“IT’S BEEN HARD”
Georgia Love talks of her grief on the first Mother’s Day since her mum died.
Reality TV isn’t known for an oversupply of genuinely endearing moments, but in last year’s The Bachelorette such a rarity took place when 10 suitors surprised the beaming Georgia Love with a song. “Georgia, oh Georgia... your eyes are sparkling blue,” the men sang, grinning with real warmth at the 28-year-old television news reporter, and allowing an odd guffaw at the absurdity of their shared situation.
Almost seven months since The Bachelorette finale went to air, the blue eyes that captured the heart of almost every man in that room – and eventually secured the long-term love of 35-year-old Melbourne plumber Lee Elliott – are just as bewitching. But today the faintest tug of sadness dulls their shine. Some of the sparkle is gone. Because while Love was breaking the hearts of Australia’s most eligible bachelors, her own was breaking, too: her mother Belinda was battling the pancreatic cancer that would eventually take her life.
“It was exactly a year ago today that Mum had the operation to remove her tumour,” Love tells Stellar. “At first Mum’s diagnosis was, ‘OK, you’re having an operation, you’ll get the tumour taken out and it’ll be a hard road of recovery, but…’” She trails off. There was a big “but”.
Within months, it was clear the operation wouldn’t be enough, and Love’s mother wouldn’t survive. Belinda was eventually moved to palliative care in the days before the The Bachelorette finale aired. On October 28, the day after it screened, Love and Elliott should have been making the press rounds; instead, Love was in hospital at her mother’s side. At 9.30 that evening, she went home. Three hours later Belinda passed away, aged 60.
Love was with Elliott when her father rang with the news. The pair had only begun to get to know each other away from the cameras and behind closed doors, as their contract stipulated that they had to hide their romance from the nation until the show had wrapped. It was supposed to be the day they went public, sharing their joy. Instead, Love was inconsolable. “There’s no emotion like that,” says Love of the phone call that shattered her world.
“The first year is the hardest. I still have some falling apart to do”
The circumstances put Elliott to the test right away. Love acknowledges that it was a huge strain on their new romance but Elliott, she says, stepped up. “He was incredible. Within the first 48 hours he met every single one of my family and friends but in the most horrible and emotional way. He did not once falter. He did not once freak out. He was there every step of the way. Nothing will ever take that away. That’s something that makes me even more in love with him. In so many ways it brought us very close.”
Love says those first surreal days were “a total blur”. She was in a new relationship that began under the most bizarre circumstances, and tasting real fame for the first time. Paparazzi hid outside her home and shot photos of her mother’s funeral in early November, an act Love’s father, Christopher, slammed as “disrespectful” and “distasteful”. She had to force herself to push aside the grief and concentrate on everything else. “I’ve probably swept my emotions under the carpet a bit because I had to,” she says. “I was so busy, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I’ll deal with that later… or else I’ll completely break down.’” Outside she smiled. Alone with Elliott, she would collapse.
Despite Elliott’s strength, Love is not afraid to admit the toll these circumstances have taken on their relationship. “There’s no point denying that and it would be fake to say otherwise,” she reasons. “It’s made our relationship really hard. He’s the one who has to cop it when I’m having a bad day. He’s the one who’s there as I break down.”
GRIEF PLAYS OUT in different ways for everyone, says psychologist Jo Lamble, but Love’s decision to muffle the enormity of her feelings while she had other things to distract her is common.
“Prince Harry spoke of this recently, that he didn’t deal with his grief for years because he felt he would fall apart,” Lamble says. “Delayed onset can often happen when there’s a distraction around at the time. It doesn’t mean she wasn’t thinking of her mum. The big wave of grief often comes later.”
Like Prince Harry, who recently admitted he had sought help from a therapist at age 28 after years of “sticking my head in the sand” following his mother Diana’s death when he was 12, Love is seeing a psychologist. “I’ve never done that before, but I’ve also had a really easy life,” she says. “I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve been speaking to a psychologist and I’ll continue to do that. Because I don’t think anyone expects me to go through everything I’ve gone through on my own. There’s no shame in thinking that professional help is necessary. I can’t put it all on Lee.”
Love – who calls herself a “mummy’s girl through-and-through” – says she was surprised the first Christmas without her mum didn’t feel as painful as she thought it would. “It’s almost like it was so soon that it didn’t feel real,” she says. “It just felt like she wasn’t there that day.”
But it has been the looming prospect of another milestone, one that falls today, that has proven to be a particularly difficult time.
“The thought of Mother’s Day is just a bit too much to fathom,” she tells Stellar. “Every radio and TV ad is about ‘What are you going to get your mum for Mother’s Day?’ The ‘firsts’ are always going to be hard. The first Mother’s Day. My birthday. The first random second of July will be hard without her. Every day in this first year is always going to be a ‘first’.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to has said that first year is the hardest. And there is still a lot of that year to go. I think I still have a bit of falling apart to do.”
The show itself has also thrown its own curveball “firsts” her way, not all of them welcome. Love received death threats when she chose Elliott
“Lee was incredible… in so many ways it brought us very close”
over runner-up Matty Johnson, whose popularity has seen him picked to star in the next series of The Bachelor. She regularly fields catty comments on her social media – women telling her that her toothy grin makes her look like a “pageant queen” and men commenting on her “thunder thighs” (which, for the record, are as lean as a long-distance runner’s). Almost every day a new tabloid story claims she’s broken up with Elliott, or he’s cheating, or she’s pregnant. She simply wants her relationship with Elliott – and her life in general – to come back down to earth.
Part of this means trying to put the brakes on the intensity of their partnership, and winding back its fast-tracked beginning. “A wedding isn’t on the cards, and a baby definitely is not on the cards,” she insists. The pair do their best to balance out every celebrity race day or fashion party they attend with Sunday morning runs around Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, followed by brunch or a game of footy. They still delight in exchanging the goofy puns that were such a large part of their early connection. They have yet to move in together, and people are often asking why. Love says that while the rawness of her father’s grief is so fresh, she wants to stay close. Besides, she adds, neither she nor Elliott have ever moved in with a partner this quickly. “We want to move in together when we both decide we want to stay together every single night, not because of the public perception,” Love explains.
She is slowly piecing together a career beyond the show. Love says that she wants to land her next full-time role on her merits, not because she was The Bachelorette. She has guest-hosted Studio 10 and appeared on The Project, as well as taking on an ambassadorship with Palmer’s skincare and charity work with the Pancare Foundation, a not-forprofit fighting pancreatic cancer. She chooses what feels right, and insists that she is in no hurry to take the first things that come along.
Stepping onto the red carpet at her first-ever Logies last month, glowing in a couture gown with a thigh-high split and Elliott on her arm, Love knew her mother would have been proud.
“I have vivid memories of sitting on the couch with her when I was seven years old, eating ice-cream and watching all those beautiful women in those beautiful dresses. I’d say, ‘Oh I’d love to be there one day,’” she says. “She would have loved to see me do that. She would have loved to see me do all the things I’m doing.”
GEORGIA WEARS Ryder top, ryderlabel. com; Cos skirt, (02) 9231 3944
LOVE STORIES (from top) Georgia Love at this year’s Logies with boyfriend Lee Elliott; with her mum Belinda; and some of her TV suitors.
GEORGIA WEARS Max Mara dress, maxmara.com; Sportmax shoes (worn throughout), sportmax.com; (opposite) Max Mara top, as before; Hugo Boss pants, (03) 9474 6304; her mother’s ring