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EXCLUSIVE: Megan Gale talks the healing power of family

Model, actress and businesswoman Megan Gale tells Nicole Byers how her adorable children, along with fiancė Shaun Hampson, have sparked a new passion and taught her to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

By Nicole Byers
"You look like a princess!"
If there was any doubt which dress Megan Gale would be wearing on the cover of our Christmas issue, it was dispelled the moment her family saw her swathed in dreamy red tulle.
"Moana!" squealed two-year-old Rosie in delight, adding to brother River's high praise. From fiancé Shaun Hampson, there was simply an appreciative whistle. It's true, the dress is a knockout, but it's how she carries herself that takes it to fairytale proportions.
It was a decidedly more casual Megan I met the day before at a retro cafe in Daylesford, Victoria. Rocking black jeans and a slogan T-shirt, with her hair scraped back in a ponytail, her look screams off-duty model, but her manner is more old friend than seasoned celebrity.
"They do a bloody good scone here," she confides, while masterfully arranging her long limbs into the sagging cushions of a pre-loved couch.
The cafe is attached to a sprawling antique and collectables market, just one spot in this quaint town that has come to be a special place for Megan and her family.
For them, holidays are about quality time together and a return to life's simpler pleasures – like trawling endless aisles of bric-a-brac.
It's "inquisitive" River who embraces the treasure hunt most passionately. With a sudden yearning to play the fiddle, he spent the morning scouring the market in search of one, all the while keeping an eye out for the perfect wand.
"He's a pretty quirky, pretty cool kid," the proud mumma laughs. "He feels very deeply. He's very emotional and he speaks his emotions, which I've always taught him to do."
River's arrival into the world five years ago was a bittersweet time for Megan and Shaun. Their joy at becoming first-time parents was tinged with tragedy. They were grieving the loss of Shaun's father, Tom, who had succumbed to prostate cancer one month earlier, while Megan's father, Alan, was in the final stages of his battle with lung cancer; he passed away just 14 weeks after his grandson's birth.
"It definitely wasn't the experience I thought I'd be having with a newborn," reflects Megan, who has admitted to struggling with the early months of new motherhood.
"But while we knew it was horrible, we were all thinking, thank God we've got this baby. You've got the end of life and the beginning of life ...
If we didn't have him there, I can't imagine what it would have been like."
The gorgeous red dress that Megan's daughter Rosie, pictured, couldn't get enough of. The Australian Women's Weekly
As devastating as the double loss was, Megan and Shaun took comfort in being able to support each other through their grief. It also helped forge a special union between their mothers.
"Losing their husbands very close together gave them that shared experience," explains Megan. "When you're going through something quite traumatic it helps when someone is walking in your shoes, and understands where you're coming from."
"It's amazing to see our mums so close," agrees Shaun. "I think, regardless of having been through what they did, they would have been good friends. They're very similar people."
The family's first Christmas without both men had sadness to it, of course, but their presence was still very much felt.
"We set places for them at the table with two little candles and we put pictures there and acknowledged them," Megan recalls. "I think it's really nice to do that in a positive way if you're missing someone who's passed."
Not that Megan's father is ever far away.
The stunning model has now carved out a new career for herself, as the founder of health brand Your Mindful Life. The Australian Women's Weekly
"It's a bit 'woo', but I still feel him around, and I sometimes feel like he's telling me something," says Megan.
"Dad used to sweat the small stuff a bit, and I've also had a tendency to do that. Every now and then I can hear his voice, clear as day, saying, 'Life's too short, sweetheart, let it go'. If that's something I've taken from him, or it is him, who knows. Either way it's part of his imprint on me. Both the kids have his eyes, too. It's a really beautiful heirloom. Sometimes when the light hits them, I just think, there's dad."
She's the model, actress and TV presenter turned businesswoman who became a household name, but it's easy to forget that success didn't come quickly for Megan.
"It was struggle street for the first five years. I could barely get a job," she recalls.
It was in Italy that her big break finally came. That success flowed into modelling and TV work there, and eventually back here in Australia. Her years in the career wilderness had left Megan acutely aware of just how fleeting success could be.
She grabbed every opportunity that came her way. "Make hay while the sun shines," she thought, fearing that if she said no it might all just disappear. The work rolled in, but Megan paid the price with her health.
"I was conditioned to just keep going – don't let people down, just say yes. Do, do, do, achieve, achieve, achieve."
Her career was flying, but Megan felt like a mouse on a wheel.
"I'd go to the point of being completely run-down. Even when I was sick and could barely get out of bed there were still people around me who would be like, 'You said yes to the client, you've got to go, you've got to keep doing it'. I'd be on set, on a catwalk or in an interview just completely sick."
Megan with her kids River and Rosie. The Australian Women's Weekly
Burnout wasn't the only troubling aspect of Megan's time in the notoriously fraught world of modelling, of which she has "heaps and heaps" of bad memories.
"Who doesn't have negative experiences that they've tried to work through with their jobs?" she questions. When I press for specifics, her famous emerald-green eyes momentarily cloud over.
"Even bad or unfortunate things that have happened, they have shaped me, they have given me knowledge to apply later in life," she muses, with the 'glass half-full' philosophy she expounds often during our time together.
"If you're wrapped in cotton wool and everything turns out perfectly, you're never going to deal with obstacles. As hard as that is at times, it's also good for us."
It is this attitude that no doubt helped soften her most infamous career blow. In 2007 she was cast in the coveted role of Wonder Woman in a three-movie deal with Warner Bros. Acting workshops were completed, costumes were fitted, her star was on the rise. Then the US writers' strike hit, and the rug was pulled.
WATCH BELOW: Megan Gale shares an adorable new video of her daughter. Story continues after video.
But not before Megan had stepped away from her lucrative ambassador role at David Jones in preparation for the decade-long filming commitment.
"I thought wow, I've scarified a lot to go down this path. I lost a lot financially," she admits.
Compounding her disappointment was how news of her departure from the David Jones role, and the handing of the baton to Miranda Kerr, was portrayed.
"There was this perception in the media that I was let go [for a younger model]. It was, 'Oh she's been replaced by Miranda'. Not 'Megan's decided to go down this new path and it's really exciting, so we need to fill her shoes'. It just wasn't communicated like that and that was a shame."
Her short-lived foray into film wasn't a total loss. Director George Miller saw something in Megan he liked, and promised they would work together one day. Five years later she was cast in the Mad Max sequel, Fury Road.
"He actually had me audition for [leading role] Furiosa, but Charlize [Theron] ended up getting cast and did a far better job than I would have," demures Megan.
So determined was George to have the Aussie star in his movie, he crafted a character especially for her.
"He's so great to work with," says Megan, who spent six weeks in Nambia prepping for the role.
"I got to create that character from the ground up; I named her, I gave her a back story. It was incredible, one of my best life experiences."
Megan, Rosie and River. The Australian Women's Weekly
Not that she's short of memorable life experiences – from trips to Cannes as the face of L'Oréal, to shooting David Jones campaigns everywhere from Tahiti to China. It was meeting and falling madly in love with Shaun, however, that has had the most meaningful impact on her life. But, much like her career, their love story didn't take off overnight.
"It was a slow burn," admits Megan. "It wasn't that instant, see each other, fall in love, inseparable."
While Shaun's first reaction to seeing Megan was, 'My God, she's gorgeous,' it took several random meetings over many months before the spark was ignited.
"It's not that my first impressions of him were that he was shallow," Megan begins. "I just found out after talking to him for a while that he had way more maturity and depth than I initially thought."
When I suggest her initial impressions may have been due to the fact he was a handsome professional AFL player 13 years her junior, she is quick to shut me down.
"I get tarred by a brush based on perception and I don't like that," she says. "People assume I'm a certain way because of my job or whatever. I know now not to do that with other people."
Megan and Rosie on our shoot together. The Australian Women's Weekly
Numbers were exchanged, and with Megan based in Sydney and Shaun in Melbourne, a digital courtship ensued.
"We'd start Skyping around 8pm, then look at the clock and it would be 4am. It was that giddy, high school thing where you could sleep for two hours then wake up and feel refreshed and energised. You're glowing and bolstered by this new connection."
A meeting was arranged and the rest, as they say, is history. But this love story wasn't your average 'boy meets girl and they ride off into the sunset'. It rarely is when one of the romantic leads has a profile like Megan's. Add the fact that she had not long split from much-loved funny man Andy Lee, and the spotlight was always going to be intense.
"It wasn't a long time between drinks in terms of relationships," admits Megan. "There was a lot of judgment and criticism around that. It wasn't nice... Whether you're a public personality or not, you're still human, and things like that still hurt."
With photographers outside her house and reports calling Shaun her boyfriend before even she had, Megan was rattled. "I was like, 'Hey, I'm trying to play it cool here!'"
She worried that all the attention would scare him away.
Megan reveals she stepped back from her role at David Jones in order to take on the role as Wonder Woman, but the film fell through. The Australian Women's Weekly
Like her, however, Shaun sensed that what they had was "something quite special". He assured Megan nothing would frighten him off. He was game if she was. It was that moment she fell in love even more. "That's the first time I realised this guy is unflappable – nothing rocks him."
When I talk to Shaun about those torrid early months, however, he admits finding the whole experience pretty overwhelming and hating the mistruths and "disgusting names" people called them.
"I think there was this assumption that I'd moved on too quickly," reflects Megan.
"That I was a cougar and he was a toyboy – all those horrible labels. Maybe the right thing to do would be to wait, until the appropriate time, whatever that is, or 'till he's older, but if you find someone that you think could be the one, why wait?"
The love affair blossomed and Megan signed on to host reality TV show Project Runway, which meant lots of media commitments. The timing couldn't have been worse. All anyone wanted to talk about in interviews was her and Shaun and her ex-boyfriend.
Trying to do the professional thing, Megan politely but firmly navigated questions away from her personal life and back to the show, a move she believes drew the ire of certain sections of the media.
Megan and Rosie sharing a sweet mother-daughter moment. The Australian Women's Weekly
Branded cold and detached, the narrative around her shifted sharply, and as negative press often does, it snowballed.
"People ran with, 'Oh she's a diva, she's not so nice. She's not that bubbly girl next door we all loved, that's not Megan anymore,'" she recalls.
Is it fair to say no longer being half of the Andy Lee/Megan Gale golden couple did not play well for her?
"He's the funny guy. He's fun and she's fun and they're fun and then it's like, she's with this young footballer and she doesn't want to talk anymore, she's cold," Megan explains.
"I went from being really loved to being really rejected. I wanted to protect Andy, I wanted to protect Shaun and I wanted to do my job and promote the show. I got punished for that and I hated it."
Shaun, Megan, River and Rosie. The Australian Women's Weekly
More than just being hurt personally, Megan's livelihood suffered.
"If the public sadly believe what they read, they aren't going to like me and if they don't like me, no-one's going to hire me. That's really horrible, you feel powerless. I saw it [my career] suffer."
There have undoubtedly been challenges but you get the feeling these slings and arrows, along with the transformative power of motherhood, are what have led Megan to where she is today, a shrewd, self-assured master of her own destiny.
Shaun and Megan playing with their gorgeous family. The Australian Women's Weekly
It is certainly what drives the passion behind the wellness and lifestyle brand she launched in May this year. Mindful Life is a collection of naturally-sourced baby products conceived from Megan's experience as a first-time mum seeking out the purest products for her baby.
However, the brand is now as much about the pursuit of mindfulness as it is the products themselves.
"When I first had River, so many people would say, 'They grow up so fast. Just enjoy bathing them and reading them bedtime stories – giving them a little massage, because you'll blink and they won't need you anymore,'" she explains.
"That underpinned the whole philosophy of the business."
Not that Megan purports to be an expert in the practice of mindfulness. In fact, she is the first to admit that, unlike her fiancé, it's very much something she has to work at.
"Shaun constantly coaches me in it. It comes naturally to him. I am absolutely envious of that quality. That's why I wanted to introduce that content to the business [by way of her website, themindfullife.com]. We're so busy and over-worked and over-stimulated, I think we need to reprogram ourselves but we need tools to do that. If I can help facilitate people that can provide that, then that's what my passion is."
Too cute! The Australian Women's Weekly
Of course, it isn't just a business Megan has been busy growing and nurturing since River's birth. Two years ago daughter Rosie joined
the family.
"River was kind of like a gift to get over the grief, whereas Rosie was just unadulterated joy. I had a new business and another child, but I found it a lot easier because I trusted myself a bit more. I didn't beat myself up about things. I just tapped into me."
Rosie quickly developed her own quirks and characteristics, vastly different from those of the big brother who took a little getting used to no longer being the doted-on only child.
"She's like a cross between a wrecking ball and a koala," laughs Megan. "She's cheeky, fearless, determined and just a firecracker." She's also mad for a cuddle. Although, Megan warns, she will be "insanely shy" around the unfamiliar faces at our photo shot.
She needn't have worried. Thanks to a pen full of chickens, a small red wagon and the Moana soundtrack on repeat, the cherubic-faced cutie spends the day spinning, smiling and generally beguiling anyone in her orbit.
Megan Gale embracing quality time with family. (Source:Instagram)
Her equally genetically blessed brother is not only a natural in front of the camera, he takes on a directing role, arranging the family for a photo beside a log pile. Watching the four of them interact between shots, you get a sense of what a tight little unit they are. Shaun hauls River onto his shoulders while Megan fusses over Rosie.
"Those animal instincts of protecting your young, she's got it in spades," Shaun says of Megan in mum mode.
When I ask the couple the secret to their obvious parenting and relationship success, they cite good communication and aligned values. They are also big believers in date night, and although they admit to the occasional fight they never go to bed mad. It helps that they still clearly adore each other.
For her part, Megan is thrilled that, thanks to his recent stint on reality TV show Survivor, the secret is out about what a "special human" her man is.
"I had so many messages saying, 'Oh my God, he's divine. He's amazing'. I was like. 'I know, this is what I've been banging on about for close to nine years! This guy is incredible,'" she beams.
So incredible that he flipped her views on marriage, which had previously been ambivalent at best.
"After River, I just wanted to have the same last name as my son. It didn't have to be a big blow-out wedding, I just wanted him to propose." After planting the seed with Shaun – in case he thought she was anti the institution entirely – she waited.
Then, one night in Fiji, Shaun took her on a romantic sunset mountain hike. They were all alone and he guided her to the perfect vantage point.
"I thought, 'God he's going to do it,' then he was like 'Alright, let's go to dinner'. I was gutted," she chuckles. After several similar scenarios and over a year had passed, Megan let the idea go.
Then, on a cloudless winter's day in Freycinet, Tasmania, Shaun and River took Megan, then six months pregnant with Rosie, to a "really
cool beach" they'd discovered. Busy searching for crab claws with her son, she was floored when instead River produced a small box.
"I said, 'Oh my God, what's that?'.
I turned around and Shaun was on one knee – which is hard for him because his knees are shot! I just started crying and said 'thank you!'"
It wasn't until they were back in their room that Shaun reminded her she hadn't given him an answer. "Of course it was, 'Oh my God. Yes, Yes!'"
Two years later, are they any closer to actually setting a date? "No plans yet," admits Megan. "I don't even have my ring on today. Worst bride-to-be ever!"
As she forges ahead with her business, which she describes as the hardest thing she's ever done, and Shaun embraces life post AFL, including renovating and relaunching the Melbourne cafe he co-owns, planning their big day is just another thing on a very long to-do list.
Besides, she says, "We've sealed the deal, I know we have."
The Christmas issue of The Australian Women's Weekly is on sale now.

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