Night everything went wrong for The Project
Taking the stage at the Logies a couple of weeks ago to accept The Project's award for Most Popular Panel or Current Affairs Program, Carrie Bickmore was in a reflective mood.
"I still remember our first episode - it was terrible," she said. "(Dave) Hughesy remarked at the end of it that was his career done. I remember thinking, sh*t, if that is what Hughesy is saying I have no hope."
Thankfully, Hughesy was wrong - The Project will this Friday celebrate 10 years on air. Speaking to Bickmore a few days after that memorable Logies speech, I was curious to know: Was episode one really that bad?
"Oh, mate. I'm not game enough to watch it back," Bickmore chuckled. "The first show was always going to be tricky - it was a completely new format, a completely new idea. I wasn't even convinced that our hosts knew what it was when we went to air.
"I don't think it was great. I think all of us were happy to get to night two and surprised we were given another night. To be here 10 years later is really cool."
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Bickmore said even after night one the show, then called The 7pm Project and with a pre-Hollywood Ruby Rose on the panel, "took a while to get its groove, to be honest".
"There were so many great elements to it from the beginning, but I think it took time, like most things, to get into a good rhythm. I don't remember at what point I thought, 'OK, we got this now', but it took a while."
And while helming several hours of live television a week would seem daunting for some, Bickmore said it's all she's ever known, having made her debut reading the news on Rove Live in 2006.
Indeed, asked to pick a favourite episode of The Project, she instantly nominates one night in which absolutely everything went wrong.
"About five minutes before we went to air - it was Fitzy, Waleed, Pete and I - they said 'We've lost everything. We've got no autocue, no packages to roll, we've got nothing'. We looked at each other and I said, 'Let's act out the news'.
"I picked up my sheet and went through the news headlines - I had to be careful not to pick ones where there was no joy in them - and we started acting them out. It was completely random, no prep, flying by the seat of our pants. It wasn't a slick performance, but it was live TV at its best."
That attitude towards the challenges of live TV may explain why Bickmore has stayed at The Project evenas other regulars - original co-hosts Hughes and Charlie Pickering - moved on.
"For a while I felt like people were saying to me, 'Why are you still there? They got other jobs, why haven't you?' I used to get upset because I had lots of great opportunities come my way, but I was choosing to stay because it was a brilliant job, the perfect job for my skill set, and I love it," she explained.
"I don't know how much longer I've got to go - I'm just thankful for the current scenario I'm in. I love it. It might not be right forever, but right now it's right. I'm actually really proud that I've been doing it for 10 years, and I'm the last remaining original. I'm proud of that!"
There was one big lure to stay, she said: her colleagues.
"I get to work with people who are bloody good at their job. I've worked with Pete (Helliar) since I was 25, and he's brilliant. He's one of the funniest people in this country, and I get to watch him do his thing every night. Then you've got Waleed (Aly) who's the master broadcaster - he's so calm and unflappable, which is such a helpful energy to sit next to in a live show when news is breaking. We're not that different in age, but he's got wiseness that … I don't know if I'll ever have," Bickmore laughed.
But there's one unwanted side effect to Gold Logie winner Bickmore's public profile: At times, she's been more newsmaker than newsreader, as the triumphs and tragedies of her personal life have become tabloid fodder.
Now a mum of three, having given birth to daughter Adelaide last December, she's always been open about her life away from The Project - returning from six months maternity leave last week, she said her time away had been "so incredibly hard" and made working on TV feel "easy" by comparison.
But still, seeing less-than-true stories about herself splashed across tabloid mags had taken some getting used to.
"I'll be honest, it's the bit I find really hard about the job," she says of the public scrutiny. "When I set out to become a journalist, all I really ever wanted to be was a newsreader on radio. I never wanted to be a celebrity, whatever that meant. It couldn't be further from the sort of person I am and what I'm good at dealing with," she admitted.
"I feel like I'm best when I just try and nail my job; the other stuff around it, I can't control. I used to get angry, but now I see it and laugh. I've become a lot more chilled out - having three kids does that. I don't have time to think about it anymore. I'm too busy changing nappies."