Associte Editor for The Weekly, Michael Sheather tells his personal account of these two amazing your girls.
Sophie Delezio and Bindi Irwin are like that — having met them, you can never forget them. Seeing them together — laughing, giggling, swapping stories like life-long friends — for our Christmas issue cover shoot was one of those too rare moments in a journalist’s life that helps you focus on the good that exists in the world, rather than the bad.
You couldn't meet a sweeter or warmer pair than these two. Sophie, just seven, is a gorgeous and bright little girl, who because of the accident that changed her life has endured far more than most of us can even imagine.
Bindi, 10, whose father, Steve Irwin, died in 2006, has also endured her own share of loss and heartbreak, yet she is consistently funny and displays a concern for others that is genuine and touching.
Together, they were a tour de force. Sophie, as any little girl might be when she meets someone she clearly admires for the first time, was nervous. When Bindi entered the room that was to become their shared dressing room for our Christmas shoot and introduced herself with a bright and cheery, "I'm pleased to meet you", Sophie reached for her mother, Carolyn Martin's, hand.
Immediately, Bindi, sensing Sophie's shyness, sat next to her, made a joke, engaged her in conversation and set about striking up a rapport, as a make-up artist began to prepare them to become Christmas sugar plum fairies.
They were quickly swapping stories about the dresses they were about to wear and how wonderful they would look as fairies — something all little girls seem to love. (A little wish fulfilment sometimes comes with the territory when you’re working on The Weekly — Sophie fell in love with the ballet shoes she wore for the shoot and didn’t want to take them off.)
Then Sophie and Bindi were ready to begin the shoot, though Sophie appeared a little lost and unsure. Yet there was hardly a dry eye in the house when Bindi reached for Sophie's hand and led her across the veranda to the waiting photographer.
As Sophie's father, Ron Delezio, noted at the time, "it was a very sweet moment and very kind", and clearly displayed for all who saw it the Christmas spirit that we were trying to capture.
Later, over lunch, it was soon apparent that Sophie and Bindi had formed a close bond. They were constantly talking, often walking off together hand in hand and discussing their shared admiration for Hannah Montana, the teenage TV character played by Miley Cyrus.
As part of the special treat, Bindi’s mother, Terri Irwin, allowed the children — Bindi and Sophie, with their brothers Robert and Mitchell — to visit the Australia Zoo retail shop to choose a present each. And along the way, the four of them came up with a plan to take a special tour around the zoo to visit and feed the animals that afternoon. They all had a great time, feeding the kangaroos and the iguanas.
At first, Sophie was a little hesitant about getting too close to the animals — her skin is very fragile, explained her mum, making Sophie cautious in unfamiliar situations — but she soon got into the spirit of things and was gleefully laughing and gently stroking the animals just like everyone else.
And, next day, when she got to spend time with the tortoises, Sophie was delighted. Being slow moving and a little ponderous, Sophie was much more confident around these very large animals, which live in a special enclosure on an island at the rear of the Australia Zoo grounds.
The tortoises live in a concrete house, shaped and painted to look like a large rock formation, something that Mitchell and Robert took as a challenge to their prodigious climbing skills, clambering to the top like mountaineers scaling Mt Everest.
Yet it was Sophie and Bindi who really made the most of their time together. They were often seen wandering through the trees, hand in hand. Sophie declared that they would be "friends until they die", something that made everyone who heard her smile.
Though separated by hundreds of kilometres, Bindi does sometimes travel to Sydney and, when she does, she may well catch up with her new friend. In the meantime, both said they would write to each other as often as they could.
The truth is they created a little magic together — and that doesn't happen often enough. Merry Christmas to everyone.