With her down-to-earth candour and endearing way of telling it like it is, author and journalist Jessica Rowe has inadvertently charmed her way into the hearts of Australians.
Switching on morning talk show Studio 10, you can’t help but feel like you’re in the company of friends as Jessica and her co-hosts discuss anything and everything – and now it’s gained an extra hour of airtime.
“It’s fantastic because we always run out of time – and I could talk underwater!” Jessica says.
A presenter on the show since its debut in 2013, she genuinely looks forward to her days on the set, where she’s free to speak her mind and laugh as loudly as she wants.
“If I had this opportunity when I was younger I would’ve been far too concerned with what others think, but now I just go, 'well, this is me and this is what I think, and if you don’t like it you can lump it!’,” she says.
Jessica admits she’s more comfortable in her skin than ever, and doesn’t feel she has to mould herself to fit other people’s ideals.
“I don’t second-guess myself anymore,” she says. “I feel like my life has begun at 40 in terms of my sense of self, and this is the happiest I’ve been.”
But getting to this point hasn’t been easy, with a Polycystic Ovary Syndrome diagnosis, IVF treatments and post-natal depression.
She admits finding peace didn’t happen overnight, rather it came from a whole range of factors, including becoming a mum, accepting her flaws and finding beauty in her imperfections.
“I came to realise it’s OK not to be perfect and to say it!” she says emphatically.
When post-natal depression hit Jessica after the birth of daughter Allegra, now 10, the new mum was overwhelmed.
“I felt like a failure and a terrible mother because I knew I should feel happy but instead I felt numb and like there was a pane of glass between me and the rest of the world,” Jessica says.
“My mum Penelope has bipolar disorder – so I thought I had a good understanding of mental illness and had spoken out about eliminating the stigma – so I was blown away by how ashamed I felt because I didn’t think I of all people should need to ask for help.”
After six months of suffering silently, she reached out to her mum Penelope, 71, then told her husband, Channel Nine newsreader Peter Overton, 51.
While she felt a weight had been lifted, she still had a long way to go.
“Peter is my absolute rock. He told me everything was going to be alright and that’s what I needed to hear,” she says.
Jessica admits she instantly knew Peter was “The One” when they first met 16 years ago at the Logie Awards.
“I was dating a ‘what-was-I-thinking?’ guy at the time and when I was chatting to Petey I thought, why can’t I meet a man like this? Then, a bit later, I split up with my then-boyfriend and I asked Peter out – the worst he could say was no,” Jessica recalls.
Happily, Peter said yes, and she can’t imagine life without him.
“We’re very different; he’s very steadying, and I’m more quirky and impulsive, so we balance each other out,” she explains.
Family is the most important thing to Jessica and, along with Peter and her two daughters, Mum’s a huge part of her life.
“Anyone with a mental illness or who loves someone with a mental illness knows they are chronic, so there are plenty of times when Mum is well and when she’s not, and that doesn’t stop being hard despite me being an adult now,” Jessica explains.
Penelope often comes to stay with them, and the unflappable presenter explains it’s just a part of their life.
“I feel very happy I have a husband who’s welcoming and nurturing of my mum. You don’t like to see anyone you love doing it tough, and she’s the most incredible woman and taught me so much about making what you do in life count,” she says.
In fact, Penelope was also a journalist and inspired her daughter to follow that same career path.
“Mum encouraged me to ask why and speak out against injustice; she taught me to use my voice for good,” Jessica says.
Despite her personal and professional happiness, she remains keenly aware of life’s ups and downs.
“I’ve discovered it’s impossible to have it all at the same time – there’s a season for everything,” she says.
Instead, Jessica concentrates on making every day count.
“I’m getting better at appreciating what’s happening right now, instead of saying, ‘Oh, when that happens I’ll be happy’,” she explains.
It’s the little things that makes Jess’s heart sing, like watching Allegra and Giselle, eight, having fun with Peter.
“We were on holiday on the Gold Coast and I was watching them thinking, There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Often we need those happy touchstones when you’re struggling through something,” she says.
The refreshingly frank presenter is determined to pass on this message of positivity to her daughters.
“We all have sadness in our lives and while we often don’t have a choice in that, we can choose how we decide to deal with it. I think it’s important to get power back by choosing to get on with things and look at other options, and I hope my girls will do the same,” she says.
The mother of two sometimes embarrasses her daughters with her daggy dancing or picking them up from school wearing her pyjamas, but despite her playfulness she’s not afraid to broach the difficult topics with them.
“I talk to my girls so they know it’s natural to have moments when you feel sad, because you don’t have to be full of beans all the time. I used to think I had to do that and you just can’t,” she says.
These days Jessica relishes sharing the realities of daily life through her Instagram account and website Crap Housewife (craphousewife.com), which also features a “Cat of the Week”.
The idea for the site was sparked while chatting to a friend about parents who fill their kids’ lunchboxes with incredibly intricate snacks, then snap a photo to post on Instagram.
Jessica made it her mission to show the decidedly fuss-free food she’s plating up for her family with the hashtag “#craphousewife”.
“It’s been marvellous to see it organically grow and have all these other women embrace their inner-crapness; it comes back to not having to be perfect,” she explains.
“And, yes, I’m a crazy cat lady and have three of the little darlings: Alfie, Daisy and Violet.”
Despite the challenges Jessica has faced, she’s determined to always see the brighter side of life.
She says, “Life’s too short not to have a good laugh – you have to find the light in things otherwise you’ll cry.” •
Catch Jessica on Studio 10 in its new timeslot, weekdays from 8.30am to 12pm on Channel Ten