As a mediator between victims, classmates, school administrators and families, Ian Thorpe spent months filming the new ABC series Bullied (premiering March 14 at 8.30 PM) to examine the issues around childhood bullying.
"We realise how complex the issue is," Thorpe tells WHO, "and also that the person who is doing the bullying may be someone who is being bullied themselves. Those roles change and are part of the complexity behind young people's interactions."
On the show, the Olympic swimming champion meets with students who face severe physical and psychological bullying, arms them with hidden cameras, and then sits with the families as they view the footage. Later, classmates and teachers are brought in with Thorpe and bullying experts to see what they could do to improve the students' lives.
"It was important for us to make sure that the young people were coming up with the solutions themselves," Thorpe says, "rather than us giving them information because if young people are able to resolve the issue on the playground, it will never get to a teacher having to deal with it."
Thorpe admits his own experience was a little different. "I remember my second to last year of school, I missed 102 of 202 days, or something like that," he says. "When I was filming, the kids would ask me if I had been bullied. I said, 'At times, but not in the way that you're being bullied.' But I do know what it feels like, to feel like there's no one else out there that's going through this in the same way as you are."
In his own life, Thorpe says he is happy he made the decision to settle back in Sydney after years abroad. "You get to rediscover a city that you grew up in, and that's really quite neat," he says.
He's also been happy in his relationship with model Ryan Channing as the pair celebrated their one-year anniversary in the Whitsundays a few weeks ago. Even though Channing, 26, is reportedly moving to France, Thorpe says, "We support each other in what we do and it's great to be able to share your life with someone."
Going forward, Thorpe says he wants to do more work with ReachOut. "I've had friends and people I don't know come up to me and say it's great what you're doing," Thorpe says. "You realise how widespread this is and it's not just at school. It's right across the country."
Read more of Ian Thorpe's interview in the latest issue of WHO.