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EXCLUSIVE: Ben Fordham on being the new star of 2GB Breakfast radio and his colourful family life

In the last 12 months, Ben Fordham has scored the biggest job in radio, lost his much-loved father, and welcomed a third bundle of joy. The Fordham family invites The Weekly into their home to recap a year of heartbreak, triumph and love.

By Samantha Trenoweth
Ben Fordham is old school. At 43, he might be the young gun on the highest-rating radio show in the land, but there's something about him that reminds you of your dad, or your neighbour's dad, or one of those universal dad characters on sitcoms you watched as a kid.
It's 7am on a Saturday morning, and Ben and his five-year-old son Freddy have been up for hours.
They've just rolled back in the door after helping a mate who owns a cafe to unpack crates of milk, and they've been rewarded with a double espresso (for Ben) and warm-from-the-oven croissants for the rest of the family (Pearl, two, Marigold, nine months old, and Ben's wife of eight years, Seven news journalist Jodie Speers).
"I like giving the kids an understanding of hard work," says the man who this month stepped into veteran breakfast broadcaster Alan Jones's spot on Sydney radio station 2GB.
"I was explaining to Freddy, 'Look at all these people – they've been here since 3am working their backsides off so that we have nice things to eat when we wake up'."
The legendary Fordham work ethic was handed down from Ben's mum and dad, Veronica and John, who ran a management agency and PR firm out of the family home.
"Mum and Dad believed that you started working as soon as you could," Ben recalls. "So my brother Nick and I had a lawn-mowing business when we were about 10. The moment we were allowed to operate the lawnmower, we had flyers everywhere…"
"One time, the guy across the road knocked us back, and Dad said, 'Just do it anyway.' So we did and, sure enough, he goes, 'All right, here's 10 bucks.' It was an unconventional approach to business."
John Fordham ran a tight ship, and some of his disciplinary measures wouldn't win him fans with child psychologists today, but Ben adored and admired his dad, who died at age 75 in November last year.
"Dad was…" he begins. "How do you summarise a human being who has lived so long and done so many things?"
"First and foremost, he was a really good dad. When we were growing up, he was the only dad on the street kicking the footy and playing cricket with all the kids. Mind you, he never wanted to do the boring things. So if you were playing cricket, he'd always want to be bowling or batting – never fielding – which was a bit embarrassing.
"But now I see myself doing the same, so I forgive him that."
Ben and Jodie are head-over-heels for their three kids, Freddy (five), Pearl (two) and Marigold (nine months). (Photography by Alana Landsberry.)
"He was a passionate, loyal and strong character. He was a strict dad – there was no escaping that – but he was loving and caring. He was affectionate, but he let us know that we weren't to be running amok."
Ben's older sister, Sarah, mostly managed to stay out of harm's way, but Ben and Nick weren't so lucky.
"Occasionally Dad would get word about something we'd done wrong, and he'd ring and go, 'I'm on my way home.' That was a sign for us to run into his walk-in wardrobe and remove the thickest belts!"
"Nick sometimes put on an extra pair of undies to lessen the blow on the bum. That wasn't a daily or a weekly thing – it was reserved for when we needed it. And it's funny, as much as we hated it at the time, we don't have any bad feelings about it."
Veronica had a more subtle but equally effective technique for keeping her brood in line.
"Occasionally Mum would take the wooden spoon in her handbag when we went shopping," Ben chuckles.
"She'd just flash it to you, like Dirty Harry would pull back his jacket to show you he was carrying a gun. She'd pull a little bit of the wooden spoon out of the handbag, just to let us know she was packing heat…
Ben has already begun transferring the legendary Fordham work ethic onto his kids - and the other kids on the their block. (Photography by Alana Landsberry.)
"We call Mum the 'Big Kahuna'. She's a no-nonsense character – a formidable woman and a fantastic woman. Mum is the superglue that holds our family together."
Ben was a solid student, but all through high school he was itching to get into the workforce. "Mum and Dad worked seven days a week when we were kids," he says, and watching the dramas unfold was formative.
"When I was really young, they filled in the garage and turned it into an office, and they ran The Fordham Company from there. It went into our bloodstream.
If there was a problem, there'd be a phone call in the middle of the night and Mum and Dad were up and managing it, dealing with journalists and trying to put out spot fires. I was really excited by that.
"We saw it all, from massive arguments with media companies over contracts, to footballers crying on Mum's shoulder because their girlfriends had left… When there were big scandals, their clients would hide out in our house and the media would be camped outside."
WATCH BELOW: Ben shared this adorable video of newborn Marigold on Instagram. Article continues after video.
At 15, Ben was invited to intern on Alan Jones's radio show. "I loved the excitement and the energy," he recalls.
"It was so early in the morning and I was so young. There was a lot of swearing from the boys in the sports department, and a lot of jokes." His career path was set.
In 1997, Ben was reporting from Canberra for Radio 2UE, when a landslide devastated the Snowy Mountains ski resort of Thredbo. He was just 21 years old when he was ordered to the frontline of the disaster.
"I talked my way into Thredbo," he says. "Police had blocked journalists from getting in, but a bloke who owned the local radio station offered me a lift into town if I could get past the roadblock on foot.
So I told the police I wanted to walk up the hill to get a better signal for my phone, and then I just started running. Next thing, a set of headlights popped up and I got in.
I feel a bit cheeky about it now, but it meant that, when the sun came up the next day, I was the only journalist there to describe the scale of what had happened."
That year, Ben won both a Walkley and a Raward for radio journalism, and became the youngest reporter in history to pick up the double. An Australia Day Young Citizen of the Year Award followed in 1998.
Thredbo kickstarted his career. Since then, Ben has worked in radio, at 2UE and 2GB, and on current affairs mainstays 60 Minutes and A Current Affair, as well as Today.
He also fronts the family favourite Australian Ninja Warrior, which he's as passionate about as his more serious roles.
It's back this month for its fourth season on Nine and he's eager for viewers to see the ninjas' newest challenge, the Power Tower, which looks like an "on-steroids" version of something he and the neighbourhood kids might dream up on a Saturday afternoon in his backyard.
But the big news has been the shift from 2GB Drive to Breakfast, where he says Alan Jones's notoriously loyal listeners have been "very welcoming and supportive".
So far, they don't seem to have been rattled by his newfangled ideas, like inviting them to text as well as call. He's been switching things up for politicians, too, insisting they needn't wait for an invitation to come in for an interview but can "call up like anyone else".
Ben with Christine Forster and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the launch for Christine's book, Life, Love & Marriage last month. (Getty.)
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was one of the first to take him up on the offer.
"When she comes up on the board as 'Gladys', I don't know whether it's Gladys from Menai or Gladys Berejiklian the premier," Ben smiles. "So I don't have any preparation, but I like that."
"I like that moment of being on the edge of your seat and rolling with the punches. I'm a bit hyperactive. I love that spontaneous moment. Working as a journalist is the greatest roller-coaster ride in the world."
With Alan at the helm, 2GB's breakfast slot wielded a hefty weight of political influence, but Ben doesn't find that daunting.
"As long as you're backing the right issues and you know how to put it in reverse if you discover you're not – how to say sorry – then you can have faith in what you're doing," he says earnestly. "You can't get it right all the time, but when you know you're right, you can't be afraid of pushing hard."
One issue on which he gave his all was marriage equality. When he first told his listeners he supported it, 10 years ago, he copped a vociferous backlash.
"It was a toxic response," he admits, but he persevered, even taking then prime minister Tony Abbott aside for a beer and a chat on the subject.
"So yes," he says, "there's a bit of responsibility that comes with the job, but I'm not afraid of having those difficult conversations, even if it's behind closed doors with the prime minister, trying to twist his arm. I was unsuccessful in changing Tony Abbott's mind, but I gave it a crack."
Ben and Jodie have been happily married for eight years. (Photography by Alana Landsberry.)
But for his toughest negotiations, Ben always consults the Big Kahuna.
"I must be the only 43-year-old breakfast radio host who's had to tell the boss who was offering him the gig that he needed to do a phone hook-up with his mum… I don't make any big decisions in life without consulting my mum."
"I've never admitted this before, but that includes asking Jodie to marry me! I've just always recognised that Mum's the smartest person in the room. She's the smartest person in our family, and we all know that."
Ben had been listening to Jodie's reports on radio for months and had decided she was the best young reporter around, when he met her one night at a friend's 40th.
They'd been dating for a while and he says, "Mum had already sent signals to me that she thought Jodie was a winner," when she was offered a role as a political correspondent in Canberra.
"We'd just met, things were going well and we were living in Sydney, so Jodie was thinking of turning the job down," Ben says, until he consulted Veronica.
"Mum said, 'No way, she's got to go to Canberra.' I'd gone to Canberra and it had changed my working life. Mum said, 'You can't deny Jodie the chance to do the same. Encourage her to go.' So I did."
And absence really did make their hearts grow fonder. Jodie was impressed that Ben was so supportive of her career, and he missed her more than he'd imagined: "I recall watching her one day doing a piece to camera.
"She was wearing a red coat, standing in the Parliament House courtyard, and I thought, 'I've got to hurry up and ask this girl to marry me.' Next thing you know, we were engaged.
"I'm a very lucky man. Jodie is an incredible woman, a very talented journalist and the best mum in the world. She is her own woman. I come from a family of strong, independent women and I find that very attractive. I won the lottery the day I met her."
Australian Ninja Warrior returns soon to the Nine Network.
Read the full interview with Ben and wife Jodie in the August issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.

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