Chrissie Swan never takes it for granted that she has a rewarding life. Work, family, a legion of supporters that catapulted her to a Logie Award -all of it took off after just being herself in Big Brother.
But it’s also the result of considerable hard work for the former copywriter, including in regional radio.
“I love radio, and I love television as well. I’m so fortunate to even be able to say that sentence, and none of it is lost on me. I can’t believe I’m back on television. I never thought it would happen.
“I remember having a really solemn discussion with Chris, my partner, when I decided that I couldn’t do The Circle anymore. I said to him ‘I need to accept that I may never work in television again, this is it for me.’ Because I loved it so much but I had to make that decision.
“I could have chosen fun over my once in a lifetime obligation to be a mother. You never get it again. So I had to swing from that vine, knowing that vine may not ever be there again.
“To be offered Can of Worms with (producer) Andrew Denton in the only format in Australia that’s as close to a chat show as we can get, was too much. I couldn’t believe it.”
When Swan left The Circle to return to radio many questioned her move, including how a Breakfast radio role could equate to more family time. Like it or not, Swan has learned that there are many who are quick to comment on her personal life versus her professional life.
“If anybody in the public eye lived according to what people think, we’d never leave the house. Particularly women in the media,” she said.
“I’ve done half my job before my kids have even woken up.
“I even had comments from Derryn Hinch saying that breakfast radio was harder and longer hours than morning television. And I’m like ‘Dude, raise 2 kids, do breakfast radio and do morning television and then come back to me.’ What on earth would he know? It doesn’t make any sense for him to be judging me on that.
“My kids don’t wake up until 7:30 and I am an hour and a half away from home at that stage when they wake up.”
Indeed earlier this year she was at the centre of headlines after a magazine story on her family resulted in social media bullying. With popularity in the media there is also a downside, but she ignores the white noise.
“It wouldn’t matter what the facts are. They don’t want to hear it. So eventually you just have to go, ‘Think what you want to think,’” she insists.
“It’s a very, very small amount of people who want to be hateful, angry and weird. So it doesn’t make any sense for me to give them a lot of energy when the vast amount of people just want to watch a bit of telly and listen to a bit of radio and let you do your job.
“People’s relationship with me is via the radio and television so to them that’s all I have, that’s all I do but it’s only 3 hours of my day. I’m in the world 16 hours a day so while it’s brilliant and I love it and I’m really fortunate to have that line of work, it’s only a sliver of what I’m about.
“I think it’s dangerous for people in the media to not have a big life outside of what they do. That’s when you get all your worth and self-esteem from strangers and that’s dangerous, but also intoxicating. It’s easy to fall into that ‘If I’m not on television, I’m nothing’ mentality. But I don’t have it.”
Leaving The Circle was a huge loss to the show, and many would argue it never really recovered. But if many weighed into the debate about whether she should have resigned, it is undoubtedly a response to her net worth to the show.
As if to add clarity to her decision once and for all she adds, “My real life is at home with my kids. That’s actually who I am. I work so that I can pay the mortgage because I’m the bread winner.
“I want to work as little as possible because my family is young, so that’s what I’m doing. Everything else can go on around me. I don’t care about scandals, I don’t care about what people think, I don’t care if people are questioning my decisions because I know the facts. All the decisions I’ve made mean I’m home as much as possible with my kids. They see more of me than 99% of kids with working mothers. And for me, that’s what I want. The kids are fine with a working mum, but I want to be with them so I have engineered this life so that I have a roof over our heads and get home as soon as I can.”
Now as host of Can of Worms, Swan is revelling in the role, despite the demanding schedule that sees her fly to Sydney each week for recordings and a late-night flight back to Melbourne. On those occasions she manages just 3 hours sleep before radio.
But she loves the opportunity and the conversations on the TEN series.
“Sometimes I forget I’m on the telly and that it’s a show because I just love learning about those people. They’re so interesting and brave and not hiding behind a product they’ve got to plug,” she says.
Swan was given the hosting role after Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson stepped aside late last year. After some concerns about moments in the first season (notably one involving John Elliott), she admits to wanting some assurances the show wouldn’t be resorting to cheap gags from controversial topics.
“It was made very clear to me at the start of the second season that’s not what the show is about,” she says.
“The more I go on, it is what it is, which is a discussion. People have different opinions but we’ll never get into racism, homophobia, sexism on purpose. It’s not about headlines.
“It would be a shame to sensationalise something like Can of Worms when it has so many fantastic things about it.”
Ratings for the series have been challenged, albeit as TEN struggles with broader issues. Swan is happy with her performance, preferring good word of mouth on an average rating show, than bad word of mouth on a hit show.
While producers drive the topics, Swan inputs into the wording of the ‘worms.’
“There have been a few that have come up that I’ve gone, ‘Ugh, really?’ like ‘Is it ok to laugh at Paralympics?’ I thought, ‘Where did that come from? Who on earth is going to say it’s ever ok to laugh at the Paralympics?’
“But we beefed it up with some Paralympians and had a really interesting conversation about respect and acknowledgement and visibility. A lot of them were saying they like it when jokes are made because it makes them just like fat people, black people, women, gay people and everyone else that we make jokes about. It’s all about context. And as long as there’s not a sting in the tail.”
Scheduling notwithstanding, Swan says she would also be happy to host the show live to air.
“I’d be open to it because I only know live in television and radio. So that’d be fine with me.”
Lastly, I am keen to know if she is following Nine’s broadcast of Big Brother, the show she entered to surprise her circle of friends. It’s an unabashed, ‘yes.’
“I adore it!,” she gushed.
“When it started I thought ‘I don’t have the time to commit, so I will have to watch the catch-up sessions on GO!’ but look at me! It’s on every night, we watch it. Me and ‘Chips’ are fully across it, I’ve got changing favourites, I’m like the soothsayer with who is going to go?”
Chrissie Swan is still a TV fan at heart.
Can of Worms airs 8:30pm Mondays on TEN with guests Deborra-Lee Furness, Tom Gleeson and Natasha Exelby.