KATE RITCHIE EXCLUSIVE: motherhood, marriage and her muse Mae
Protecting her private life has been a daily battle for Kate Ritchie since she was a child star. In an exclusive interview she tells Michael Sheather that making the most of every moment with her artistic daughter Mae is at the heart of her world.
Little Mae Webb has something to show her mother. It’s a sheet of white art paper with a series of brightly coloured drawings. “So, what is that, Mae?” asks her mum, Kate Ritchie, the 40-yearold actress and radio personality who made her name as TV’s beloved Sally Fletcher on the beachside soap, Home and Away. “Is that a volcano? Or is it some broccoli?”
“No, Mum,” insists Mae, mildly exasperated that her mother doesn’t know what her carefully crafted drawings are. “That’s a tree.”
Of course, it’s a tree, says Kate. “How silly of me. I should have known that, shouldn’t I?” Mae nods. “Yes, Mum. You should...”
What Kate and four-year-old Mae don’t know is that as we are wrapping up after a photographic shoot for
The Australian Women’s Weekly, a paparazzo photographer has them sharply in focus from behind the cover of a hedge about 40 metres away. As we speak, on a deck outside a private home, that photographer is already clicking away, capturing candid images of Mae and Kate exchanging the little girl’s drawings.
Welcome to Kate Ritchie’s world, a world in which she and her family are fair game for a tabloid press out to wring every angle from her private life. During the past few years, Kate, her husband Stuart, and their daughter Mae have seen such behaviour many times.
Sometimes, it’s a salacious headline in a downmarket gossip magazine shrieking about relationship ruin or impending divorce. Other times, it’s long-lens paparazzo taking aim from behind the cover of a suburban hedge. Either way, Kate lives her life with a constant sense that she and those she loves are the quarry in a bizarre game of celebrity fox and hounds.
The trouble, of course, is that for Kate it’s not a game. It’s her life and her relationships that are – time and again – caught in the cross re. In the tabloid world presented by the magazines, Stuart, a former professional rugby league player turned chef, is perpetually on the verge of leaving their eight-year marriage. Every twist and turn, every holiday snap, every comment is minutely examined and re-examined, yet somehow that speculated break-up never eventuates.
“Yes, of course it is wrong,” says Kate, saddened at the need to clarify an irritating annoyance. “Yes, it is baseless. But I don’t want to say any more about it because I know that if I do then it will breathe life into it again and I don’t want to do that.
“When you ask me how does that affect me, the truth is that I have had to learn not to let it affect me.
So I consciously refuse to let it affect me. Firstly, I think good luck to anybody who thinks that they know what is going on in my life because there are times when I am not sure – and I don’t mean that in a negative way. What I mean is that I am just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to live my life.
“Like most things in my life, Mae is the inspiration.”
“I have given up letting those things into my life. It’s not just speculation about my marriage, it is about my career or my parenting or anything that I have ever done or been through. There comes a time when you must stop responding to deny oxygen to this speculation.
I also think that speculation, be it about somebody’s marriage or anything else, is simply lazy journalism. It’s often just a cut and paste of what has been said before.”
It’s difcult to live under a microscope. Kate, who turned 40 in August this year, has been inside that fame bubble since she was just eight years old. She grew up on the sets of Home and Away, from childhood, through puberty to adulthood in the full glare of the public gaze. And while Kate enjoyed most facets of her childhood, that constant scrutiny is not something that she is keen to revisit for Mae who, since her birth four years ago, has become the focus of Kate’s life away from radio and TV.
We are here to discuss Kate’s latest book, It’s Not Scribble To Me, a delightful children’s story about a creative little bear who launches her artistic career by drawing on various parts of her despairing parents’ home.
“Like most things in my life, Mae is the inspiration,” says Kate. “It’s all to do with that little person and the huge effect she has had on our lives. My rst book began as a letter to my unborn child and then to the baby who nally arrived as a way of quietening that inner dialogue that a mother has when birth is approaching. So, of course, she is absolutely the inspiration for this.”
And Mae is clearly a creative child. At her age, she is, like many developing children, obsessed with arts and crafts of all sorts. It’s a rare day that she doesn’t bring home a thick sheaf of new drawings and paintings from day care, most of which now hang around the Webb-Ritchie household.
“I’m not telling parents anything new but kids love to scribble,” laughs Kate. “And kids often scribble in places that you don’t want them to. Mae is a budding artist and hasn’t yet learned the rules about where that art is meant to go. So I have some lovely little artworks all over the house, to the point that my mum, Heather, threw all the textas into the bin. Once the sofa came under attack, that’s where Nanny had to draw the line on the textas. That’s where the story comes from.”
Beautifully illustrated by Victoriabased children’s artist Jedda Robaard, the book is also a heartfelt appeal to parents to try to look past the irritation and destruction wrought by their arty kids and instead see the creative joy of imagination and childhood.
“The message is, of course, enjoy it while you can,” says Kate. “I know that sometimes it’s hard to see the joy when your walls or your furniture are covered in crayon. Absolutely it is. And I am not saying that I am perfect every day, because I am not. But I do know that Mae serves as a beautiful reminder to me to concentrate on the more important things in life. Also, it’s lovely to see her being creative and take such pride and joy in that. She’s so excitable and has such a vivid imagination – I just wish that I could bottle that imagining and then give it back to her when she is 25 or 30, when she is starting to work out what the world is really about.”
Mae is Kate and Stuart’s rst child and Kate is quick to point out that she doesn’t know everything about being a mother. “But I do know that there is a day coming down the track when she won’t want to pick up her pencils or crayons and draw the world that she sees around her,” she says. “And when that day happens, I will probably wish that we were back here again. That’s what I keep telling myself: enjoy it while you can. I say that all the time.
“She is only four but she is only one year away from going to school. I can see that day when I have to hand her over to someone else getting closer all the time and I want to keep savouring this time as long as I can.”
Surprisingly, Kate says that Mae is teaching her far more than she is teaching her daughter. “That is something that I am in amazement about,” says the two-time Gold Logie winner. “She is undoubtedly the greatest achievement of my life.
I am most at ease with myself when I am with her.”
You can see that in the way they interact. During our shoot, Mae and Kate sit together on a windswept patch of grass with a beach for a backdrop, Kate in a long, owing gold gown and Mae in a matching dress. Mae is laughing and giggling, playing hide and seek with her mum under Kate’s voluminous skirts.
“Of course, this is only one version of our lives together,” admits Kate. “We don’t do this kind of thing very often. Most of our lives are far less glamourous. But we are having fun and we do that a lot. But she, like any child, can be challenging. And not only challenging in that ‘I wish
I had more sleep, I wish I had more time to myself’ kind of way. She also challenges me in ways I never really
“She is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in my life.”
thought possible. She challenges the way I look at the world and even the way I think about myself. Not that she would even understand that yet.
“Mae is probably the only person who sees me just as me. I am her mum and our relationship is based on that, not on anything that I do for a job or anyone’s preconception of me because of that. For Mae, I am just her mummy and none of the rest of it matters.
“Many, many people over the years have formed an idea of who they think I am long before they have even met me, so in that way she is challenging my ideas about myself. I can show her who I really am and not have any of that other baggage colour the relationship in any way. I think she is probably the rst person who I have met who comes to me with a completely blank canvas.
“Just recently, I have been reecting on my life as an eight-year-old growing up on set and the life that comes with that. It’s taken me a long time to understand the impact that has had on me and having this little person in my life has helped me nd some balance and understanding about that.”
There’s little doubt that Mae has a considerable effect on Stuart, too. Like many father-daughter relationships, the daughter clearly has the father wrapped around her little nger.
“They have such a tight and special relationship,” says Kate. “I see it all the time. She absolutely adores Stuart and he adores her. It’s certainly not hard to see that. She gives him a very good excuse to act like a child again. She gives him full rein to be a child again. In fact,” she says, laughing, “he’s really a big child so Mae has given him a free ticket to childhood. We have a lovely dog, Mac, and they all play together on the oor. It’s hilarious and lovely.”
And, of course, there may still be room for even more joy, says Kate.
She has long harboured a wish to have a second child with Stuart and that, she says, is still their ambition.
“Yes, de nitely, yes,” she says.
“We would love to give Mae a little brother or sister one day. That’s still very much on the cards, even if I can’t tell when it might happen. That would be so lovely.” AWW
Stuart and Kate enjoy being parents and hope to have more children in future.
Kate Ritchie the mum (above) and the child star who captured the attention of the nation (right).
It’s Not a Scribble to Me by Kate Ritchie, illustrated by Jedda Robaard, published by Picture Puf n, is on sale from October 29.