She’s been heavily criticised in the media and vilified by just about every armchair TV critic with access to a mobile phone and a computer. But you won’t hear her complaining. In fact you won’t hear Gretel Killeen say a bad word about anyone.
When I told my friends that I would be interviewing Gretel Killeen this week, no mention was made of her most recent TV appearance as host of the Logies, or the years she spent as the host of Big Brother. Instead, the conversation that ensued focused on her comedic talent and her abilities as a strong role model for women, particularly working mothers. Although not a representative survey by any means, I’m not surprised by this response – I have long suspected that this hard working single mother of two, has at least as many fans as she does critics.
Perhaps it is her ability to withstand a barrage of criticism time and time again, without sinking to the level of the lowest common denominator as her fiercest critics have done, that has earned Gretel Killeen the respect and admiration of both sexes. But we will never know how much the vilification of Gretel has hurt her, as in the public sphere at least, she is always smiling. Even her recently released memoir, The Night My Bum Dropped, offers very little in the way of insight. Described as ‘a gleefully exaggerated memoir’, Gretel’s latest book entertains much more than it informs.
When asked why she didn’t write a straight memoir, Gretel Killeen told Australian Women Online, “I think there is a line that needs to be drawn between your right to write about your own life and your right to discuss the lives of other people. Just because people are in your life it doesn’t mean you have access to open their lives up to public scrutiny.”
In an attempt to protect the privacy of family and friends, Gretel created pseudonyms and omitted all other identifying information from The Night My Bum Dropped. In the book she affectionately refers to her children as ‘Frog’ and ‘Tadpole’. Unfortunately, all her efforts came to nought last week when a journalist writing for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend Magazine, published the names of her two children in a brief but revealing biography of the author.
Gretel also expressed her concerns about the ways in which the media often distorts the public’s perception of celebrities – and much of what appears on the pages of her book, more closely resembles the everyday challenges faced by women, than the surreal life of a celebrity.
“I think people who are in the public eye are presented as somehow different to everybody else and that sets an unnatural benchmark for people who are leading day-to-day existences because they compare themselves to high profile people, when the fact is that a lot of those images are fictitious,” said Gretel. “I wanted to protect everybody but still get to the truth of motherhood and singledom and being a female. I wanted to entertain, but also to share that sentiment that life gets hard for all us.”
It must also be remembered that at the time when Gretel Killeen was hosting Big Brother she was also raising two children by herself – which goes along way to explaining why she has remained relatively unaffected by the fame and notoriety.
“I couldn’t concentrate on the accessories of being in the public eye. It was more important to me to be at home helping my kids with their homework, cooking their meals and being with them.”
So if you were hoping just to get some behind-the-scenes gossip about Big Brother, The Night My Bum Dropped will surely disappoint. The closest thing you’ll find to Big Brother in this book is some references to a fictitious TV program Gretel calls Loopy Cupid.
“I didn’t write about Big Brother at all and none of what I wrote about [Loopy Cupid] ever happened. I’ve worked on a lot of television shows over the years and I just wanted to write about the ridiculousness of [television] and the camaraderie,” said Gretel. “Big Brother was a great show to work on and there’s no way in the world I would want to criticise it. So I just decided to stay completely clear of it.”
In her latest book, Gretel Killeen makes light of the public perception that she is an unemployed ‘has been’. But the truth is in the eighteen months since she left Big Brother, Gretel has traveled to 13 countries, played the narrator in the theatre production of the Rocky Horror Show, written two books and started a third, written a film and is currently writing a dance.
“I certainly haven’t been wallowing since Big Brother finished,” she said. “Sometimes people think that if you’re not on television and they can’t actually see you, then you’re doing nothing.”
Despite her numerous television appearances, Gretel says she’s first and foremost a writer. “I’ve always written. Writing has launched my whole career – I wrote my stand-up, I wrote comedy for radio and television and I got into voice-overs that way. So to be able to go back to it now that my kids are older is fantastic and luxurious because I can travel and write at the same time – and I don’t have to put on all that make-up.”
The author of more than twenty books, including books for children, her next book due for release is a love story for teenagers and she is hard at work on a sequel to The Night My Bum Dropped.
“I’m faithful to writing because writing has been good to me. I think it’s really important that if you have any sort of ability to spend the time to pursue it.”