“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
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.