LOOK­ING FOR LIGHT

HER RA­ZOR-SHARP SUMMATIONS OF THE BACH­E­LOR PAVED THE WAY FOR A BOOK DEAL. BUT DE­SPITE HER BUR­GEON­ING CA­REER AND DE­VOTED FOL­LOW­ING, IT’S BEEN A TUR­BU­LENT YEAR FOR ROSIE WATERLAND

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy BOB BARKER Words MEG MA­SON

She’s a hugely suc­cess­ful writer, but life hasn’t been easy for Rosie Waterland.

Within 10 min­utes of meet­ing me, Rosie Waterland has talked about abor­tion, re­al­ity TV, al­co­holism, eye­lash ex­ten­sions, post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and her love-hate re­la­tion­ship with Twit­ter – and all in what seems like a sin­gle sen­tence. All things con­sid­ered, this is quite a skill.

Waterland earned her pub­lic pro­file in 2013, thanks to weekly re­caps of The Bach­e­lor (in her words “the most glo­ri­ous show in the his­tory of shows”) that went plague-level vi­ral. She has ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion as a hi­lar­i­ous, out­spo­ken per­son­al­ity, who boasts the same over­shar­ing gene as Lena Dun­ham and a sharp tal­ent for satire. Ra­dio pre­sen­ter Richard Glover once called her re­caps “the best tele­vi­sion writ­ing since Clive James”.

In per­son, Waterland is more re­served than one might ex­pect of a woman who has posted naked self­ies to Face­book and writ­ten ex­ten­sively on a range of bod­ily func­tions. Shar­ing so much with her fol­low­ers means they “sort of feel as though they know me”, Waterland tells Stel­lar. And that’s a dou­ble-edged sword for a self-pro­fessed in­tro­vert.

Waterland has joined me in Syd­ney’s in­ner west at a cafe so self-con­sciously hip­ster we de­cide there must be a staff-wide ban on smil­ing at cus­tomers – they just stare stony-faced at Waterland, a daz­zling blonde wear­ing a lav­ish faux-fur coat, floor-length pink skirt and an over­sized dia­manté neck­lace. It is 10am on a Tues­day.

Their stand­off­ish­ness is some­thing she qui­etly wel­comes. “Peo­ple ap­proach me on the street, and it means so much,” she says. “It means that what I’ve writ­ten res­onated, but it’s also re­ally un­com­fort­able. The big­gest mis­con­cep­tion is that I’m loud and gre­gar­i­ous and the best girl to drink wine with. But it’s like, not un­less you want to do it in my bed, un­der the cov­ers watch­ing TV. And we don’t have to talk.”

Those who know her will con­firm the con­trast be­tween Waterland’s pub­lic and pri­vate selves. “My first im­pres­sion was that she was painfully shy,” says for­mer Ma­mamia ed­i­tor-in-chief Jamila Rizvi, who dis­cov­ered Waterland via her blog and be­gan com­mis­sion­ing her for free­lance work. She then brought Waterland in-house at the women’s life­style web­site, where her re­caps for The Bach­e­lor were pub­lished.

“My ear­li­est mem­o­ries of her are of in­fec­tious laugh­ter, com­ing out of this per­son who was shy and al­most wanted to blend in with the wall­pa­per,” Rizvi tells Stel­lar. “But along with her ca­reer ex­plod­ing over the past few years, I think her con­fi­dence has ex­ploded in a sim­i­lar way.”

Ex­plod­ing is the right word for it. “Rosie Re­caps” gen­er­ated more than six mil­lion unique views per week and av­er­aged 450,000 on­line shares. One com­men­ta­tor called them a “teathae-mor­rhag­ing cash cow… rak­ing in the kind of au­di­ence num­bers that pro­fes­sional TV crit­ics only dream of”.

They also earned Waterland a vast on­line pres­ence, but fig­ur­ing out how to har­ness her sud­den in­flu­ence has been a learn­ing curve, she ad­mits. “I got this huge on­line fol­low­ing but I never re­ally cul­ti­vated it – it was just there. I’m thank­ful for it, but I still don’t con­sider my­self an on­line per­son­al­ity.”

Her feel­ings about her fol­low­ing are myr­iad – chief among them, how­ever, is grat­i­tude. Af­ter all, pop­u­lar­ity helped Waterland score a book deal in 2015. A re­sult­ing mem­oir, The Anti-cool Girl, was an in­stant best­seller. In it, she delved into a child­hood it­self worth a dozen jam-packed mem­oirs.

The 31-year-old was born to heavy drink­ing par­ents, on the run at the time from bikies to whom they owed money. Her fa­ther died when she was eight; her mother, de­scribed by Waterland as “a heavy drinker with a pretty se­vere mood dis­or­der”, would dis­ap­pear for days at a time, leav­ing her three chil­dren home alone.

By her own es­ti­mate, Waterland at­tended at least 20 schools – “I lost count” – and passed through mul­ti­ple fos­ter homes. Not sur­pris­ingly, she en­tered adult­hood with se­vere post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der and a bat­tery of men­tal health is­sues.

De­spite the trauma of her up­bring­ing, Waterland re­mains in con­tact with her mother. “We’ve al­ways main­tained some kind of re­la­tion­ship, how­ever strained, but it got to the point where she was told she didn’t have long to live,” she says.

Her mum achieved so­bri­ety last year, and has since moved in with Waterland. “The strangest part has been re­con­nect­ing with some­one I thought would have died by now,” she says. “I had pre­pared my­self for her to be gone, and essen­tially she was gone. It’s been not so much a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, but more just get­ting to know some­one who I’ve never met – my mother as a sober per­son.”

On the sub­ject of her own men­tal health, Waterland has been con­sis­tently open although she ad­mits that, in the mem­oir, she framed the sub­ject in the past tense, and a tu­mul­tuous 2016 chal­lenged that nar­ra­tive. “I had been telling my­self I was OK for a while, and I wrote about it as a thing that was in the past like, ‘It was re­ally bad but now it’s all right and I’m to­tally fine,’ but that hadn’t been hugely tested.”

That changed with the sud­den, ac­ci­den­tal death in July last year of her best friend An­to­nio Sergi, who she had de­scribed as “my hu­man safety blan­ket”, “my cheer­leader” and “the clos­est thing I’ve ever had to a life part­ner”.

“I didn’t know how to get through life with­out him hold­ing my hand,” she says now of her loss. “I had to re­cal­i­brate how I was go­ing to sur­vive the things I had re­ally re­lied on him for.” As it hap­pened, the tragedy co­in­cided with the peak of The Bach­e­lor frenzy, and the im­pact of his death on her men­tal health has since been re­vealed – by her – as the rea­son she was forced to exit the gig be­fore the se­ries con­cluded, sur­pris­ing and dis­ap­point­ing her le­gion of fans.

“I ended up hav­ing what could po­litely be called a ner­vous break­down,” Waterland said in a state­ment is­sued about a week af­ter the event. She was hos­pi­talised, and since then has de­vel­oped a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to what she now un­der­stands may never be a closed sub­ject. “Be­cause I went back to this re­ally dark place that I never ever ex­pected that I would go back to, I re­alise now it was kind of cocky of me to write about it like it was all over. You can’t con­trol the places men­tal health takes you. I’ve just been re­ally hum­bled since last year.”

Amid all this, Waterland’s ca­reer has con­tin­ued on an up­ward tra­jec­tory. Her tal­ent, cliché aside, is ir­re­press­ible. Be­sides an­other book – au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal es­says loosely linked to small and not-so-small lies she’s told over the course of her life, al­ter­na­tively hi­lar­i­ous and raw – she’s break­ing into film and tele­vi­sion writ­ing, and plan­ning, in the longer term, to write fic­tion.

“Ever since I was a lit­tle kid, hid­ing in my room from my drunk mum or stand­ing in the mid­dle of a road not know­ing what to do af­ter my dad had passed out, I knew I would write my way out of it,” Waterland says. “I think any­one who’s been to dark places will al­ways want to seek light. Some­times it feels like peo­ple are look­ing to me for an­swers about things, but I don’t bloody know. I have to be OK with the fact that I’ll al­ways be fig­ur­ing things out, and writ­ing will be how I do it.” Ev­ery Lie I’ve Ever Told by Rosie Waterland (Harpercollins, $30) is out July 24.

“ANY­ONE WHO’S BEEN TO DARK PLACES WILL AL­WAYS WANT TO SEEK LIGHT”

IT TAKES TWO (from top) Rosie Waterland with her late best friend An­to­nio Sergi; and for­mer ed­i­tor Jamila Rizvi.

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