Kerri-Anne ex­clu­sive: how I es­caped my first marriage

Kerri-Anne Ken­ner­ley is a born op­ti­mist, ex­cited by life, but when her first hus­band, Jimmy, bul­lied and beat her, she had to run for her life. In an emo­tional interview, she tells Juliet Rieden the full story.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents - PHOTOGRAPHY PETER BREW-BE­VAN STYLING MAT­TIE CRO­NAN

He was very tall, six foot one, not par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive, but full of swag­ger … I was drawn to him from first sight,” says Kerri-Anne Ken­ner­ley, who is cast­ing her mind back to a pe­riod in her life she buried, long, long ago. Un­til now, the 64-year-old star has never spo­ken about her hor­rific first marriage. Even her own fam­ily knows scant de­tail of what re­ally went on when a “naïve and bushy-tailed” Kerri-Anne fol­lowed her heart and the bright lights for an ex­cit­ing dream life in New York.

She was 21 and Jimmy Miller, who owned record­ing stu­dios in Man­hat­tan and lived in a pent­house above the stu­dios, was 20 years older. “He was so in­cred­i­bly charis­matic; an ab­so­lute gen­uine New Yorker, born and bred. It was just ter­ri­bly ex­otic. It was the ‘oh my God’ fac­tor for me.” Jimmy’s film and record­ing stu­dios were used by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Liza Min­nelli and Natalie Cole, he knew the city’s coolest peo­ple and went to the best par­ties.

Yet what started as fun and ex­hil­a­rat­ing soon turned dan­ger­ous and dam­ag­ing as Kerri-Anne was abused phys­i­cally and men­tally, and even­tu­ally forced to run for her life un­der the cover of dark­ness. The mem­o­ries are shock­ing to hear and while it doesn’t come nat­u­rally to this bub­bly op­ti­mist to dwell on the past, when she started work­ing on her new mem­oir, A Bold Life, Kerri-Anne re­alised it was time to come clean about the fear, the beat­ings and the crip­pling lone­li­ness she suf­fered in those early years in New York.

“I’m pretty good at just eras­ing what I don’t choose to re­mem­ber,” Ker­riAnne tells The Weekly. “But hav­ing done so many in­ter­views my­self about those types of re­la­tion­ships, I recog­nise what went on and I think it’s good to talk about it, to help other women. It was noth­ing unique. Mil­lions of other women in the world have gone through it. It was classic [do­mes­tic abuse]. I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand it be­cause Mum and Dad weren’t like that. Dad was the strong, silent type, the boy from the farm; Mum was

from Black­all [Queens­land] and would never tol­er­ate any­body rais­ing a hand, not that Dad would ever have done any­thing like that. So that’s the imprint I had. That sort of stuff didn’t go on in our house. Then all of a sud­den, I’m get­ting sucked in and I’m alone and iso­lated. I look back now and re­alise it was text­book.”

We are sit­ting in the stun­ning liv­ing room of Kerri-Anne’s Syd­ney home with golden re­triever Dig­ger pad­ding in and out, and her hus­band, John, watch­ing tele­vi­sion in the front room with his son Si­mon, who moved in with the cou­ple to help care for his father. John’s con­di­tion has im­proved con­sid­er­ably since he slipped off a wall at a golf re­sort in Coffs Har­bour, in a freak ac­ci­dent that frac­tured his C2 and C3 ver­te­brae, in March 2016.

Yet while the 77-year-old is now back home per­ma­nently and in sur­pris­ingly good spir­its, the fam­ily is still get­ting used to its new nor­mal. What’s won­der­ful is that John can now speak and breathe freely, and move his hands a lit­tle, but he is also a quad­ri­plegic need­ing round-the-clock care. It’s a huge ad­just­ment, but one this coura­geously up­beat cou­ple is re­fus­ing to let get the bet­ter of them.

The book was John’s idea. “I think he wanted to keep me busy,” Kerri- Anne quips, but sift­ing through boxes of photos has cer­tainly given the soul­mates a chance to re­live their ex­tra­or­di­nary re­la­tion­ship.

It was John, an English busi­ness­man who was then in New York to launch Lotto, who ac­tu­ally saved Kerri-Anne from Jimmy’s clutches and a marriage she con­fesses could have killed her. John was a friend of a friend and part of the wide so­cial cir­cle Jimmy and Kerri-Anne moved in. “Out in pub­lic, they al­ways seemed to be get­ting on fine, so we didn’t know [what was go­ing on] and it didn’t oc­cur to me,” ex­plains John. “It was only when Kerri-Anne sud­denly turned up all beaten up that I re­alised ex­actly what was hap­pen­ing.”

Fa­tal at­trac­tion

Kerri-Anne had orig­i­nally met Jimmy in Ja­maica, where she was vis­it­ing her best friend, 1973 Miss World Ja­maica win­ner Patsy Yuen. “Patsy was fa­mous and knew ev­ery­one in Ja­maica. I was young, a lit­tle bit star-struck and it was all so so­phis­ti­cated and not Aus­tralian,” writes Kerri-Anne. She met Jimmy at a party. He was in Ja­maica work­ing with a film com­pany. “He was the dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion of a bad boy,” says Kerri-Anne and he swept her off her feet. When Jimmy

sug­gested she come to Man­hat­tan, Kerri-Anne couldn’t re­sist.

“He was in­cred­i­ble and I was very im­pres­sion­able,” she says. “I felt as if I was so naïve and young, and didn’t know any­thing, and he was so worldly and knew ev­ery­thing.”

Kerri-Anne was plan­ning to launch her own ca­reer as a singer and with Jimmy moved into a heady world of mu­si­cians and wild par­ties. New York’s fa­mous Stu­dio 54 was at its height and Kerri-Anne was a reg­u­lar.

She was hav­ing a ball and when Jimmy de­cided they should get mar­ried, Kerri-Anne blindly went along with it. “I don’t think there was any pro­posal. I think it was like, we may as well get on with this, and off we went. I re­mem­ber it was a rainy Thurs­day af­ter­noon and we went down to City Hall. I look back now and I think it prob­a­bly was all about con­trol. He loved parad­ing me around, hav­ing this blonde with an Aussie ac­cent was all a bit unique.

And he was very, very pos­ses­sive, which I thought was great.

“We lived on the top floor of Jimmy’s build­ing. We had the whole floor with a roof gar­den,” re­mem­bers Kerri-Anne. And their place was “party cen­tral” with a gi­ant movie screen on which Jimmy would show pi­rated ver­sions of the latest re­leases. There was al­co­hol flow­ing and recre­ational drugs, and in­evitably Kerri-Anne would join in. She con­fesses she tried co­caine, but liked it too much and, in a de­ci­sion that gives an early glimpse of the courage she showed later on, de­cided to walk away.

“Heroin was the big deal in those days, but I wouldn’t stick a nee­dle in my arm. Such a chicken. I won’t even have my ears pierced! So co­caine was ob­vi­ously the eas­ier op­tion. But it was too good. I do have that ad­dic­tive type of per­son­al­ity and I had this im­age of all those ter­ri­ble heroin ad­dicts, how dread­ful they look and I was scared of that, and luck­ily scared enough to know that it would be very easy to get ad­dicted to. I de­cided that it was not what I was go­ing to do.”

It was a very smart move, but be­hind the glam­our of party-life, Kerri-Anne’s re­la­tion­ship was a mess. Her hus­band was ad­dicted to pre­scrip­tion drugs that made him vi­o­lent and an­gry.

“He used to say it was for his mi­graines, but I re­alised it was an ad­dic­tion,” she says. “He’d get so out of it and buzzy, and he’d get pretty ag­gro with it. It hap­pened over a cou­ple of years, so slowly that you don’t re­alise. It creeps up on you.”

Jimmy started hit­ting Kerri-Anne and threat­en­ing her, and she lived in fear of up­set­ting him. He tried to limit her friend­ships and stopped her go­ing out. She was trapped. What’s more, be­hind her back, he was cheat­ing.

John, who was sin­gle at the time and be­com­ing a good friend to Kerri-Anne, re­calls go­ing to a party at their house, “and there was this rather sump­tu­ous girl in a pink soft-top Cadil­lac who couldn’t park, so I walked up and said, ‘Would you like me to park your car for you?’. This girl was go­ing to the party, so we went up to­gether and, sooner or later, we ended up in a room some­where and then, sud­denly, Jimmy Miller came into the room and he went berserk. It turned out she was his mistress. I think then I got the first real in­sight to what a bas­tard he was.”

Kerri-Anne says she thinks the first wake-up call came when her par­ents vis­ited. “They’d never been on a plane be­fore, or over­seas, and I was re­ally ex­cited.” She had pleaded with them to come and I won­der if sub­con­sciously this was a cry for help.

Nowhere to run

Back in Queens­land, Kerri-Anne’s mum, Grace, was not only wor­ried about her vul­ner­a­ble youngest daugh­ter in the Big Ap­ple, but she also missed her ter­ri­bly. “I did cry for a long time,” ad­mits the 96-year-old. “I wor­ried about her be­cause I thought she’s never been on her own. I thought, ‘How will she man­age over there?’… She didn’t tell me what was hap­pen­ing, but begged and begged me to go over.”

When they ar­rived, Kerri-Anne says she was “on ten­ter­hooks” pray­ing that Jimmy would be­have. Then one night, Jimmy came home in a mood and started tak­ing it out – as he usu­ally did – on Kerri-Anne. “I think it ba­si­cally came down to him be­ing very re­sent­ful that they were there be­cause he’s Mr Con­trol,” she says. “He got a bit mean and my mother twigged very quickly and went bal­lis­tic.

“She was lit­er­ally pick­ing up things and throw­ing them at him. The fun­ni­est line, which didn’t seem too funny at the time, was Jimmy say­ing to Mum, ‘How dare you, she is my wife and I’ll do what I want!’ And Mum say­ing, ‘She may be your wife now, but I hope not al­ways, but she’ll al­ways be my daugh­ter.’ It was an ab­so­lute cracker.”

Kerri-Anne was sad and hurt, and even though it was night time, she quickly ex­ited, tak­ing her par­ents to a ho­tel and then away to Las Ve­gas. They ended up hav­ing a fab­u­lous

He got mean and my mother twigged quickly.

golf­ing hol­i­day to­gether, but part­ing was tough. “Mum re­ally wanted me to come back to Australia, but I said no, I’m go­ing back to fin­ish what­ever it is I’m go­ing to fin­ish. Af­ter that, Mum was al­ways on the phone beg­ging and cry­ing.”

Kerri-Anne’s older sis­ter, Jan, says this was the first time the fam­ily re­alised some­thing was wrong. “Our mother is like a tiger and she was like, ‘This is not hap­pen­ing to my daugh­ter’. It was prob­a­bly very scary, I think, for ev­ery­body con­cerned be­cause she stood toe-to-toe with him and she’s quite tiny and he was quite tall.”

For Kerri-Anne, life was al­ready dan­ger­ous and Jan says she was shocked when, years later, she learned that one of the beat­ings her sis­ter had en­dured re­sulted in a night in hos­pi­tal. “Yes, I was bat­tered and bruised with a black eye, all that,” Kerri-Anne re­calls. “It makes you re­alise that when you’ve got a ma­niac, six-footone bloke chas­ing you from room to room, there is nowhere to run.”

Des­per­ate measures

Kerri-Anne’s con­fi­dence was shat­tered and she was liv­ing “in ab­ject fear”. Then, one night, she snapped. “I can re­mem­ber it like yes­ter­day,” she writes. Jimmy kept a .22 ri­fle in their house. “It was al­ways loaded be­cause we lived on the top floor of the build­ing and it had this huge astro-turfed area that was ter­ri­bly fab­u­lous and glam, but not that safe, so he al­ways had a gun,” Kerri-Anne says.

“Jimmy got ag­gres­sive and, ter­ri­fied, I ran as fast as I could into the bed­room and slammed the door be­hind me. I knew I only had sec­onds be­fore he would knock the door down, so I climbed up, picked up the .22 and waited for him to barge through the door … I wasn’t go­ing to take it a minute longer.”

Kerri-Anne aimed the ri­fle at him and threat­ened to pull the trig­ger.

“I’d had enough at that stage and it’s ter­ri­ble, and that’s why I’m so in favour of gun laws. If some­body who has never, ever had a vi­o­lent na­ture, some­body who’s never held a gun, is pre­pared to kill or shoot some­one, that could hap­pen to any­body. I think he was re­ally quite shocked. It was prob­a­bly the first time I’d ever re­ally stood up against him. But I was se­ri­ous.”

Jimmy dis­ap­peared for a few days and when he came back, he was full of re­morse, as had be­come the usual sce­nario.

So when did Kerri-Anne fi­nally re­alise she had to flee? “I guess when I knew if I stayed with him I could die,” she ex­plains. “But how to?” One night, when Jimmy again be­came ag­gres­sive, Kerri-Anne threw some clothes in a bag and ran for her life.

John to the res­cue

She and John had be­come good friends by this time and she swiftly walked the 10 blocks to his apart­ment. “She ar­rived at my doorstep with the black eye and a bloody nose, and she never re­ally went home,” says John.

The rest, of course, is his­tory. When John landed a job to launch Lotto in Syd­ney, Kerri-Anne came back with him. “When you re­alise that you’d re­ally rather be with some­one that you love, you fol­low your heart. Sim­ple as that,” she says.

When they mar­ried in 1984 in the first wed­ding to be held at

Syd­ney Opera House, it re­ally was a meet­ing of souls. And to­day, as I watch the cou­ple, even with the daily bat­tles sur­round­ing John’s con­di­tion, it’s clear they are still head over heels in love. “He is re­mark­able. He is ab­so­lutely re­mark­able,” says Kerri-Anne.

20

Heady days in New York: (from top left) the blonde with the Aussie ac­cent who Jimmy “loved parad­ing around”; among the stars she met in his record­ing stu­dio were Natalie Cole (left) and Nancy Wil­son; Kerri-Anne is all smiles be­hind the wheel of her ca­nary yel­low Corvette.

ABOVE: Kerri-Anne with her mum and sis­ter Jan in 2007, and with her dad, Ed­ward, in the late ’90s. “I didn’t un­der­stand do­mes­tic abuse be­cause Mum and Dad weren’t like that.”

LEFT: Kerri-Anne and John are in good spir­its as he makes progress re­cov­er­ing from an ac­ci­dent last year.

ABOVE: John and Kerri-Anne wed at Syd­ney Opera House in Au­gust 1984. The love be­tween them is ob­vi­ous. “With John in my life, I got flow­ers ev­ery Fri­day,” she writes in her book.

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