things are daunt­ing. No one’s su­per­hu­man.”

So, when it comes to head­lin­ing a high-pro­file event, such as Myer’s spring 2017 fash­ion launch later this week, does she have an al­ter ego, like Bey­oncé’s Sasha Fierce, that she can call on to help?

“I wouldn’t say that – oh my gosh, peo­ple would think I’m the big­gest knob if I said that,” she laughs. “You’ve got to em­body dif­fer­ent brands. You can’t fake it, but I guess when there’s a hun­dred cam­eras it’s still daunt­ing, so you’ve got to suck it up and take it as fun.”

Hawkins’s com­par­a­tively long ten­ure in the mod­el­ling world has given her plenty of time to per­fect her game face. She does ad­mit, though, when she’s about to step out onto the cat­walk for a big de­part­ment-store show, it might oc­ca­sion­ally dawn on her that she’s had an in­cred­i­ble rise. “Some­times you do think: ‘How am I here?’” she says.

But Hawkins is not one to get hung up on the past. She’s got an eye on the fu­ture, and de­ci­sions that might sig­nal big changes. She and Wall are get­ting ready to move into the fam­ily home they’ve been build­ing on Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches for the past two years, and Hawkins reveals the cou­ple have al­ready dis­cussed how their lives might change once they start a fam­ily.

“I’ve got friends [with chil­dren], I’ve got my nieces and neph­ews. I can see how hard it is,” she says. “We’d love to have a fam­ily, but the tim­ing has to be right and things have to change. You’ve got to re­ar­range ev­ery­thing. But when the tim­ing’s right that’ll be the pri­or­ity.”

And when the tim­ing does prove right, she and Wall plan to share child-rear­ing du­ties evenly. “We’re equal in this re­la­tion­ship, so it will be just about work­ing it out as a team.”

JEN­NIFER WEARS Mor­ri­son dress, Myer; her own wed­ding ring (worn through­out); (op­po­site) Alex Perry dress; Adi­das slides (worn through­out), both Myer

JEN­NIFER WEARS Asilio top; No­body Denim jeans; (op­po­site) Rok­sanda dress, all Myer

HAIR Dar­ren Car­tledge MAKE-UP Liz Kelsh

BEAUTY AND THE BEACH (clock­wise from left) Jen­nifer Hawkins and hus­band Jake Wall met in New­cas­tle; that in­fa­mous ex­change with Don­ald Trump in 2011; win­ning Miss Uni­verse in 2004; walk­ing the run­way for Myer in March.

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