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Pho­tog­ra­phy CHRIS MOHEN Styling IRENE TSOLAKAS In­ter­view NAOMI CHRISOULAKIS

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Front Page -

o the har­ried par­ents of Aus­tralia, he is some­thing of a saviour, the hand­some guy with the owl and the silly voice who plays a vi­tal role in keep­ing kids en­ter­tained while din­ners get made. But ac­cord­ing to James Rees, aka Jimmy Gig­gle of Gig­gle And Hoot fame, the real per­son they should be thank­ing is his dad, Mark.

“Dad al­ways had his video cam­era with him,” Rees tells Stel­lar. “And we were con­stantly on cam­era per­form­ing, my broth­ers and I. He’s got videos of us do­ing pup­pet shows, danc­ing around, do­ing karaoke, dress­ing up, pulling funny faces.”

And when the fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor wasn’t point­ing a cam­era in young Jimmy’s direc­tion, he was feed­ing him a steady diet of Bri­tish com­edy, such as Monty Python, The Two Ron­nies or The Benny Hill Show – “all that sort of slap­stick stupid com­edy which, fun­nily enough, I’ve ended up do­ing for a liv­ing”.

When he went to an open- call au­di­tion for the ABC at age 21, Rees had no TV back­ground – at the time, he was a uni dropout pulling beers in a bar. But the broad­caster plucked him from the 5000-strong crowd and flew him to Syd­ney from Mel­bourne to ne­go­ti­ate a con­tract. In­stinc­tively, the in­ex­pe­ri­enced per­former with the ex­pres­sive eye­brows knew he needed one per­son by his side. “Dad came with me. And still, Mum and Dad are al­ways there for sup­port if we’re mak­ing a tough de­ci­sion,” says Rees, 30. “But I’ve al­ways been the one out of my broth­ers who was su­per in­de­pen­dent, so it kind of grates them a lit­tle bit that I make de­ci­sions so fast and just do it.”

One of those quick calls was mov­ing in with his now wife, Tori, just months

after they met work­ing at a pub in Mount El­iza in Vic­to­ria. “It be­came clear this was a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship we were form­ing,” he says. Just a year into dat­ing, they moved to Syd­ney for Gig­gle And Hoot. “Ev­ery­thing we’ve done has been as a team. It’s a spe­cial thing when you find that some­one to be your team­mate. We just went for it, and noth­ing’s re­ally been an is­sue to be hon­est.”

Ping-pong moves be­tween Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, along with the birth of their son Lenny, now three, fur­ther bonded the pair. “She’s an amaz­ing woman and an amaz­ing mother,” Rees says of Tori, a stay-at-home mum. “I’ve learnt a lot about be­ing a par­ent from her. I’m not an A-list celebrity, but when you’re in this lit­tle bub­ble – peo­ple telling you that you’re great and that you’re funny – you need some­one who can give you a re­al­ity check.”

Be­ing Mr Gig­gle also comes with mum fans, one of whom passed her num­ber onto Rees, via Tori, after a meet and greet. The ever-pa­tient Tori burst out laugh­ing, Rees says, and they’ve kept laugh­ing as Face­book pages like I Could Teach Jimmy Gig­gle A Thing Or Two popped up. The sex-sym­bol label baf­fles him. “I’m on preschool television, it’s kind of a strange thing – it’s just hi­lar­i­ous. Side­burns aren’t that trendy, let’s be hon­est, and the py­ja­mas are just not at­trac­tive, so I don’t know what they see… but I’m happy to take that, fine. As I’m get­ting older I’ll take any­thing!”

He’s pop­u­lar on the play-date cir­cuit, too. “But I’m just Lenny’s dad after a while. We’ve got two tram­po­lines at our joint at the mo­ment and that’s just the big­gest win­ner. I’ve got a bub­ble ma­chine, so they win, re­ally.” Film­ing takes up three days a week, but when Rees isn’t ful­fill­ing his Gig­gle du­ties he’s a hands- on dad, tak­ing Lenny to swim­ming and soc­cer and on public trans­port ad­ven­tures.

“He’s got such a dif­fer­ent view of the world, it’s so sweet and naïve,” he says. “You for­get about ev­ery­thing for a while when you go and do some­thing with some­one who hasn’t seen it be­fore. It takes you back to when you were a kid and the joys of life you for­get. Ev­ery­thing is so honed in on mak­ing money and pro­vid­ing for your fam­ily and try­ing to keep the plates spin­ning and the balls up in the air… but you for­get about the re­ally spe­cial things, the sim­ple things.”

Rees and Tori would love to give Lenny sib­lings, but he can­didly ad­mits cre­at­ing a big­ger fam­ily hasn’t been easy. “We’re try­ing; it’s prov­ing a lit­tle dif­fi­cult… It has been a bit of a strug­gle. It’s one of those things where we’re like, ‘Do we in­ter­vene and do some­thing dif­fer­ent?’ We’re at that stage. But we’re sure it’ll hap­pen, and we’ve just got to be pa­tient.”

For now, his lit­tle boy is help­ing him re­fine that trait. “It’s not the most glam­orous thing in the world, be­ing kicked and walked over,” he says of parenting with a laugh. “You just have to take a breath ev­ery now and then, and get in touch with your pa­tience.” Gig­gle And Hoot’s Hootas­tic Con­cert is tour­ing from Septem­ber 30. Visit livena­tion.com.au.

I t was sup­posed to be the mo­ment Taryn Brum­fitt would revel in her per­fect body, con­grat­u­lat­ing her­self for hav­ing the self- dis­ci­pline to make it ma­te­ri­alise. After 15 weeks of gru­elling ex­er­cise and di­et­ing, Brum­fitt took her place in a line-up of women wear­ing biki­nis at a May 2012 body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tion, the cul­mi­na­tion of her de­ci­sion to train un­til she was ready to flex her finely honed physique ons­tage be­fore a panel of judges.

The mo­ment did not go as planned. “It was very un­joy­ful,” she says, of both the event and the train­ing, which in­volved a re­stric­tive diet largely com­prised of lean chicken and broc­coli. “I ar­rived in that body and thought, ‘No, I can’t do this for­ever.’ I had hoped I would be happy. The light-bulb mo­ment came get­ting off the stage: my body is not an or­na­ment, it is the ve­hi­cle to my dreams.” It was a phrase that was to be­come a mantra for the mother of three, to Oliver, 12, Cruz, 10, and Mikaela, eight.

Lead­ing up to that fate­ful event, three preg­nan­cies had changed Brum­fitt’s body, and she found her­self un­happy with the way she looked. She won­dered if plas­tic surgery could not just re­move the stretch marks and sag­ging skin, but also re­place it with the con­fi­dence and hap­pi­ness she so craved. “After three kids, I de­cided I would have surgery to

fix what I thought was my bro­ken body. I booked it in: I was go­ing to have breast aug­men­ta­tion, a tummy tuck.”

Look­ing at her daugh­ter Mikaela, how­ever, gave her pause. The de­ci­sion to al­ter her body through surgery didn’t sit well with the for­mer pho­tog­ra­pher after all; was she set­ting a poor ex­am­ple? She can­celled the pro­ce­dure and de­cided to work with a friend, who was a per­sonal trainer, with a view to take part in a body-build­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

But when that didn’t work out the way she imag­ined, Brum­fitt found some­thing else: self-ac­cep­tance. “I came to terms with eat­ing more for nour­ish­ment and en­ergy, as op­posed to weight loss, and just mov­ing my body and learn­ing to move it for plea­sure and not pun­ish­ment.”

It was an evo­lu­tion she shared nearly a year later, on April 21, 2013, via a cou­ple of pho­tographs on so­cial me­dia. They il­lus­trated the “be­fore” and “after” of weight fluc­tu­a­tion – but with an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion. The “be­fore” was her ons­tage in a bikini dur­ing the body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tion, and the “after” im­age was Brum­fitt naked, car­ry­ing more weight, but also look­ing ra­di­ant. She showed vis­i­ble stretch marks, sag­ging skin – and a smile. The pic­tures went vi­ral and made news around the world.

Brum­fitt, 40, re­alised her mes­sage was an an­ti­dote to a cul­ture that ac­cepts, and pro­lif­er­ates, a very nar­rowly de­fined phys­i­cal ideal. She says there were more than 7000 emails from peo­ple who wanted to share their sto­ries of eat­ing dis­or­ders, and ex­pe­ri­ences that con­trib­uted to their body-im­age is­sues. “I had women shar­ing their ac­counts of sex­ual abuse – one woman had never shared it with any­one, so I was the first per­son in her life that she’d ever shared it with. But the sto­ries were var­ied, and full of mis­ery, mostly,” she says.

Once Brum­fitt re­alised the im­age had hit a nerve, she was de­ter­mined to do more and felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the women and men who were telling her they loathed their bod­ies. She sees her­self as the leader of what has be­come a full-time en­ter­prise known as the Body Im­age Move­ment, which kicked off not long after that body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tion. In 2015, she pub­lished the book Em­brace, and a doc­u­men­tary of the same name was re­leased in 2016. The lat­ter fea­tured in­ter­views with in­ter­na­tional celebri­ties who have strug­gled with body im­age and took a global per­spec­tive on the is­sue.

Brum­fitt’s new book Em­brace Your­self charts her global cru­sade and mes­sage of self-ac­cep­tance. She’s also worked with aca­demic ex­perts to cre­ate ed­u­ca­tional re­sources for school chil­dren and has her sights set on an­other doc­u­men­tary. She is a reg­u­lar on the public-speak­ing

For the time be­ing, Brum­fitt is grat­i­fied to see some progress in the years since she started Body Im­age Move­ment. She says it’s ev­i­dent in the sto­ries of trans­for­ma­tion – of peo­ple go­ing from hat­ing to lov­ing their bod­ies – that are be­ing sent to her now.

“Body Im­age Move­ment just turned six,” Brum­fitt ex­plains.“in the be­gin­ning it felt like ev­ery­thing that was com­ing at us was mis­er­able sto­ries about peo­ple’s bod­ies. The most beau­ti­ful thing, six years on, is now we can start look­ing at how things are start­ing to change. We’ve had peo­ple who were suicidal, hap­pened to be on so­cial me­dia and saw the trailer, watched the film and went and spoke to a coun­sel­lor. That’s pretty re­mark­able.” Em­brace Your­self by Taryn Brum­fitt (Penguin Ran­dom House, $34.99) is out to­mor­row.

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