“Tired, generous and (quietly) ferocious” is how one of Australia’s most beloved media personalities Kate Ritchie describes herself. In person, she’s strikingly beautiful, down-to-earth, intelligent and instantly likeable...
The actor, author, radio presenter and mother has been in the spotlight ever since she was a child, spending over twenty years playing the character of Sally Fletcher on the television soap opera Home and Away. With two Gold Logie awards under her belt, the brunette glamour has since moved onto radio presenting (she’s one of the witty hosts on Nova’s National drive show with Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold) and also embarked on her greatest adventure yet: motherhood.
Her daughter Mae arrived back in August 2014. “It was only this week I found myself trawling through photos of the moment I first met Mae and attempting to describe it to my expecting sister. No words will ever translate what my entire being felt at that time. What I do know is that despite a small sense of relief that the job was done – unfortunately or fortunately I will never feel anything quite like it in my life again. It was awesome, in the very true sense of the word,” says Ritchie. It was during her pregnancy, waiting for her daughter Mae to arrive, that Ritchie was inspired to write her first children’s book, I Just Couldn’t Wait To Meet You, a heartwarming story which captures the joy and anticipation of expecting a child. Illustrated by Hannah Sommerville, it’s a must-read for children and parents.
We caught up with Ritchie to talk about her career, what the year ahead holds and how motherhood has changed her life for the better.
What has motherhood taught you?
Motherhood has challenged and changed everything I have felt and known prior to my daughter arriving. About the world and about me. I sometimes feel as though I am now on the outside of the world looking in – rather than being carried along by it. On a practical note, it has taught me I can no longer control everything, especially when it comes to my schedule. That is tough for someone who was trained to live by one from the age of eight and who has taken great comfort in that.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Just sit tight… things will come. Oh, and just because you’re not invited to all the cool parties or not named the prettiest girl in Summer Bay doesn’t mean you’re not great. In fact, one day you’ll be glad you missed out on all of the above.
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
She’ll hate me listing this first but she sure did teach me to make a mean bed thanks to her strict/somewhat awful boarding school upbringing! I think she also taught me to be humble to a fault. And as far as parenthood is concerned both mum and dad taught me that you don’t need everything the eye can see. Love and a whole lot of lawn did us fine.
What’s your most vivid memory of your time spent acting on Home and Away? What will you tell Mae about that time in your life?
What I remember most clearly and what I continue to carry with me is a very warm sense of family. A feeling of security that I miss to this day and a basic joy of doing something I absolutely loved. It can be tricky to explain to people the sentimental attachment I have to Home and Away without sounding somewhat tragic and unstable! I have often likened it to an old boyfriend. Not one of mine in particular… but an old flame that you knew you just had to leave. Not because you didn’t love them but because you weren’t growing together anymore. Someone you continue to hold in your heart no matter how many years pass… sigh. It’s okay to remember them fondly (and maybe even love them from afar) but it’s probably best for everyone involved that you never go there again.
In relation to Mae, I do wonder whether she will be inquisitive about my career. What I did before she came along and whether she will ask questions or want to see the old episodes I have on VHS! I don’t think she will ever understand the enormity of it or what it means to me but nor should she be expected to. I have often marvelled at the fact that she is pretty much the only person who has come into my life who doesn’t have some kind of preconceived idea of who I am. She knows nothing of my history. My past triumphs or tribulations and she absolutely adores me regardless. She loves me purely because I am her mummy. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s wonderful.
What’s the most challenging part of acting and how have you overcome any challenges?
For me, I don’t believe there are any great challenges that come from acting. It’s an incredible job if you’re given the opportunity to do it. It’s the other elements that live on the sideline that are the real challenges.
How would you describe the differences between acting and radio?
Despite the fact that I feel you are playing a role in both fields, when it comes to acting you can hide a great deal more. You are told what to say and most of the time, where to stand. In radio, certainly for our show, there is no script and there is nowhere to hide. It’s spontaneous and exciting and for the most part hilarious but it is also gone in a second and before you know it you have moved on to the next thing, the next break, the next ridiculous story. I miss the reflection you are allowed in acting. I miss an entire production working towards something that you can eventually stand back and admire/pull apart! The greatest skill radio taught me though (when I first left Home and Away and joined Merrick and Rosso back in 2008) was to find my own voice and that was an incredibly important thing at that time in my life.
As a young child, do you think your parents knew you’d be an actor? How did they support your acting career?
No, not at all. They wanted me to be confident and have a hobby that I enjoyed. My parents have always been so very supportive of my career but in the very early days they also threatened me it would all be over if my school grades suffered. It was the best way they could have ever navigated me through those years because it taught me that being on the television was not the be all and end all.
Did your career change after you became a mother? Were you more or less ambitious? How did you feel about work after Mae arrived?
I think becoming a mother had a big impact on my priorities generally. I don’t think it made me less ambitious or determined but it altered the reasons for being so. At times you can feel as though work is the thing that keeps you from being the mother you want to be – but it is important to gently remind yourself that in some ways your work also allows you to be the mother you want to be.
What have been some of your biggest career highlights to date?
I’ve been lucky enough to have many but if I had to choose a couple I would most definitely say receiving an AFI nomination for my role as Judy Kane in Underbelly:The Tale Of Two Cities and only recently Kate, Tim & Marty took out the Best On Air Team award at the ACRA’s. Both determined by the industry and both achievements that personally and professionally have redefined me.
Can you tell us what inspired your beautiful book ‘I just couldn’t wait to meet you’ – and how does it feel now reading it to Mae?
Put simply, the impending arrival of my first child was what inspired I Just Couldn’t Wait To Meet You. It began as a series of scribbled notes on loose pieces of paper. Questions and feelings of excitement and fear. I hoped that if I wrote down some of my inner dialogue it might silence it a little – or at least quieten and calm it. From there, those notes evolved into a letter of sorts and after that – the book it is today. We have two copies of it at home. The first copy I was sent when I officially became a ‘published author’. This will be the one I keep for Mae. Then there is the copy with the ripped cover and the food stains which is reserved for bedtime storytelling. It is lovely to have Mae point out her Mummy and Daddy and even herself throughout the pages. It makes me very proud. I may never have completely filled out her ‘Baby Book’ but I did write her one which I am sure I will remind her of when she becomes a petulant teenager somewhere down the track!
Can you tell us about being pregnant with Mae – did you enjoy pregnancy?
I enjoyed the wonder of it and I enjoyed that incredible closeness. I didn’t enjoy the itchy skin or my piggy little hooves.
What do you love most about radio hosting?
There is a lot to love about it but I have to admit, as a mother, I love that it enables me to have a creative outlet every day of the week but also allows me to fulfill other passions (which for the most part is being with Mae) and explore other work avenues.
What does the year ahead hold for you?
What I do know is that 2017 will see me heading back in to the Nova studio with Tim and Marty. Everything else is unknown. I am continuing to write and have my fingers crossed for a stint back on the small screen. I will keep you posted.
How do you juggle motherhood with work – what are your time management tips?
I find the minutes before the entire house is awake are the most valuable and productive so I do try to get myself out of bed early and head down to my home office with a cup of tea. If I can at the very least reply to some emails and start sending through material for our show that afternoon before the sun is up then I am a much happier and present camper. On the average day I can work from home (I have to admit the working-from-home part is still a work-in-progress) up until lunchtime. Mae is yet to go to daycare so our mornings are often full of activities such as music, swimming and gymnastics! Her schedule has given me a new found appreciation for my parents’ running around after four of us. It can be exhausting but it the most rewarding ‘exhausting’ I have ever known and I also know how very lucky I am to be able to juggle both work and home reasonably well for now.
How do you deal with ‘mother’s guilt’?
Shut my eyes tightly, count to ten and hope like hell it goes away quietly. When that fails miserably I try to remind myself that if Mae were mature enough to understand she wouldn’t want me spending the precious times I have with her feeling guilty about the times I am not. Guilt of that description is so heavy and wasteful. Don’t let it win.
What’s your favourite way to relax at home?
I love to cook and I really love to be in the garden. How very rockstar of me.
How do you treat yourself?
Scotch on the rocks. Having the car washed. Buying new underwear.
What makes you really laugh?
When someone manages to shock me. Usually it’s highly inappropriate and not fit to print.
What kind of role model do you want to be for your daughter?
Wow. Umm. I want to be a woman who receives respect without having to demand it but who is also confident enough to do so if the situation calls for it. And I want to teach her, above all, that she can be big without having to make others feel small.
Kate wears Lisa Marie Fernandez dress, $1015, from Pam Pam Swim. Mae wears Peggy dress, $84.95 and Atelier/Child cardigan, $46.64
Kate in a flash:
Coffee or tea: A daily coffee, which I often don’t enjoy and don’t know why I persist. Nothing beats a pot of tea though. It reminds me of the old lady that lived over the back fence where I grew up and the Fletcher house kitchen.
Typical breakfast: A smear of vegemite from the highchair or a dollop of cold weetbix from the office floor!
On your bedside table you’ll find: An art deco wooden jewellery box which was a gift many years ago. Beside that – a watch I still haven’t changed to daylight savings time, an old cup of tea, a dummy and some hairbands. Gone are the days of freshly cut flowers and a burning candle!
Exercise of choice: Pilates
Book you’re currently reading: I have just put down This House Of Grief by Helen Garner. It’s gut wrenching so pick your timing well.
Heels or flats: Flats unless absolutely necessary.
Sunglasses: I have a few pairs right now – Prada, Celine and Ray-Ban. All homeless and scratched within an inch of their lives. And a hot new pair by Salvatore Ferragamo, which I am keeping out of little hands reach… For now.
Pram of choice: Britax and the Baby Jogger City Elite.
Dream travel destination: At home I adore WA, it has a perfect combination of ruggedness and beauty and away I’d have to say the Amalfi Coast. On my travel ‘to do’ list though are Queenstown and sailing the Whitsundays… Some time soon please.
3 Instagram accounts we should follow: @jlo for a little bit of hot celebrity; @queens_over_bitches not sure who this person is or how I started following them but they sure do make me laugh out loud sometimes! And I always suggest something beautiful to fill your screen like florists or stationers. My picks are @theartyhearts and @summersfloral for beautiful blooms and because I’m currently in the market for wallpaper @cole_and_son_wallpapers for British luxe.