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EXCLUSIVE: Natalie Barr reveals her fears before replacing Sam Armytage as Sunrise co-host

''I knew I couldn’t turn this down.''

By Tamara Cullen
With the weight of the nation watching, Natalie Barr listened carefully as a voice whispered into her earpiece. Despite what she'd heard, she remained steady, unwavering.
Moments later, on live television, the Sunrise anchor looked into the camera and said, "Cleo Smith has been found alive".
Natalie had no other information at hand regarding the recovery of the four-year-old girl who had been reported missing in Western Australia, sparking a police investigation and nationwide debate. But she knew viewers were relying on her to get it right. It would be natural to feel nervous, but this is where Natalie thrives.
"The producer quickly said in my ear, 'It's 7.15am, Kochie is going to wrap up and we're coming straight back to you – they've found Cleo Smith. And she's alive'," Natalie, 53, recalls.
"This is important information and I had one line - that's all I had to go on. Behind the scenes, people were trying to get more information and we just had rolling coverage of what was unfolding. It was the same with the Capital Hill riots [in Washington]. Those are the days I live for live TV."
Natalie admits she was "really worried" about whether she could take over from Sam Armytage as co-anchor on Sunrise. (TV WEEK)
This white-knuckle moment is just one of many in the past nine months where Natalie has stepped up. Even though she has 18 years experience as a newsreader on the morning show, it's her first year as Sunrise co-host alongside David "Kochie" Koch, and things have felt a little different.
Scrutiny comes with the position, there's nowhere to hide and the pressure to prove oneself is ever-present. Does she feel the pinch at times? You bet. Natalie admits she was "really worried" about whether she could do the job. It was March when her predecessor Samantha Armytage announced her decision to leave.
Natalie was surprised by her former colleague's departure – even more so when she was offered the position. Then came the critics and rumours about on-set feuds.
"I never want to be the story," she says. "I am a journalist bottom line. I read bits and pieces about myself, but not everything because I'd go crazy. I could pretend and say, 'I've done it before, it'll be fine. I'm not looking at the ratings at all'– all the other white lies that TV people make – but I felt a lot of pressure.
"I am a journalist bottom line. I read bits and pieces about myself, but not everything because I'd go crazy." (TV WEEK)
"[At the time] I thought Sam would stay for ages. I've never coveted the job; I was really happy doing the news. But on the flip, I knew I couldn't turn this down."
It was in quiet conversations with her husband Andrew Thompson and two sons, Lachlan, 19 and Hunter, 16, that she found the encouragement she needed. The three most important men in her life told her that she needed to "Woman up" and take the opportunity in front of her with both hands.
"There are moments in your life where you need to step up and this was it," she says. "Drew said to me, 'Nat, just do it'".
Nine months on, Sunrise has topped the ratings for 2021. Natalie has silenced her critics and her self-doubt.
"When I got in the seat, it did feel permanent and different," she says. "But after a few months, I wriggled around in the seat and I thought, 'I might belong here. I think I can do this'. Now I just feel comfortable in it."
"I was really happy doing the news. But on the flip, I knew I couldn't turn this down." (TV WEEK)
Natalie credits her "incredible" co-host Kochie for getting her through the top job jitters.
"I've known Kochie for 25 years and he's the most supportive person I could ever sit next too. I can't thank him enough and I honestly don't think I could've done it without him," she says.
For Natalie, her career has been a continual case of "woman-ing up". As a young journalist who was given a chance after sending letters into most newspapers, TV stations and radio stations in her home state of WA, to following her now-husband Drew to LA and taking up a role as a freelance news writer, she has always been on the lookout for how to grow and develop in her field.
The self-confessed "news junkie" was always destined to end up right where she is. Even if it means waking at 2.45am to start her day.
Natalie credits her "incredible" co-host Kochie for getting her through the top job jitters. (TV WEEK)
"It's still not a slog for me!" she says with a laugh. "I get up at the same time, make a coffee and start reading the news. I'm in the studio at 3.30am to go through the briefing notes, hair and makeup at 4am and I have a few bites of breakfast around 6am. But I love it. I wouldn't do any other shift."
Perhaps it's that hard-working nature and relatability that keeps her so well connected to viewers, but Natalie believes they've given her just as much, especially now as she sits front and centre.
"I've been there for 18 years and some of our viewers have had children since or had babies at the same time I did," she says. "They were doing what I was – footy training, school pickups – I feel like I know a lot of them. They've been part of my life and I've been part of theirs."
Natalie is so intertwined with women and mothers in particular, that many stop her in the supermarket or street to say hello.
"I chat to people a lot and they know exactly how old my kids are because they were pregnant at the same time or awake watching us," she says. "Mothers often say, 'How can you be so put together?' and I reply, 'I've had a professional do my hair and makeup for an hour, and someone bought me coffee! This is not the real world [laughs]!
"When you're sitting at home in your trackies with baby food stains, you do not feel like the person you see on the TV. But the person on the TV is not living the real life. I don't want women to think that's how I wake up. Believe me, at 53, I do not wake up like that [laughs]"
Nevertheless, the presenter is fast becoming a woman to aspire to. But the words "role model" won't slip from her tongue anytime soon – "but I do believe it's important that women who have been through longer working lives give a helping hand to the women coming through" she says - Natalie is simply doing her best and looking for the next chance to step up. It could be today, tomorrow or next year, but she's embracing what's ahead.
"This is way beyond what I thought I'd ever achieve," she says of her coveted gig. "I didn't think I'd get to Sydney. I was happy to get in as a reporter in Perth – that would've been my dream. To get this job all these years later, it's amazing. I can't put it into words. I'm very lucky."
A photo of Natalie as a young journalist in the '90s. (Supplied)
To cap off her incredible year, Natalie has very few plans except to ring in 2022 with her closest family and friends. And yes, she'll even hit the snooze button once or twice.
"I'm just so thankful to the viewers who have continued to tune in – I've been on the show since my 20-year-old was under 18 months old, so it's been a long time.
"I'm not going to lie – I'm on holidays soon and I'm going to sit back and have a drink or two" [laughs]. It's time to celebrate."

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