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.
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.
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.