Photography CHRIS MOHEN Styling IRENE TSOLAKAS Interview NAOMI CHRISOULAKIS
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.