ENTERTAINMENT

At home with The Living Room host Amanda Keller

The TV and radio star gets candid about battling the lockdown blues and ageing – and reveals her plans for a family Christmas reunion.
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Hilarious, warm, cheeky and as straight-talking as they come, Amanda Keller is the ultimate anti-diva. Despite being a fixture on both our screens and airwaves for more than three decades – including her current co-host roles on both 101.7 WSFM’s Jonesy & Amanda in the Morning and Network 10’s The Living Room – the media stalwart remains refreshingly unaffected and down to earth.

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In a frank – and frankly, very funny – chat, the Brisbane-born media personality opens up to WHO about her COVID war wounds, battling the empty-nest blues, Christmas plans and her attitude towards ageing as she approaches the big 6-0.

Breakfast radio is notoriously cutthroat. How have you managed to stay at the top for the past 16 years?  

It’s interesting, especially at this time of year when contracts are renewed (or not!) and it’s tense for some. I think a big part of it is just being consistent. Particularly during lockdown, we were here every day and so many listeners got in touch saying, “Thank you for helping me to get through that.” As humans, we’re all it together and I felt like it was a real privilege to be on air during what was a very strange time. We’re here for listeners during their best and their worst moments – that’s what I love about the job.  

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Amanda Keller at home in Sydney. (Credit: Photographed for WHO by Phillip Castleton.)

You’re very candid about your day-to-day life on air. Have you always been comfortable about being so open? 

When I first started on the radio, I found it really hard to talk about my personal life. Also, I thought, “Who gives a rat’s arse about my life?” But I have come to see it as a big part of the job, particularly in breakfast radio. People connect with you and they say they feel like I’m their friend. When the kids were little I could say anything about them, but it’s harder now that they’re older. I’ll ask their permission to tell a story, but it’s not as easy to talk about them as it used to be.  

Everyone has their own COVID war wounds. How have you coped during the past 20 or so months? 

I wasn’t as concerned for myself as for my kids. I was lucky that I could come into work, but I was just heartbroken for my sons and their friends. One is at uni and the other was going through his HSC and it’s just heartbreaking. Where are their goof-off years? Their dumb Contiki tour gap years? All the things I wanted for them – that’s what I mourned. I’d hate to think that all that fun stuff has disappeared. But however young people got through it, good on them. I just thought it was sad when I looked back at how much fun I had when I was that age.

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“Talking about my life is a big part of my job.” (Credit: Photographed for WHO by Phillip Castleton.)

How do you cope when life throws challenges in your path?  

I have no strategy, I’m a relatively optimistic person and I think this period would’ve been so challenging for people that aren’t. But I have a disposition that thinks everything is going to be OK. But luckily I live near the beach, so what I did do regularly was put on my mask, head to the water and meet a friend to walk the dog. That was a sense of normality for me. That’s pretty much the thing that kept me going, just taking a big breath and looking at the ocean.  

Given the seemingly never-ending lockdown, what was your streaming guilty pleasure to help get you through?  

Oh, English renovation shows, especially Escape to the Chateau and anything with George Clarke. Anything where people decide to renovate a water tower or a church. You know, they all want to be in it by Christmas, they all run out of money, and they all end up living in a caravan for three years. I love that kind of stuff! We’ve got cushions on our sofa that I now call “COVID cushions” – we spent so long sitting on them watching TV that they’ve collapsed. I had to get them re-stuffed this week!  

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“I have a disposition that thinks everything is going to be OK.” (Credit: Photographed for WHO by Phillip Castleton.)

Have you had any other projects on the go during the past 20 months?  

Not really. I do love baking, so every weekend I bake. It helped give me a sense of “business as usual” and made me feel like I was nourishing and nurturing my family. Other than that, when we couldn’t travel we ended up buying a little holiday home on NSW’s South Coast. I figured that, if I can’t travel overseas, I can have my own little sanctuary here.  

This year your son, Jack, is finishing high school. Do you feel the first pangs of empty-nest syndrome?  

I fell into a heap when my other son, Liam, turned 18 because he wanted to leave home to study. When he left, it made me realise what my mum must have felt when I left home. It was a revelation and, as she’s sadly no longer with us, I couldn’t say to her, “This is how you must have felt.”  

Jack wants to study in Melbourne, so he’ll be leaving, too, but I feel differently with him because of the s–t two years he’s had. I’m just so keen for him to reclaim his life. That’s overriding my own sadness at him leaving the family home.  

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Amanda with her son, Jack. (Credit: Instagram)

What does Christmas in the Keller household look like?  

Often what we’ll do is rent a house in Noosa and get together there. This year, we could only get a pre-Christmas booking so we’re planning to all meet before the big day. I’m so desperate to get to Queensland – people can fly to London yet I can’t go to Brisbane, which I find so frustrating! My dad is 88 years old, and my brother came off his pushbike and got smashed up and had bleeding on the brain. I haven’t been able to be there for him, or my dad, which I hate. So, when I do finally get there to see them both, I’m sure I’ll ball my eyes out!

For Christmas lunch itself, it’ll be liberating as it’ll be just my husband and our two sons. We might eat at home, or even go to a restaurant. As Christmas is a moveable feast, we don’t really have any set rituals – some years we don’t even put up a tree!  

What’s on your gift wish list?  

I don’t need more stuff in my life. I’ve even suggested it to my family that, rather than buying stuff, we’ll share time and go out for dinner or something instead. I’d never say that to my husband, of course, when I say, “Don’t buy me a present.” I don’t mean for him not to buy me one! God forbid.  

Any New Year’s resolutions?  

It’s the same one every year: exercise more. The problem is, I don’t care about exercising! Every year I say, “I don’t want to care about how I look,” and then I worry about getting in shape. It’s a bit of a dichotomy. 

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(Credit: Photographed for WHO by Phillip Castleton.)

You turn the big 6-0 next year. How do you feel about reaching that milestone?  

I fluctuate between wanting to celebrate it and then not. I don’t feel the need for a party, but then I don’t want to regret not having one. My husband Harley [Oliver] and I had our 30th anniversary last year, and we were supposed to be going out on a boat in the harbour, but COVID wrecked that. Now I’m not sure if I’ve got my post-COVID energy back to organise anything. Someone might organise something, but I’d hate it – I couldn’t bear not organising it myself!  

And how about ageing in general?  

If someone had told me when I was a teenager that I’d still be working at 60, I would’ve imagined someone who looked like Whistler’s Mother! I just couldn’t have conceived that someone that age would have a viable career, or still be as energetic and enthused. But even though I’m older, I have less responsibilities, which is energising in itself. I’ve learned that ageing just doesn’t matter. I’m on the cusp of 60, but I certainly don’t feel it.  

Lastly, after the storm of the past two years, what are your hopes for the future?  

If anything, the pandemic has shown us what we can achieve when we have to. Out of sadness has also come great strength. I feel huge amounts of pride to see how people have dealt with this. That’s what I’d like, that we just hold hands and get through it together. Also, please get vaccinated – and please get the booster! 

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