Joh of all trades
From swimmer to sports presenter to TV show host and renovation queen. Johanna Griggs has proved herself the master of career renovation.
JOHANNA Griggs was just a teenager when she burst into the public eye as a champion swimmer with bronze at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. At 19, after a battle with chronic fatigue syndrome and a long comeback, she swam the fastest 50m women’s backstroke in the world for 1993, hit the wall, and knew she had no more to give as a swimmer.
“It had been so tough to get back to that point. I knew I couldn’t do it for a job anymore. I made the Australian team, but I retired the next day,” Griggs says.
The following day she had job offers from three different TV networks, and went with Seven.
More than two decades on, she presides over one of Australia’s most popular reality shows House
Rules and the long-running lifestyle program Better Homes and Gardens. On the eve of a new season of
House Rules, Griggs, 41, relives some of the high points and the hats she has worn over those 22 years on the box … and one she’d prefer to forget.
1 SPORTS REPORTER
“SEVEN offered me work as a sports presenter and I was bloody awful for a long time. In hindsight that’s been a blessing in disguise, but it was tough,” Griggs says. “I might make mistakes but I’ll never make them twice, but it was that constant battle of having to think on your feet. It was a great, but brutal way to learn because you were doing it in the public eye and copping criticism left, right and centre but at the same time you learn to swim pretty quickly. “The first gig was as Seven sports newsreader in Sydney. I did Bathurst and then I got put on the tennis. And it was live, I’d start saying something then start again and realise I couldn’t. There were several ‘don’t ever do that again’ moments.
“I hosted Sportsworld with Matthew White on Sundays from 2001 to 2006.
“That was an absolute ripper of a time. If you love sport – and I do – that’s the perfect show.”
“HOSTING five Olympics [summer and winter] and becoming the first female solo host of an Olympic Games [the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City] is another highlight.
“I did Sydney Olympics Sunrise [with Andrew Daddo], then hosted Salt Lake City solo, then went up until Beijing.
“Seven has the Olympics back next year, so I’m hoping I get a gig for Rio.”
3 HOME AND AWAY
THIS is the gig Griggs tried desperately to keep secret – and succeeded – for more than 20 years – her portrayal of a Swedish backpacker in long-running soap Home and
Away as a 17-year-old. “I was still swimming and modelling at the time … and that was just a gig that came up,” Griggs says. “I did it, knew how bad it was and decided I didn’t want to be an actor.
“Part of my early negotiations with Seven was I was to have every copy in existence of that appearance in my possession.
“I managed to keep a lid on it for 22 years and it wasn’t until they started playing Home and Away repeats that somebody worked it out.
“The Seven publicity department rang me and said people were asking if I’d ever been on Home and Away and they’d automatically said it wasn’t true. I just burst out laughing and went, ‘ Well here’s a fun fact… it’s true. And it’s bad’.
“We all agreed to throw me under the bus because it’s so hilarious.”
4 BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS
“I HAD a break with the kids and came back to Seven to do sport, but they asked what else I like doing, and renovating was it. Auction
Squad evolved out of that and was great fun for four years, and House
Calls to the Rescue was next. “Then Noni Hazelhurst (former BHAG host) was going back to acting and I got offered the BHAG gig in 2005. At first I thought it was daggy, but we changed it up a bit and we all adore the show.
“We only have people who genuinely believe in it and feel like it’s a bit of a gift to work on it.”
5 HOUSE RULES
“WE’RE already shooting series four of House Rules as we wrap up series three, so it’s all a bit crazy. I always get asked if audiences are suffering renovation fatigue. Well I’ve been hearing that for almost 20 years now.
“I’ve worked solidly for 15 years on them so they seem to have a market, and a place with viewers. There’s plenty of them on air, the same as cooking shows, but at the moment they still seem to be keeping up interest.
“I still have an appetite for it on television and outside – it’s my life away from television as well, so I’d be a hypocrite if I was over it because we live and breathe it 24/7.”
HOUSE RULES TUESDAY, 7.30PM, SEVEN
Brilliant career: Clockwise from above, with Matthew White on Sportsworld; in Torino for the Winter Olympics; as a Swedish backpacker on Home andAway; and with Dr Harry on BetterHomesandGardens.