Grant and Chezzi Denyer have sur­vived it all, from de­pres­sion through drought to that sur­prise Gold Lo­gie. They speak openly and ex­clu­sively of the good times and the dis­as­ters with Jenny Brown.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Exclusive Interview - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by ALAN A LANDS BERRY• STYLING by BIANCA LANE

Strid­ing through a field laced with green and gold grasses, Grant Denyer vis­i­bly un­winds, head­ing for his herd of shaggy High­land cat­tle. “Some have names, not all,” ex­plains the Fam­ily Feud favourite. “There’s Rory, Crazy Eyes, Goldie, Nerida ... We’ve got six of them, so we’re pretty much cat­tle barons now. Farmer Grant and his fake farm­ing skills, try­ing to pre­tend he’s the real deal.” He flashes those fa­mous pearly-white teeth. “My hat does most of the talk­ing for me.”

With a “huge year” be­hind him, the worka­holic en­ter­tainer and racing car driver is wearily taking stock on the small­hold­ing near Bathurst, in Cen­tral West NSW, that has fi­nally taught him how to slow down and savour his time with wife Ch­eryl and daugh­ters Sailor, seven, and Scout, three.

Be­yond the pad­dock is the creek line where coun­try boy Grant (his fam­ily has farmed a prop­erty near Wagga Wagga for 110 years) swears he sees the myth­i­cal Blue Moun­tains black pan­ther ev­ery cou­ple of months. In-laws Shel­ley and Peter Rogers live just 12 minutes away. And over the hill lies the leg­endary Mount Panorama mo­tor sports cir­cuit, hal­lowed ground for the rev-head star.

“It’s my spir­i­tual home,” he re­veals, tired but happy af­ter a hec­tic work trip. “I feel when I cross the Blue Moun­tains I kind of leave all the hor­ri­ble stuff be­hind – the city and the hus­tle and bus­tle and hec­tic­ness of the me­dia game. You breathe deeper, the colours are brighter, the sounds are louder.

It’s heaven.”

In Bathurst, no­body cares that he’s “Grant from the telly”. On his 11-hectare slice of par­adise, dare­devil Denyer can recharge his bat­ter­ies, play with the “cheeky, com­pas­sion­ate” chil­dren he sees as his “great­est achieve­ment” and sim­ply chill out like an av­er­age hus­band and dad.

“I was never very good at re­lax­ing, but in life you have to learn as you go and try not to cock up as much as pos­si­ble,” smiles the 41-year-old pre­sen­ter, whose hall ta­ble is laden with tro­phies fol­low­ing an awards bo­nanza in 2018. There is the cov­eted Gold Lo­gie, plus a Sil­ver Lo­gie for Most Pop­u­lar Tele­vi­sion Pre­sen­ter and a Best New­comer ACRA (Aus­tralian Com­mer­cial Ra­dio Award) for co-host­ing 2Day FM’s break­fast ra­dio show.

“It’s re­ally been an in­cred­i­ble year, prob­a­bly the best year ever. I’ve come full cir­cle. My work­load is pretty high but I’ve found a bet­ter life bal­ance now,” muses Grant, once dubbed

“Mr Te­flon” for his abil­ity to re­cover from re­ver­sals of for­tune that could have seen his ca­reer crash and burn. “I don’t know how I’ve sur­vived, but I have a deep pas­sion for the game, for TV. I’ve been do­ing it since I was 16 and I’ve learned from a lot of good people around me. I’d like to think I’ve got a good work ethic. I try very hard. I take chances as well and those cal­cu­lated risks have oc­ca­sion­ally paid off. But I think there’s been a fair amount of luck in there as well.”

Like the day Net­work Ten came knock­ing when a de­pressed, down-an­dal­most-out Grant was most in need – first with the chance to host Fam­ily Feud, fol­lowed by Game of Games, Celebrity Name Game and later this year, the much-her­alded Danc­ing With The Stars re­boot.

Fam­ily Feud was his saviour back in 2014, as Grant ac­knowl­edged in his emo­tional Gold Lo­gie ac­cep­tance speech. “Fam­ily Feud came along for me in my life at a time when I re­ally wasn’t quite sure if I’d ever work again, or if I even wanted to. I wasn’t in a very good place. I wasn’t very well, I was in a bit of a hole. I was pretty sad, I was a bit lost. Fam­ily Feud gave me a lad­der out of that hole, and I’m very lucky to have had it. It gave me my mojo back – so Fam­ily Feud, thank you so much. You saved me.”

Set­backs came fast and fu­ri­ous for six years, start­ing in 2008 when Grant broke his back dur­ing a mon­ster truck stunt at Dapto Show­ground near Wol­lon­gong, NSW. Nursed back to ap­par­ent health by his then girl­friend and pro­ducer “Chezzi” Rogers, he rapidly re­turned to host­ing Aus­tralia’s Got Tal­ent.

Be­hind the scenes, how­ever, he had a se­cret and es­ca­lat­ing de­pen­dency on heavy-duty pre­scrip­tion painkillers. Back on the road as Sun­rise weath­er­man, Grant “pushed too hard and too long” and was even­tu­ally warned he would die un­less he walked away from the de­mand­ing gig. Med­i­cal tests had

re­vealed his or­gans were func­tion­ing “at just seven per cent” and he was sleep­ing 23 hours a day, wak­ing just long enough to stand up on cam­era.

“I was run-down and ex­hausted, but I learned a lot from that,” he re­calls, in what is some­thing of a Denyer self-help mantra. “I used to ig­nore the warning signs. I never ate very well, I was never very fit. I was burn­ing the can­dle at both ends and the mid­dle, so it was the per­fect storm of im­plo­sion, re­ally. I thought I was in­vin­ci­ble, and I f**ked up.”

Chezzi, who be­came his wife in 2010, had mean­while been bat­tling both post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) and post-na­tal anx­i­ety fol­low­ing Sailor’s birth in May 2011. A high-pow­ered ca­reer woman used to trav­el­ling Aus­tralia for Sun­rise, she was iso­lated and un­happy, alone with her baby in a high-rise Syd­ney flat while Grant was away on as­sign­ment.

“We took it in turns for things to go wrong. We were pretty well co-or­di­nated,” jokes the warm, ef­fer­ves­cent 39-yearold, who re­cently cre­ated Mummy

Time TV as an on­line chat show to help other moth­ers feel­ing the strain. “I think Grant and I are very good at sup­port­ing one an­other.”

De­spite that loving care, by 2013 they were both burned out, ex­hausted and deeply con­cerned about their fu­ture to­gether. “I’m sure Grant thought he had mar­ried a mon­ster,” says Chezzi, can­didly con­fess­ing to a “mini­break­down” in 2012 when Sailor was eight months old. “I feared that, if I didn’t get help, they were go­ing to lock me up. That’s how crazy I was.”

Coura­geously taking time out for coun­selling at The Cabin, a costly Thai re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity near Chi­ang Mai, the cou­ple were dev­as­tated by “scary” and in­ac­cu­rate claims that they were be­ing treated for a $200,000-a-year metham­phetamine ad­dic­tion.

“You know, there was a lot of self-re­flec­tion back then,” says Grant, gaz­ing out at a sweep­ing ex­panse of coun­try­side. “As a hu­man be­ing, you can’t ex­pect to feel amaz­ing 100 per cent of the time for your en­tire life. There are times when people stum­ble and [what mat­ters] is what you do at that point to get back on your feet.

“Go­ing to Thai­land was chal­leng­ing, but it was the smartest thing we ever did. It was good for Chezzi to fo­cus on her PTSD and post-na­tal anx­i­ety. It was good for me to recharge and re­set be­cause I had chronic fa­tigue and I was burned out. We had to be pretty dis­ci­plined, but we haven’t looked back.”

To­gether they have built a ful­fill­ing new life in the coun­try, link­ing forces to be­come am­bas­sadors for Ru­ral Aid and rais­ing more than $150,000

through a Black Tie and Boots Ball to pro­vide a Bathurst-based coun­sel­lor for lo­cal farm­ers strug­gling through the drought. Chezzi is also a keen ad­vo­cate for PANDA’s peri­na­tal anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion helpline.

The Deny­ers are a great dou­ble act, although Chezzi freely ad­mits, “We didn’t re­ally like each other when we first worked to­gether on Sun­rise.

I was very de­ter­mined to make him work too much!”

Ro­mance came a lit­tle later.

“I re­ally liked the fact that Grant was very sen­si­tive and gen­uine and re­mark­ably hum­ble,” she re­mem­bers. “He was just a real sweet­heart, although he tried to hide that us­ing hu­mour. He tried to throw you off the scent, but he ac­tu­ally has a heart as big as Aus­tralia. Plus he’s shy and I thought that was re­ally cute and en­dear­ing.

“I think Grant and I are very good at sup­port­ing one an­other.”

“I fell in love hard. I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m go­ing to be chas­ing this guy for­ever. I’m go­ing to be fol­low­ing him through swamps around Aus­tralia. I can just see it now, do­ing some kind of Ley­land Brothers thing ...’ He had to­tally taken my heart. That’s a bit mushy, isn’t it? But I still feel the same and if not, I love him even more to­day.”

Now Chezzi has be­come his man­ager, as well as his life part­ner, quick-wit­ted Grant quips that she still makes him work too hard. “It’s the worst thing ever. If she sends me away any more,

I’ll start to think she’s got a thing with the post­man,” he groans, the­atri­cally, de­spite his ob­vi­ous de­light to be co-host­ing Danc­ing With The Stars along­side Amanda Keller in 2019.

“It’s pretty hard to ar­gue with the boss when she’s shar­ing the same bed as you, but she’s done an in­cred­i­ble job. We’ve al­ways been a team and we will al­ways be a team. It’s hard to suc­ceed at anything in life un­less the people you love be­lieve and share a sim­i­lar goal and dream.”

He pauses to help Scout un­wrap a choco­late treat, smiles at Chezzi and con­tin­ues: “I think ev­ery re­la­tion­ship has its tests. You wouldn’t be hu­man if it didn’t. The most im­por­tant thing is to keep try­ing. Pick your­self up, dust your­self off and go again. You grow to­gether, you make mis­takes to­gether and that’s life.

“There’s noth­ing wrong with fail­ing, just qui­etly,” says Grant, who tends to view his own per­fec­tion­ism as an in­hibit­ing char­ac­ter flaw. “I spent most of my life just want­ing to be the best and un­less I could be the best then I wouldn’t bother. I wouldn’t en­ter some­thing un­less I thought I could be per­fect at it. That’s a ter­ri­ble at­ti­tude!

“The most fun­da­men­tal progress you can ever make as a per­son is of­ten through your fail­ures. If you’re afraid to fail, you’re too scared to try, and that’s a very lim­ited way to spend your life. That’s one of the biggest les­sons I’ve ever learned, and that’s one thing I want to teach my kids. As long as you’re try­ing, as long as you’re kind and you come from a place of com­pas­sion and for­give­ness, then noth­ing can re­ally worry you from that point on. Life is meant to be lived, so you’ve got to go out there and make the most of it.

“Of­ten the great­est things that ever hap­pen to you are the sur­prises you never ex­pected,” says the man who as­ton­ished him­self by win­ning Danc­ing With The Stars with a killer Paso Doble in 2006. “But how can the sur­prises ever find you if you’re never open to try­ing new things?”

Film­ing “hun­dreds of hours of TV” per year and win­ning car races as a side­line, Grant is away from home so of­ten that Chezzi is in ef­fect a sin­gle mum much of the time. She is the par­ent forced to ex­plain the death of aban­doned twin lambs to Sailor and Scout, or to deal with a nasty vom­it­ing bug just as the farm runs out of wa­ter.

“You know, if I didn’t love Grant with ev­ery­thing, I would have run for the hills many years ago,” she chuck­les, pet­ting the fam­ily’s pre­dictably hy­per­ac­tive Cavoo­dle puppy, Princess Pop­corn.

“Why?” asks her hus­band, slightly ag­grieved.

“Be­cause of car racing,” replies Chezzi, whose en­durance was tested yet again when Grant nar­rowly cheated death in a 160km/h rally smash near Mel­bourne in 2017. “There’s a lot of el­e­ments that come with you that can be a bit ...”

“Ex­cit­ing,” he of­fers.

“Scary,” she con­cludes, be­fore re­al­is­ing that could sound harsher than she in­tends. “I’m im­mensely proud of ev­ery­thing Grant has achieved,” she adds, ador­ingly. “He’s cer­tainly had a num­ber of chal­lenges that have thrown us off the path a lit­tle bit, but he’s on this quest to be a bet­ter man and that gives me so much com­fort.

“Our girls are grow­ing up want­ing to be just like Daddy and I think that’s re­ally beau­ti­ful.”

For Grant, Chezzi and their daugh­ters, Sailor (left) and Scout, their prop­erty at Bathurst in NSW’s Cen­tral West is the per­fect place to get away from it all.

Clockwise from left: Grant and Chezzi on their wed­ding day in 2010; Grant with Sailor in 2011; Sailor has a cud­dle with her lit­tle sis­ter.

Grant is gear­ing up for a big 2019, host­ing Danc­ing WIth The Stars and Celebrity Name Game, while also work­ing with Ru­ral Aid to help farm­ers.

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