“I was the hottest woman there”

Hol­ly­wood nearly broke her. A string of failed high-pro­file ro­mances hard­ened her. Now So­phie Monk is look­ing for love on tele­vi­sion. Is it a gam­ble that will fi­nally de­liver a hap­pily ever after?

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy ED­WARD MUL­VI­HILL Styling KELLY HUME Interview JOR­DAN BAKER

Ahead of her highly an­tic­i­pated ad­ven­ture on The Bach­e­lorette, So­phie Monk opens up to Stel­lar about the pit­falls of life in LA, her string of failed ro­mances and the quest to find a hap­pily ever after on TV.

Los An­ge­les is full of brats. Or so says So­phie Monk, who spent a decade there try­ing to nav­i­gate the city’s su­per­fi­cial­ity and nar­cis­sism. There was the friend who would tell pa­parazzi where to find them to­gether, then pocket a com­mis­sion from the re­sult­ing shots. The busi­ness part­ner who fleeced her. The empty love af­fairs with men who wanted a brand am­bas­sador rather than a girl­friend. And then there were the mean girls who’d de­lib­er­ately set pho­tog­ra­phers on her, not re­al­is­ing – or per­haps not car­ing – that she couldn’t af­ford the kind of se­cu­rity that al­ways sur­rounded them.

The cul­ture ate away at her, so slowly that she didn’t no­tice at first. “LA is run off money, suc­cess and fame,” Monk tells Stel­lar. “That’s what makes you who you are, and you lose your­self. I ended up get­ting de­pressed. It’s a dif­fer­ent and ugly world.

“There are no rules for celebri­ties. Ev­ery­one is a brat. Ev­ery­one is try­ing to sell them­selves all the time be­cause they are so inse­cure, so you be­come inse­cure. You are al­ways talk­ing about your­self, and you don’t re­alise that’s be­cause you don’t like who you are.”

Monk, 37, is the daugh­ter of a nurse and a builder, and grew up on the Gold Coast. She was ut­terly un­pre­pared for the catty, com­pet­i­tive world she stepped into at age 19 – when she won a spot in the made-for-tv girl band Bardot, who were formed on the first sea­son of Pop­stars – let alone for the tox­i­c­ity of the film in­dus­try in the so-called City of An­gels. “God, I was in­no­cent,” Monk re­mem­bers of that time. “That got ripped out of me.”

After 10 years spent chas­ing hap­pi­ness and love in LA, it dawned on her that per­haps the best way to find it would be to leave and look else­where. It was a good de­ci­sion. “I am the hap­pi­est I have been in my life,” says Monk. There’s just one thing miss­ing: “That best friend be­side me.”

IT’S FAIR TO say Monk hasn’t been lucky in love. Fame doesn’t help; it cre­ates a bar­rier only tro­phy hunters or ego­ma­ni­acs dare to breach, and those guys don’t ex­actly make for great boyfriends.

This is true of most places, but it’s worse in LA. “They’d ring my agent for a date,” she says. “I’d tick ev­ery box, but they weren’t look­ing at me. The idea of me and the pack­age worked with their brand – that’s what it felt like.they are straight into it, too. That’s when you know it’s scary. They’re like, ‘I love you,’ within a week, and I’m like… ‘God!’”

So, 17 years after her first re­al­ity-tele­vi­sion show, Monk re­turns on an­other one, ap­pear­ing on The Bach­e­lorette Aus­tralia. Join­ing the show was ac­tu­ally her mother’s idea, who had watched Monk con­tinue to strug­gle to find a de­cent bloke when she moved back home. An ex­per­i­ment with Tin­der failed; bars were filled only with selfie hunters.

Monk doesn’t ask for much in a man. He needs to be funny, get on with her fam­ily, and have a job – but, “I never get to meet reg­u­lar peo­ple that are car­ing, that want a healthy re­la­tion­ship. So I thought [ The Bach­e­lorette] was perfect.”

Given Monk has lived much of her life in the spot­light, fall­ing in love on cam­era didn’t seem like a crazy idea. What’s more, the fact that she had a group of hand-picked men to get to know with­out any com­pe­ti­tion – “I was the hottest [woman] in the house, be­cause it was only me” – al­lowed her to shake some of the habits that have hob­bled her past re­la­tion­ships.

“In a re­la­tion­ship, I am very gen­er­ous, and not con­fronta­tional,” she says. “I end up get­ting con­trolled, walked over. You lose your­self if you get walked over,

and it be­comes one-sided. My self-es­teem with guys isn’t good from all that. [On The Bach­e­lorette] I just had to be me, be a bit selfish and just think about what I want.”

De­spite her dif­fi­cult ro­man­tic past, there was no short­age of suit­ors in the pre- Bach­e­lorette era. Monk was with her high-school boyfriend for seven years un­til she headed to LA in 2005. Over the years she’s been linked to Bri­tish ac­tor Ja­son Statham, TV host Ryan Seacrest, plas­tic sur­geon John Diaz (she is said to have dis­cov­ered him in bed with an­other woman), ac­tor Kevin Con­nolly, ac­tor Sam Wor­thing­ton and, most re­cently, for­mer NRL foot­baller Eric Grothe Jnr.

Per­haps her most fa­mous re­la­tion­ship, how­ever, was with Good Char­lotte mu­si­cian Benji Mad­den, to whom she was en­gaged. “I met him at a restau­rant some­where, and the next minute he’s bring­ing flow­ers ev­ery day to my front door un­til I dated him,” she re­mem­bers. “I wasn’t re­ally [in­ter­ested at first], then he was just so sweet.

“It lasted nearly two years. He’s an amaz­ing per­son. I just didn’t feel ready to get mar­ried at that point. I wanted to achieve a bit more.”

Her break-up with Mad­den trig­gered one of the most dif­fi­cult episodes in her life in LA. At the time, Paris Hil­ton was at her apex and a con­stant pub­lic pres­ence around town. “She al­ways wanted to hang out at the be­gin­ning, and I wasn’t su­per-keen on do­ing that,” ex­plains Monk. “I just wanted to get there and work.” And work she did, in­clud­ing a role in 2006’s par­ody-film Date Movie, in which she sent up Hil­ton’s sul­try ap­pear­ance in a com­mer­cial for a US burger chain.

After Monk and Mad­den went their sep­a­rate ways in 2008, in a break-up she says was mu­tual, her ex-fi­ancé fell straight into Hil­ton’s arms. “She started say­ing that she stole him off me, which is bullsh*t,” Monk says. Still, everybody be­lieved it. “I was all over E! News,” Monk tells Stel­lar. “Front cover of ev­ery mag­a­zine. She [Hil­ton] was like the Kar­dashi­ans then. I couldn’t go any­where and ig­nore it. It was like you found out on Face­book about an ex, but times a bil­lion. I couldn’t hide from it. It re­ally hurt my feel­ings. It was re­ally tough. It af­fected my work, which be­came about my re­la­tion­ship rather than about what I was do­ing, which isn’t good [in] the in­dus­try.

“All of a sud­den, I looked like a so­cialite, just from dat­ing some­one who was dat­ing her. It changed ev­ery­one’s per­spec­tive of me and my brand.”

In the weeks after her break-up, Monk was hounded by pa­parazzi. “I had 20 cars fol­low­ing me – no lie – all try­ing to get pic­tures of me be­ing sad,” she says. “I would be bawl­ing my eyes out, and then have to get out of the car and smile, so they couldn’t get that story. I don’t have se­cu­rity and stuff like they do; it was quite lonely.” On the worst days, she en­listed close friend Kyle Sandi­lands, who was also liv­ing in LA at the time, to drive be­hind her and cre­ate a buf­fer. Mad­den is now mar­ried to ac­tor Cameron Diaz. “Half of my exes are now dat­ing Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret mod­els. I would like some­one uglier, please! Uglier, older, no am­bi­tion…” In 2011, after they had dated for three months, Monk an­nounced her en­gage­ment to French busi­ness­man Jimmy Ese­bag, 20 years her se­nior. “I en­joyed his com­pany,” she says. “He had a bit of money, which I didn’t care about – I have my own and am very in­de­pen­dent. It was more like we were best friends – he was funny, I learnt lots off him. It was a weird time of my life when I needed some­one more real, who had my back and was pro­tec­tive.” But Ese­bag wanted her to stop work­ing. “[My ex-part­ners] have all this drama and me­dia and every­thing com­ing, and they are like, ‘Can you stop?’ But I love work­ing. I need a pur­pose like that. I have worked so hard and so long and sac­ri­ficed every­thing.” They broke off their en­gage­ment. Re­la­tion­ship roulette wasn’t great for Monk’s ca­reer. “I would sac­ri­fice every­thing,” she ex­plains. “I’d be with part­ners and they were jeal­ous of [me] mak­ing out in a movie, so I would not do the movies, and then my ca­reer, you know… you’ve got to keep go­ing when you are on fire. But I am such a lover. I just couldn’t find that per­son [who] re­ally loved me.” She even­tu­ally grew de­pressed. “For three years [in LA] I didn’t want to go on au­di­tions,” she says. “It was get­ting so su­per­fi­cial, there’s mar­ried men hit­ting on you, it’s a dif­fer­ent and ugly world. There’s no soul for me.” Along with Date Movie, Monk landed a role along­side Adam San­dler in 2006’s Click and ap­peared on an episode of En­tourage in 2007. But there was also plenty of re­jec­tion. She

“Half of my exes are now dat­ing Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret mod­els. I would like some­one uglier, please! Uglier, older, no am­bi­tion…”

re­calls the rea­sons: “‘Too skinny. Too blonde. Too this.’ You are get­ting at­tacked all day, ev­ery day, about looks. So many nos to get one yes. Then you are down to the last two, and you miss out at the last minute. Every­thing is all just at your fin­ger­tips.”

She filmed Spring Break­down with co­me­dian Amy Poehler, but the stu­dio changed hands and it went straight to DVD in 2009. “We were bank­ing on that [film],” she says. “It would have killed it and that would have been my ticket.” There were fi­nan­cial dra­mas, too. “You have to be re­ally strong there, and I wasn’t, so a lot of money has been stolen off me over the years.”

MONK MOVED HOME to Aus­tralia a few years ago, and re­grouped with her fam­ily. Through a ra­dio gig in Syd­ney and other work, she’s earned back enough money she lost to buy a house on the Gold Coast and build a granny flat for her folks.

“[My fam­ily] are very open, non-judge­men­tal, re­ally kind peo­ple,” she says. “My dad is too good for this earth, he’s that sweet. Be­ing 10 years in LA with­out them, it makes you re­alise I had no love around me. I think that’s why I let guys walk over me and con­trol me, too. Some­thing about the re­spect of hav­ing peo­ple who love you around you… guys re­spect that, too.”

The Bach­e­lorette – which will pre­miere later this month – has fin­ished film­ing, and Monk says she’s in love. She is not al­lowed to re­veal any­thing else, but says she hopes this is for keeps: “You never know, but my gut is say­ing this is amaz­ing.” She is not con­cerned her new love will be in­tim­i­dated by the fa­mous men who char­ac­terised her past. “Once they get to know me, they re­alise I am noth­ing like that. I didn’t like that world, any­way.”

She would like children at some point, but would dis­cour­age them from fol­low­ing in her foot­steps. “All that pres­sure and su­per­fi­cial stuff. The grass isn’t greener,” she says.

The So­phie Monk em­bark­ing on a tele­vised search for hap­pi­ness is light years from the teenaged Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe im­per­son­ator who drove nine hours from the Gold Coast to Syd­ney to au­di­tion for Pop­stars in 1999, and who, her long­time friend Jackie O tells Stel­lar, “had this beau­ti­ful in­no­cence and mod­esty that made her so en­dear­ing to ev­ery­one”.

This Monk is harder; frank, cyn­i­cal, a lit­tle jaded. She has built up a few emo­tional cal­luses over the years. “There’s not much that could hurt me now,” she con­firms. When asked what her fu­ture might hold, the an­swer is telling. “Hap­pi­ness, for once,” she says. “I’ll stick to that for a while.” The Bach­e­lorette Aus­tralia pre­mieres 7.30pm Wed­nes­day, Septem­ber 20, on Net­work Ten, and will air Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day nights at 7.30pm dur­ing its run.

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