GWAS Girl Crush: Emily Jade O'Keefe

Radio host/blogger/TV personality Emily Jade O'Keefe at home. Design by Sophie Baker
When I walk into Emily Jade O'Keefe's place in Camp Hill, Brisbane (Kevin Rudd's 'hood), and spot a copy of Kasey Edwards' Thirty Something and the Clock is Ticking on the table near her pink Sony Vaio, I know we'll have lots to talk about. Not that a radio presenter/TV personality/blogger such as Emily would be devoid of talking points. The lady gets paid by Austero and News Limited to have an opinion. And her opinion on the book? "It didn't bring me any joy to read it; it just scared the pants off me." Sweet relief – I wasn't the only one. Add to that her love of L. M. Montgomery novels, her dog, and God, and our newfound friendship was off to a great start...

For O'Keefe, 34, who blogs about her quest to fall pregnant (thus far an 18-month journey), as well as "any issue relating to life, love and Hollywood", on her Emily Everywhere blog for The Courier Mail, while putting the "girlie" into Triple M Brisbane's breakfast show The Cage, the content of Edwards' book – a sugar-free wake-up call for women who believe babies can wait – is familiar turf, but the scaremongering was hard to swallow.

"I understand where she was going," she says. "She started off with questions like, ‘Do I even want a kid?, and ‘Is this going to make my life better?’, to then, ‘I want a kid and it’s hurting me that I can’t have one’, to then being pregnant… but at every stage it was depressing. I understand it might be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but someone might read the first couple of chapters and decide they don’t want children or to be a mother at all. She’s quick to say, ‘My child is the best thing that ever happened to me’, but she doesn’t talk about the good moments."

While she laments that she didn't marry the right guy the first time around, delaying her progress on the baby-making front (she's now married to Gerard, who's eight years her junior but a keen participant!), O'Keefe likes to take a more Mary Poppins approach to the matter. Just this she posted a clip of Nicole Kidman on her blog with an emphatic congratulatory note to the celebrity mum for being open about her inability to conceive another baby naturally to 60 Minutes

"Women are searching for someone to understand the feelings because the feelings are so intense," she says. "Nobody understands unless you’ve gone through it. When I started to open up about it, I found that guys are sometimes more okay with talking about it than girls are, and I think that endeared me to Triple M listeners more. When I’m out and about, guys will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, if you need some help, give me a call’, which is a blokey way to deal with it. But at least they’re dealing with it with humour, which I think girls find very hard. They treat it so seriously. I get that, and I have been serious about it, but the reason I try to write with humour on my blog is to show that you just have to find the humour in it; otherwise, you won’t just be suffering infertility, you’ll be suffering depression or worse."

O'Keefe is vibrant in the flesh, all clear eyed, perfect skin, TV commercial teeth, manicured hands and cartoony made-for-TV features. She clearly looks after herself. But the glamour has been hard-won, underpinned by a healthy ambition, work ethic and determination to make it in the hard-as-nails radio industry after growing up with four brothers and feeling like the proverbial ugly duckling her youth ("I was the chubby girl... every girl thinks they're the ugly duckling").

It was John Lee-Archer, then principal of Don College, her high school in Tasmania, who laid the ground the O'Keefe's career in the radio industry. "It was a very liberal school," she says, "not just Maths, Science, English. He was good at instigating things for students he knew wouldn't excel in those areas. There was photography, art, fashion – they even had a restaurant kids could work in. So I went to him, with a couple of other students, and asked if we could start a radio station because 90210 was really big at the time. He said, 'If you fundraise the money, we'll put in some money and get it going.' And we did. It was called Don FM. Very original."

While studying for her performing arts degree at the University of Tasmania, O'Keefe also worked at the local Christian radio station, which required her to catch a couple of buses before walking 15 kilometres up a hill. She was planning to resign, as she couldn't afford the taxis home after-dark, until she got a phone call from a missionary looking to offload her car before an overseas trip: "She never came back and I had that car for four years," she says.

O'Keefe's career has been a curious mix of extraordinary moments; 20% good luck (or God luck, as she would have it) and 80% hard work and ingenuity. After leaving the Christian station, she approached an FM network with a proposal for a new nighttime national show to replace the syndicated one they aired, going as far as approaching sponsors including Pizza Hut to support her. They agreed. She was 20. After helping to launch radio stations in rural Queensland towns, including Toowoomba, O'Keefe landed a television gig – a Channel Nine kids' program called Download – after attending a Big Brother after-party and acing the audition held the next day.

Then Nova FM came calling, and The Courier-Mail blog, which started as a video blog ("the quality was high and it was very expensive to make"), followed, and so too did regular stints on Mornings with Kerri-Anne. She names the daytime TV doyenne as a mentor.

"When my contract with Nova wasn't renewed, she said to me, ‘Don’t accept the first job you get, you’re a precious commodity, you’re very good at what you do, don’t let this let the wind out of your sails, you can do it and you can come back bigger and better'. She said, 'I’ve been sacked more times than I can remember and I’m still here; it only made me stronger.' It was the best advice I was given at that time because my parents said, ‘Get out of radio, it’s been such a long, stressful, hard career – get out and go and do something a bit easier.’ My husband was pushing me to try something else and do something else, but she was right – I got offered two jobs before Triple M and they weren’t what I wanted. Then the Triple M thing came up out of the blue."

She says radio is a tough industry, particularly if you "make it" in one of the capital cities, as contractual obligations and confidentiality agreements mean who can't look for work until you're out the door: "I got to Nova and there was no way I was relinquishing that position. I was there for four years and now I’m at Triple M, I won’t be leaving until they get rid of me. That could be years. When a good job’s there people will do what they can to hold onto it for ages, which makes it hard for someone coming up to get that job... I think God’s helped me. I think if I didn’t have God in this career, I wouldn’t have this career. I need that higher power to help me have the strength to get through."

Generous by nature, her house decorated with the artwork of friends, paintings bought at charity auctions she's emceed and a pair of her jeans be-dazzled and framed for a Jeans 4 Genes charity event, Emily leaves me with a bounty of material to take home: her most cherished childhood book, by L.M. Montgomery, a fertility book and DVD, and a copy of Heather B. Armstrong’s It Sucked and Then I Cried

Emily's already been up for 13 hours when we part at four o'clock in the afternoon. And Gerard is due home soon. And they have a baby to get busy making. I'd be surprised if she doesn't soon ace her latest – and greatest – project, too, joining the likes of Kasey Edwards in the motherhood ranks. And her blog readers and radio listeners will be rejoicing with her when she does. This, as the child poet protagonist of her childhood novel writes, is a dream "that seems to bright to die".

Girl With a Satchel


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