“Moral­ity is not de­fined by the clothes you wear”

She is half of one of the most prom­i­nent cou­ples in Aus­tralia – and Dr Su­san Car­land is happy to talk about it, along with her clever new TV show, re­li­gion and fall­ing for the man she swore she would never marry

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Cover - Pho­tog­ra­phy DAVE WHEELER Styling IRENE TSOLAKAS

ca­demic. Au­thor. Me­dia per­son­al­ity. Dr Su­san Car­land wears a num­ber of hats pro­fes­sion­ally, but she ar­gues her best ti­tle yet is “quiz­mas­ter”,which has been be­stowed upon her thanks to an­other new role – as the host of SBS’S new quiz show Child Ge­nius. Not least, we imag­ine, be­cause she can now throw ran­dom ques­tions at peo­ple.

“I agree. That’s now what I do,” Car­land jokes with Stel­lar. “I just ask my kids, my hus­band, ‘ What is the cap­i­tal of Chile?’ That’s my job now.”

One would think that her hus­band Waleed Aly – aca­demic, colum­nist and co-host of Net­work Ten’s The Project – would have it in the bag on Child Ge­nius, a show that fea­tures highly in­tel­li­gent chil­dren vy­ing for the cov­eted po­si­tion of Aus­tralia’s smartest kid. But one would be wrong. “The ques­tions [on the show] are so hard,” Car­land says. “I was prac­tis­ing one day and I said to my hus­band, ‘How do you think you would spell this word?’ and he had a go. He got the first let­ter

wrong.” The sheer bril­liance of the child prodi­gies made her feel “like a com­plete fool from day one”, she ad­mits.

It’s hard to imag­ine many oc­ca­sions the ac­com­plished Car­land does feel like a fool. Bright and cu­ri­ous as a child, she lived with her par­ents and brother Michael in Melbourne’s For­est Hill un­til her par­ents di­vorced when she was seven. De­spite be­ing raised a strict Chris­tian, at 17 she de­cided to look be­yond Chris­tian­ity to see what might suit her bet­ter.

“I just started to won­der why I be­lieved what I did,” she says of that time. “I won­dered, ‘Is it be­cause I think it’s true, or is this just the re­li­gion I’d been raised to be­lieve in?’ So I de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate dif­fer­ent faiths and dif­fer­ent ways of be­ing and to my sur­prise, Is­lam made a lot of sense to me.” De­spite ini­tial as­sump­tions that Is­lam was a vi­o­lent and sex­ist re­li­gion, Car­land changed her mind. These days she’s non­cha­lant, but she re­calls how ner­vous she was to tell her par­ents of her de­ci­sion.

“I can re­ally un­der­stand now, as a mother. I’ve got a 15-year-old [daugh­ter Aisha] and an 11-year-old [son Zayd] and I can un­der­stand if one of them came home to me and said, ‘Oh, I’ve de­cided to join this re­li­gion that you don’t re­ally know much about and ev­ery­thing you do know about it looks pretty bad.’ I’d be pretty con­cerned too,” she tells Stel­lar. “But I have an amaz­ing re­la­tion­ship with my mum and my dad – they’re both in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive and en­cour­ag­ing.”

It’s com­monly as­sumed that Aly, who is also of Mus­lim faith, was the rea­son Car­land re­nounced Chris­tian­ity, yet she in­sists it isn’t the case. At the Lo­gies this year while on­stage ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence, me­dia per­son­al­ity Bert New­ton said to Aly, “You and I have a lot in com­mon. I think the beau­ti­ful story is that your lovely wife made the de­ci­sion to con­vert to your faith. It’s news now that Patti [New­ton’s wife] has done the same for me. She now drinks and she has her own TAB ac­count.”

Car­land shrugs off both the as­sump­tion and New­ton’s joke. “It’s some­thing that I get a lot. That’s sort of the way that it is,” she says. “In [New­ton’s] de­fence, I ac­tu­ally think he was try­ing to be as po­lite and re­spect­ful as he could while just try­ing to get to the joke he was try­ing to make. As much as pos­si­ble, I’m al­ways go­ing to try and give peo­ple the ben­e­fit of the doubt and let things slide.”

In a story wor­thy of a rom- com, Car­land and Aly met when they were both 16 and a few years later he called her and asked her out, telling her they would make a good match. Her re­sponse was bru­tal: “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last per­son on Earth.”

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