Up close and personal with Rebecca Maddern

rebecca maddern

Critiqued as much as celebrated when she became the first woman to front the AFL Footy Show, Rebecca Maddern is learning to accept her role as a trailblazer and back herself. Editor Rebecca Long caught up with Maddern and talked about everything from childhood, career to personal goals, and more.

One of the first recollections I have is where I’m sitting in a milky white bath of Pinetarsol because I had the chicken pox. How things have changed, there’s a vaccine for chicken pox now! The second memory, I think I was about four years of age. I was riding in the back of the car with my brother, who was about 12. It was fairly late on Christmas Eve and I was falling asleep in the back seat. My brother nudged me and said “Becky, wake up! I just saw Santa Claus and his sleigh.” I looked up into the night sky and yes, I was too late. I had just missed Santa beginning his present delivery run by seconds. I learnt at a young age that timing is everything.

“I understand that this was a significant step for women in sport and the media. If I have improved the opportunities for women or young girls in sport and/ or the media, then I’m completely humbled.”

I grew up in a Brady Bunch style family with two brothers and three step-brothers. I was the youngest. I was independent and pretty strong-willed – being the only girl you had to be. I grew up on a farm and hard work and early mornings were just part of life. I had horses and they required looking after seven days a week, 365 days a year. I rode competitively, so I experienced winning and losing very early on. The hard work and practice behind the scenes in competitive horse riding apply to my adult work life today. I think I learned very early on that if you are going to perform and be good at something, you have to prepare. Preparation is key.

The word ‘trailblazer’ is something that I never would have thought would be used in the same sentence as my name. When I joined the AFL Footy Show, because I was the first female, there were many articles written about how I was breaking new ground. I can understand why the word was used, but I’ve never really set out to be a trailblazer. However, in saying that, I understand that this was a significant step for women in sport and the media. If I have improved in any way, shape or form the opportunities for women or young girls in sport and/or the media, then I’m completely humbled.

I was blown away by the positivity that surrounded my appointment and overwhelmed by the amount of women who made a point to stop me in the street and tell me how proud they were of me. Complete strangers – how lovely is that? The days before my first show there was much discussion on radio, online and in newspapers about how I would go. I actually thought this was rather amusing, all of these people talking about me, someone who they had never met. How could I take that seriously when they were only hypothesising? I hadn’t done anything yet! That’s not to say it didn’t add to the pressure of my first show though. I felt like I had so much to prove on that first night, but at the end of the day though, I could only do what I’ve done my entire career, prepare and be professional.

I’ve never really set myself professional goals because I believe in our industry, to some degree, your career path is out of your hands. I’ve seen wonderfully talented people get sacked, have their shows cancelled through no fault of their own, so I just remain flexible enough to have to the attitude of ‘I’ll see what happens’. I started as a news reporter and learnt everything I know today because of that job.

I also have my husband to thank for my role on the Footy Show. He’s more of a risk taker than me and if it wasn’t for him, I would probably still be deciding if moving networks and taking on this new role would be a good thing to do.

The experience has given me a new found respect for people who are at their top of their game in any profession – sports people, CEOs… I cut people a lot more slack than I used to. It’s hard to perform under pressure and be judged by the public, who have never been in similar situations. People make mistakes, people say the wrong things, but at the end of the day most of us are just trying to do our best, pay our bills and enjoy life. I think it’s good to remember that.

“I don’t play a character or try to act like someone else. The only thing I think is a little deceiving is the visual image I portray.”

The Footy Show is a magnet for discussion and criticism and that’s certainly not a complaint. Unlike other scripted shows on TV, our show is very much live and fluid. Our number one aim is to deliver edgy TV that pushes the boundaries. What comes with that is continuous judgement about our show and in turn, judgement about me. It ranges from criticism about how a woman shouldn’t even be on the Footy Show to comments about my clothes, hair, what I say, the list goes on. I used to care what people said about me a lot more than I do now. I’ve come to realise that you can’t please everybody and not everybody is going to like me. I often think back to ‘that dress’ that was posted online and the entire world was divided on what colour it was – black with blue, gold and blue or was it different shades of gold? Well, that just proves that many people see and interpret things differently.

Because of the format of our show, being unscripted and live for two hours, you can’t really pretend to be someone else. I’m pretty much me on our show and I don’t play a character or try to act like someone else. The only thing I think is a little deceiving is the visual image I portray. I obviously have hair and make-up and I have a stylist who chooses some amazing outfits for me to wear every week. I’d like people to know that in real life I’m far more casual than that and live a pretty low key life. I’d rather be at the footy in my jeans or enjoying a walk on the beach or having a BBQ than at fancy parties or events.

I have no idea how I’m perceived. Am I a martini or a beer kind of girl? I love both, so there you go. There are two things that people regularly say to me after meeting me. Firstly, they tell me that I’m smaller than I look on TV and secondly, they remark that I’m really normal. I’m pretty happy with that!

I used to be ‘on’ all the time and travel for work a lot and it got to a point where I was thinking about work so often that I forgot to enjoy the things I love. I have now found the ‘off’ button and really make time to do nothing or just do the things I love to do. My husband has noticed a huge change in me. He says I laugh all the time now, really belly laugh. It feels good.

Hearing my personal elevator pitch might be just as boring as listening to the elevator music. I’ll give it a go – friendly, hard working, loving, open, a little crazy but good crazy, loyal. Oh look we’ve reached floor 12, that’s enough.

If I could try on a different identity, I’d love to be a hippie – just float through life with not a care in the world. To place less emphasis on material things and appreciate the natural things would be bliss for a little while.

Social media is tricky. I absolutely think it should be real, but I like to keep my private life for the most part, private. Therein lies the problem. I mostly use it for work purposes or to promote the charities I’m involved in, but I also like to let people see what interests me as well. Occasionally, you’ll see my husband or family members, but not that often. My social media is not an online diary of my life though. I like to enjoy the moment and not worry about posting about it. It’s important to remember that just because it didn’t appear on your social media account, it still happened and you had a good time!

Working with Sam Neman in particular has taught me a lot – be true to yourself, and say and think what you believe in. Discussion and debate is good for society, it’s what evokes change. My core value is honesty and I believe that if you make a mistake, you apologise.

My toughest public moment was hearing the Footy Show theme music and walking up the stairs and onto the stage on my first night to host the show. My mind went blank, my mouth was devoid of saliva and I was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I felt like nothing I’d done in my career mattered to that point and that my longevity in the industry all hinged on the first 10 minutes of that show. If it went badly, I would have considered moving overseas and hiding for the rest of my life.

I’ve never had the need to find myself, maybe because I’m too scared about what I’ll find. I definitely fall into the camp of creating yourself. That’s one of the greatest things about being a human being; you do and say whatever you want – it’s all up to you. You ‘make’ you. My recipe for that is to take risks professionally and find a wonderful supportive partner to share this wonderful life with.

“My core value is honesty and I believe that if you make a mistake, you apologise.”

I’ve never broken up with a friend and I think it’s quite odd when I hear stories about how people have known someone for 20 years and then they never speak to them again. I’ve had my friends for a very long time. Two of my closest friends I’ve had since grade four and the other two I’ve known since I was 18. They’d probably say I’m busy, loyal, a little bit funny, a little bit crazy and I’m hoping they say I’m supportive and thoughtful. My friendships aren’t complicated – there are never any dramas. They are just fun and they know I’ll always be there for them and vice versa.

In love, I’m somewhere between postmodern independence and hopeless romantic. I like romance but not soppy predictable things. My husband is really big on cards and now I always look forward to the cards he gives to me on birthdays or anniversaries because he writes such sweet things. We have completely different personalities but we are a perfect match – I love him.

My biggest personal challenge would be going through a divorce. It’s an incredibly sad time, almost like mourning. I don’t talk about it out of respect, it’s private.

I went to a religious school so I certainly believe there is something greater than us. It’s good to believe in something or someone in a higher place, it puts things into perspective.

The greatest challenge of our time is food shortage. Half the world throws out just as much food as they eat, yet everyday people are starving somewhere in the world. It’s cruel and unfair and I know we could fix it.

I hope people will remember me as bold, honest, kind and respectful despite my sometimes potty mouth.

Rebecca Maddern is co-host of Channel 9’s AFL Footy Show.

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