manda Keller is flitting around her new kitchen, making tea, showing off her fancy new bar fridge and pointing out her folly of buying plates that are too big to fit into her new dishwasher.
Barry Du Bois, her co-host on The Living Room, helped design the new kitchen with its Shaker-style cupboards and long island bench – but neither could have foreseen that the popular TV and radio host would have even less time to cook than pre-renovations.
As if starting each weekday with three hours of breakfast radio, hosting a Friday night lifestyle show and making appearances on a slew of other programs, including The Project and Have You Been Paying Attention?, was not enough, the 56-year-old presenter has now signed on to co-host the upcoming reboot of Dancing With The Stars.
“At the beginning of the conversation, I was thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t take that on – that’s massive,’” says Keller of hosting the revamped series, which was once a ratings juggernaut for the Seven Network, and will now be given a new lease of life on Network Ten. “But by the end of the conversation I thought, ‘Oh, gee, that’s a great one. I’ll definitely do that.’ It’s like The Living Room – the world is hard and we need something light, colourful and exuberant.”
Keller could be describing herself. For more than 35 years, she has avoided being typecast, with a versatility that has taken her from science and comedy to popular culture and lifestyle. She possesses the Holy Grail of TV talents – intellect, wit and heart – all rolled in a dusting of dagginess to which audiences relate. As her long-time friend and
“Mmm, maybe Mark Bouris so I could flirt with him. Let me think, who else would be on my flirt list?”
Keller has always got on well with men. Whether it’s appearing with Ray Martin on Midday, her TV and radio forays with Andrew Denton, her 13 years on radio with Jonesy, or her role alongside Du Bois, Chris Brown and Miguel Maestre on The Living Room, she has always held her own. “I haven’t wanted to play the role of the female who stops the man being naughty or takes the moral high ground,” she says. “I don’t want to wrist slap because it makes you sound like a harpy and it’s such a boring, one-note thing.”
In the modern media where women are often pigeonholed with a persona ranging from drum-beating feminist to simpering sidekick, Keller defies such designation. As Denton says, at heart she’s still the daggy girl he met at college. He remembers her having “Thompson Twins hair and earrings that Circus Oz must have lent her”, though he points out that she no longer irons her kaftans. “Other than that,” he says, “she still has the wickedest laugh and a ferocious black sense of humour. She’s also loyal and sentimental and gets instant crushes on the most unlikely men… paging Barry Manilow.”
Keller laughs and confirms she and her childhood friend Melanie still call themselves “Mrs Manilow” when they call each other. As for her success, she attributes it to authenticity – “it’s the new black” – and “that little sprinkling of fairy dust that somehow gives you more than the sum of your parts”.
She also genuinely likes the people she works with. “Jonesy and I are old friends – working together is like ice-skating. When we’re annoyed with each other, we run over each other’s fingers, but we know the rhythms.” Keller laughs at headlines claiming the pair have “dethroned King Kyle” Sandilands: “I guess there’s a rivalry, but it feels nice to be rewarded as we work so hard.”
She’s also close to her co-hosts on The Living Room. Keller has a particular bond with Du Bois, who has been battling the return of cancer. They met at a function several years ago and soon realised they shared parallel lives in their struggle to have children. “We just got each other,” Keller recalls. “I learn a thousand life lessons from him every day – the way he lives in the moment and is so generous with people. They say love is a doing word and Barry just lives that.”
The warmth is mutual, with Du Bois pointing out they’re “like a couple of dolphins. We don’t have to talk to know what each other is thinking,” he says. “She’s the most honest person I know and has more integrity than anyone I know.”
AMANDA WEARS Lee Mathews jacket and pants, leemathews.com.au; Strateas Carlucci shirt, theundone. com; Zara earrings, zara.com/au (from top) Amanda Keller presenting Beyond 2000 in 1989; with her radio show co-host Brendan “Jonesy” Jones; and her co-stars (from left) Barry Du Bois, Chris Brown and Miguel Maestre holding their Logie from this year.