Saturday, 22 February 2014
Westfields, Pitt Street Mall, Sydney. February 3rd, 2011. It was an incredibly humid Wednesday, and the mall was chock-full of screaming teenaged girls. Inside one of the Westfields corporate offices, in various states of undress while minders powdered their noses and wired them for sound, were a pair of impossibly tall, bronzed blondes, Sarah Murdoch and Charlotte Dawson, the hosts of Australia’s Next Top Model.
Charlotte was the first to speak to me, her eyes wide as she towered over me in designer heels. “Isn’t this just fucking insane?” She was exploding with what I assessed to be practiced enthusiasm. I suppose she thought I might be like one of those Perez Hilton-style reporters. I played along.
Sarah hung back, discreetly gauging my banter with Charlotte as she pulled up the neckline of her dress.
She’s the smart one.
When she came over, she spared me the salacious sound bites and gave me the considered conversation I was looking for.
Charlotte, meanwhile, stayed in the game. Her spirit never waned, jumping in with acerbic one-liners that informed years of experience, pain, and the ability to deal with it all with a little humour. I decided she wasn’t acting after all — it’s just her way of being honest in a deeply political industry. And hey, who doesn’t like a woman who can swear like a sailor?
I still have that encounter saved on my voice recorder. Listening to it now, you can already hear the signs of a vulnerable personality. Maybe that’s an easy thing to say in hindsight, but the tragedy that Charlotte took her own life today has a slightly different dimension for me.
I don’t claim to have known her very well. I only interviewed her once more after that and sat in on a couple of photo shoots and recordings.
But listening to her voice now, knowing the fate she met with, I realise that the honesty and confidence she projected was entirely her own creation; and what I’d initially taken for shallowness may have been a sign of genuine self doubt.
Well, that’s the only way I can rationalise the way she reacted to public abuse over Twitter.
By all accounts, after distancing herself from the television show and her agency, she was trying to get her life back together alone. It’s such a shame nobody reached out to offer help. Or maybe they did, but didn’t insist hard enough.
Friends in need, indeed.
Rest in peace, Charlotte.