The golden girl of Australian television Carrie Bickmore is feeling a wee bit the goose. Weeks before the official launch of her range of fashion beanies to raise money for the cause closest to her heart, the much-loved TV presenter’s charitable foundation has all-but sold out of merchandise.
“It has been a quick lesson in business,” the host of Network Ten’s The Project admits with a wry laugh. “Because I thought no one would buy one, I significantly under-ordered. I have just had to put in a new order and try and back-date product. I’m like, OK, this is quite the experience.”
To be fair, becoming a beanie broker was not something the mother of two envisaged when she made her poignant and powerful speech accepting the 2015 Gold Logie for most popular personality on Australian television. Carrie captivated her peers attending the glittering industry event, and the watching nation when she used her acceptance speech to raise awareness of brain cancer.
Her voice catching with emotion, she explained how the insidious disease not only stole her husband Greg Lange, but kills more people under the age of 40 than any other cancer and more children than any other disease. And she described how her family was irrevocably changed by brain cancer when Greg died two days after Christmas 2010 at age 34.
“Over 10 years I watched him suffer multiple seizures a day, lose feeling down one side of his body, have his little three-year-old push him in his wheelchair because he couldn’t walk any more. He was an incredibly brave man … but he shouldn’t have had to go through that,” she said.
She concluded the speech by donning a blue beanie – just like the one Greg used to wear to hide the scars of multiple surgeries – and appealed to colleagues to do the same the next day. Instantly, Carrie’s #beanies4braincancer was trending on Twitter.
Between the glittering Paolo Sebastian gown and the incongruous headgear – the frock and the hard place – the three-time Logie winner had opened a window on her soul and the public, already adoring, loved her a little more. But it so nearly didn’t happen.
Two days before the Logies, a friend voiced what all the punters were saying. “He said, ‘You know you are favourite to win, have you got a speech ready?’,” the 35-year-old recalls. “It was only after I got off the phone I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I will have to say something’.
“So I sat there for an hour and I am, like, what am I going to talk about that is going to actually resonate with people? The brain cancer journey of Greg and I has shaped so much of my life. This [the Logie nomination] was about celebrating my work life, but my working life sat side by side a really challenging personal life.
“My life isn’t all hair and make-up and red carpets. There have been some very challenging moments and I wanted to let people know at home they are not alone in whatever their challenge is.
“The only reason I thought of the beanie was because I often think of Greg wearing one. So I called this factory about an hour and a half out of Melbourne and drove there and bought 100 beanies. I thought, if I don’t need them I will just give them to the homeless.” Carrie told no one of her plan except her immediate family and one friend from work. “I just kept it to myself really and, to be honest, I didn’t know if I would have the strength to do it. Even as they made the announcement all I could think was, ‘Do I take the beanie or not, do I take the beanie or not?’. But I am so glad I did because what has happened since has just completely blown my mind.”
Carrie was 19 and studying at Perth’s Curtin University when she met Greg. Enrolling in journalism was one of those sliding-door moments, after she turned down a scholarship to study dance at the urging of a careers adviser.
“At the time, the careers adviser saying ‘you will never make a career out of dance’ was probably an irresponsible thing to say because, one, she hadn’t seen me dance and, two, I don’t think you should ever tell somebody – even though their dream is big – that it is not possible.
“At the same time I am always glad she did tell me because the path my life has led has been incredibly rewarding,” says Carrie, who enjoyed the more glamorous side of the action hosting So You Think You Can Dance Australia (series four in 2010).
Born in Adelaide, Carrie moved to Perth at five with her mother Jennie following her parents’ divorce. Jennie, who would go on to become a highly regarded educator, remarried, raising Carrie along with her two elder stepsisters, Claud and Ash.
Carrie describes herself as “a bit of a dag” as a teen. “I was pretty conscientious. I did my homework and had it in on time and had assignments finished days before they needed to be. I know a lot of people assume I was incredibly outgoing at school, but I was a very different person to who I am now. I was very easily intimidated. I was intimidated by other girls who I am sure now were not terrifying, but in my mind were terrifying.”
With the same diligence she exhibited during her years at the Anglican all-girls school Perth College, Carrie applied herself to uni and, well before graduating in 2000, she had a gig at Perth radio station 92.9FM.
In 2001 Carrie and Greg moved to Melbourne where she joined Nova 100.3. Part of the motivation to move east was to be closer to her father Brian – a founding executive of Austereo and its longest-serving director until his retirement in 2004.
The young couple’s future looked bright, but within months Greg was diagnosed with a brain tumour – its shadow lengthening as it recurred after treatment.
“Greg would often say, ‘I just feel like there is no one that understands’. There wasn’t a brain cancer community that we, at least, could find or were tapped into.
“We didn’t know any other people who were in their 20s who were going through this stuff. People in their 20s are supposed to be partying, travelling the world and we just didn’t do any of that. We never knew what each six-month scan was going to bring. It was a completely different and an incredibly isolating experience, which bought us very close together but made life challenging in different ways. I was forced to grow up very quickly.”
Through it all Carrie worked, just as she had seen her mother (Dr Jennie Bickmore-Brand) work. “I grew up with my mum, who was contributing so much and working so hard and that was what I saw as the norm. Every night she would make dinner and clean up and I would see her in the study for two hours trying to complete her doctorate. I think it took her eight or nine years while raising three girls to complete. She never complained about it, just had her head down and bum up and did it.”
In 2005 Carrie and Greg married and in 2007 they welcomed their son Oliver, by which time the “laughing person’s newsreader” had already become a popular television presence on
Rove Live, while still working at Nova with Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek.
“I was working full-time, he [Greg] was going for treatment and we had our little boy and never knew quite what was around the corner,” she says. “We had a mortgage and it is not cheap to be sick. I often think I worked so incredibly hard, and whether that has helped me get where I am from a career perspective. But I wasn’t doing it from that motivation. Just working in this industry I was happy enough. And it was a great outlet as well.
“There were times when Greg would say to me, ‘I don’t want you to just sit by my bedside and watch me be sick’. He wanted me to have things to come home from work and tell him about, experiences and stuff.”
Greg lived to see his wife win her first Logie in 2010 for most popular new female talent for The 7pm Project – as The Project was originally known. In the hard years that followed, their son Oliver brought joy to her life. After Greg’s death came a new relationship with The Project producer Chris Walker and in February 2015 Carrie gave birth to their daughter Evie.
“I often read headlines about my new life and how I have moved forward and it amuses me, because anyone who has suffered grief will tell you it is not like that,” she says.
“Grief is a really tricky thing; it is a very fluid thing and I don’t think there is ever any end point to it. But I’m OK with that. I can’t imagine it any other way. My past will always be with me, it shaped who I am today and I wouldn’t want a world where Greg wasn’t part of it. I look at my son and I see Greg. He is very much like him in different ways.
“At the same time I am also very aware that I don’t want Ollie’s life to be heavy. I want it to still have the lightness of childhood. He was obviously dealt an extremely tough card very early on and I look at him now and I am so incredibly proud of who he is.”
Now, on top of the demands of a high-profile job, the needs of her family and the pressure, as ambassador for beauty brand Garnier, to look good even when she steps out on a school run, there’s the business of the beanies. Even before her latest order of beanies (available at the end of July) Carrie had reached almost $800,000 of her $1 million fundraising target through her BrainBeats concert and public donations. She has presented the first $250,000 grant to the Royal Melbourne Hospital Neuroscience Foundation towards developing a blood test for brain cancer.
But in this particular battle there is still a very long way to go.