“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?
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.