Chrissie Swan is an example of one of those few people that you can point to and say that reality television was a force for good in their life. Without exaggeration, you can say that reality television has changed her life for the better. Without reality television, Chrissie would not be a celebrity, and although she may well have had babies otherwise, they would not now be covered in an article on celebrity baby names.
Once upon a time, Chrissie was a real estate copywriter in Melbourne, when she decided to apply as a contestant for the third series of Channel 10’s Big Brother. Her friends were all fans of the show, and she thought it would be funny to think of them watching in bewilderment as she entered the Big Brother House. The producers said they chose Chrissie for her “intelligence, wit, integrity, and intriguing sense of the absurd”.
The producers showed they were on the money, as Chrissie proved popular with both the other Housemates, and the public. She won great support for standing up to the show’s “villain”: arrogant, boastful and slightly corrupt ex-policeman, Ben Archbold, and by doing so, proved that she wasn’t just a nice person, she also had the strength of character to not allow herself to be bullied. (In case you were wondering, Ben Archbold is now a high-profile criminal lawyer, so don’t worry, Chrissie’s feistiness didn’t mentally destroy him or anything).
Much to her surprise, Chrissie was released on Day 86 (July 21 2003) as the runner-up to Regina “Reggie” Bird; it was the first time a woman had won the show, and the first time a woman was runner-up (it was the only series where both winner and runner-up were female).
Chrissie attempted to return to her normal life, but found it impossible to continue as a real estate copywriter – she was too famous. Instead of showing her around their houses for 10 minutes so that she could go away and describe them alluringly, people wanted her to tell them all the inside goss on Big Brother, look at the family photo albums, and talk to their aunty on the phone. Her attractive personality meant that people saw her as a friend, and a visitor to their home rather than as a professional; and as a good friend, they expected her to stay for at least 2 hours. Her business was in tatters.
Three days after leaving the Big Brother House, she was offered a job in breakfast radio on the Sunshine Coast, and moved to Queensland in September. She worked hard at learning how to be a good presenter, and in 2005, she and her co-hosts won the Best On-Air Team from ACRA, since the ratings for their slot were almost double that of any other station on the coast. When she moved back to Melbourne, Chrissie got a job doing breakfast radio at Vega in Melbourne, until she and her co-hosts got the sack during Vega’s (now Classic Rock 91.5) notorious cost-cutting exercise.
In a clear case of one door opening as another closes, last year Chrissie was offered the chance to co-host a new morning chat show on Channel 10 called The Circle. It was a gamble having an all-female panel on a television show, especially as The Catch Up, an attempt to copy US show The View, was axed from a rival channel after just a few months.
Not surprisingly, Chrissie was nervous about her gig on a new show in an untried format that everyone said seemed awfully risky. But she and her co-hosts rose to the challenge, and the show became a success. The premise of the show was that the women would never be bitchy or create staged conflict; it would be four women having a chat together like friends, and anyone who came on their show would join this circle of friends, and the audience would also be made to feel as they were friends with everyone as well.
It was so entertaining being a guest on The Circle that some celebrities were willing to pay their own way to be on the show. Chrissie got to meet stars like Jerry Hall and Elmo; she cooked with psychic John Edward and cuddled Meatloaf; she sang Stop in the Name of Love with a Supreme and Total Eclipse of the Heart with Bonnie Tyler; and she felt up Kim Kardashian’s bottom. Lily Tomlin refused to give interviews when she came to Australia, but insisted on guest-hosting on The Circle, because she had heard about it in America and wanted to be part of the fun (nobody touched her bottom though).
Chrissie gained such popularity with her audience that in April, she was nominated for three Logie Awards – Most Popular New Female Talent, Most Popular Presenter, and the Gold Logie, given to the most popular TV personality overall. While Chrissie’s head was spinning at this unexpected news, pundits on social media and talkback radio questioned how this “nobody” from a show with only 70 000 viewers could have been nominated for the top award, and darkly hinted that the voting must have been rigged.
Long-time media presenter Eddie Maguire used his breakfast show on Triple M to attack Chrissie, suggesting that people might have voted for her, in the same way that children will vote for “the dumb kid” as class captain in order to irritate the teacher. Chrissie stood up against this onslaught as she stood up to Ben Archbold, and refused to buckle to the bullies.
Chrissie’s fans were quick to defend her, saying that they had nominated her because she was intelligent, funny, warm, genuine and compassionate. People who had never voted for the Logies before said they had to this time, because at last here was someone on TV who brightened each day with their sunny smile; someone fresh and natural and honest; someone that ordinary Australians could relate to. In fact, her fans felt that Chrissie was their BFF, and you always stick up for your friends, right?
In the end, Chrissie won the Logie for Most Popular New Female Talent, and Karl Stefanovic from breakfast TV show, Today, won Most Popular Presenter and the Gold Logie – which started up the whole voting debate again, but that’s another story.
Chrissie met her partner Chris Saville through Big Brother; he was part of the crew, and because she calls him “The Chippy”, I’m guessing he was one of the set builders. Chrissie and Chris had a son named Leo in November 2008, and Chrissie, who has always been a big girl, gained 55 kg (121 lb) during her pregnancy.
Hoping to become pregnant again, she had a very public campaign to shed the extra kilos through healthy diet and exercise which won her even greater public sympathy, and the resulting weight loss had the desired effect – she got pregnant almost immediately. During her second pregnancy she stuck to her eating plan, and was happy to report that she only gained 4 or 5 kg (around 10 lb), and was back to her pre-pregnancy weight within a few weeks of giving birth.
Chrissie and Chris named their second son Kit, which as a male name is usually taken as a pet form of Christopher – very appropriate for the child of a Chris and a Chrissie. A famous Australian Kit is Arnold Christopher “Kit” Denton, the novelist who wrote The Breaker, about Breaker Morant, and the father of comedian and television presenter Andrew Denton. Baby rabbits are called kits, which makes it seem very cuddly. Chrissie’s surname of Swan is used as the middle name for both her sons; a charming modern custom which gives Kit Swan Saville a double animal name.
I must confess that I’ve never really liked the name Kit, but you know how sometimes you don’t like a name much, and then a good friend uses it for their child? And then you see it on a real baby, and gradually like it more and more, and eventually you end up liking it heaps. That’s how it was for me – once I saw it on baby Kit and got a real feel for it, it seemed like the perfect name for him. It’s so cute and chipper, and a brilliant match with Leo – two three-letter names that both refer to animals. I love it! A thoroughly converted thumbs up!
(Photo from Woman’s Day website).
Chrissie gets to know Kim Kardashian a little better on The Circle: