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EXCLUSIVE: Richard Wilkins and son Christian open up about their inseparable bond

One is a thrice-married TV legend whose favourite meal is bangers and mash, the other a flamboyant vegan model with aspirations to act. But this pair say that have far more in common than meets the eye.

By Tiffany Dunk
The first thing that hits you when you walk into the Wilkins household is the pulse of music. Booming out on our arrival, speakers twine through every room in the newly renovated waterfront property on Sydney's north shore, ensuring a steady stream of tracks carefully curated to suit every mood and moment.
It's a shared passion for two of the home's main residents: Richard – the 66-year-old seasoned entertainment reporter – and his youngest son, Christian, 25, who recently tangoed his way into the heart of Australia, placing second on Dancing with the Stars.
As The Weekly will discover when we spend the day with the duo, there are many similarities that have bonded father and son strongly.
They both light up in the spotlight, love public speaking, enjoy the same movies and are happiest when entertaining friends, family and friends who've become like family.
Taking a seat to chat at the enormous bar, the hub of a multitude of star-studded gatherings (Richard hires a professional bartender to serve guests for larger shindigs), the pair are keen to reiterate this point.
"Despite appearances, the Wilkins family are actually fans of the simple pleasures in life," drawls Christian with a nod and a wink out at the infinity pool which leads out of the party den. "Which is just getting together, having good times and watching Love, Actually."
"I would say that Dad and I are very similar. We share a lot of the same viewpoints. And the ones we don't share, we're very good at challenging each other as to how we can think in different ways without ever making the other person feel uncomfortable."
"We both push each other. And I think people would be very surprised at how much we both look at each other for support in terms of life, love and career. We are very much there for each other."
But that being said, as is often the case with when it comes to parents and their offspring, there are the occasional sharp divides as well.
"Christian, did you turn the music down?" Richard admonishes the aspiring actor and presenter before adding with a chuckle, "I can't believe my parents were always telling me to turn the volume down. Now I'm the one telling my son to turn it back up!"
"I think people would be very surprised at how much we both look at each other for support in terms of life, love and career," says Christian. (Photography by Julie Adams. Styling by Dale McKie.)
Richard's passion for both family and music are evident. Studded amongst the pop memorabilia decorating the walls – signed posters, photographs of everyone from Michael Jackson to Mick Jagger – are favoured portraits of his five children.
Towering racks of Access All Areas stage passes acquired over his 33 years at the Nine TV network threaten to topple over the many mementoes gifted to him by his offspring.
Christian lives here full-time. Richard's youngest child, Estella (whose mother, fashion designer Collette Dinnigan, resides in Rome) is at boarding school in Mittagong, NSW, but – as we visit – is on school holidays.
The 15-year-old pops out to say a polite hello as her brother and father beam, her interest in having her picture taken less than zero.
Tomorrow, says Richard, two more children will be added to the mix as Rebecca, 37, and Nick, 35 – his children with second wife Lynette – will join them for a big family dinner.
There will be a third generation present – Rebecca's daughter and Richard's first grandchild, Isabella Rose, two. He's hopeful that the scene will be repeated again on Father's Day on September 6.
Richard and his three sons (L-R) Christian, Adam and Nick walk the red carpet in 2012. (Getty.)
"I appreciate we all have different mums," says Christian, whose mother, Michelle Burke, was wife number three. "But we've never used the terms half or step or whatever sibling."
"We're all just each other's siblings and we love being in each other's lives. I never came out traditionally to my parents; I never said it as I never felt any need to. But my siblings were always so supportive of my sexuality. And because of that, it allowed me to feel able to be completely me."
Being a dad, Richard confides with what is the first of a glistening of what will be many unshed tears as he talks about his family today, is "the best thing I've ever done".
"I've got five kids and I love them to bits. I'm enormously proud of each of them and supportive, protective and, hopefully, loving. I'm being the best father that I know how to be. And I'm certainly a much better dad now than I was when my first child was born."
WATCH BELOW: Richard celebrates his son Christian after the marriage equality postal survey result. Story continues below.
Richard got an early start on fatherhood. As an 18-year-old he welcomed his first son, Adam, with his then 16-year-old girlfriend – who he swiftly married – in his native New Zealand.
At the time, Richard was just starting university, with the aim of becoming a lawyer. That dream was quickly swapped as he dropped out of school and began working in the local abattoir by day, earning what he could to support his young family while also studying to be a teacher at night.
"At 18 I couldn't really tie my own shoelaces let alone be a responsible parent," he laughs now. "But I had to make some big decisions at a young age, and I did."
One of those was keeping the baby. Adam, now 48, has Down syndrome and over the years Richard has bristled at those who suggested he could have been adopted out or the pregnancy could have been terminated.
"I always wanted to be a dad," he says simply. "Adam has been the most wonderful blessing to our family. If it hadn't been for Adam I probably would have run away and joined the circus or a rock band or whatever."
"He forced me to grow up so I'm enormously grateful and indebted to Adam. And I desperately want to see him, what with all this nonsense going on."
This nonsense is, of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic for which Richard himself became an unwitting face in its earliest stages.
He caught the virus from actress Rita Wilson, wife of Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks, a typically larger than life story befitting of the man they dub "Mr Entertainment".
He didn't have any symptoms but the repercussions were huge. At the time Christian was steadily making his way towards the finals on Dancing With The Stars – alongside contestants including Celia Pacquola, Claudia Karvan and Olivia Newton-John's daughter, Chloe Lattanzi.
The production was forced to shut its doors to live audiences, and all cast and crew were screened and put into isolation while they awaited their results.
As Christian was making strides to be viewed as his own person, not "the son of", he became front page fodder as his father and the world adjusted to our new normal.
Richard acknowledges that he's become a much better father as time has gone on. (Photography by Julie Adams. Styling by Dale McKie.)
Like many of us, Richard has relished the timeout that the pandemic has provided. "Having spent the last 35 years of my life running through airports, an enforced shutdown for me is not the end of the world," he explains.
"But I'm immensely sorry for Christian. You come out of Dancing With The Stars and the phone is ringing off the hook and there are offers of ads and acting roles, and all of a sudden the whole thing goes [screwing up his face and miming deflation] pfft."
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't disappointing," admits Christian. "But I'm self-aware enough to release this is literally a worldwide issue and to cry poor about it would completely miss the point."
"Sure, it's a shame but I need to keep my spirits up and keep hustling, to keep trying to maintain the idea of the things I want to do so that when this is finally over I can strike again."
While his other four children shudder at the thought of life in the public eye, Christian has always been the one most likely to follow in his father's shiny footsteps.
Christian has always been the one most likely to follow in his father's shiny footsteps. (Photography by Julie Adams. Styling by Dale McKie.)
At three years old, the pair laugh, Christian would don a feather boa putting on a nightly mime show to Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On' before he'd consent to go to bed.
Soon after finishing high school he got his start working at Nine on its social media channels and, having accompanied his dad to more than a few gigs, it wasn't long before he became a red carpet favourite thanks to his gloriously flamboyant fashions.
But rather than relying on a "plus one" invitation, he continued to try to evolve his career. In 2017, he was a participant in heavy-hitting SBS factual show Filthy Rich and Homeless ("I was scared stiff every night the phone didn't ring," confesses Richard of his son's stint sleeping on the streets to gain a better insight into the homelessness crisis) and last year launched cult podcast Radical Fashionism alongside his best friend, Andy Kelly.
"People used to say to me, 'Do you fear that you're always going to be in your father's shadow?'," Christian says of his earliest forays into public life. "And I was like, not at all. I would have no issue if my whole career was just following in his footsteps – how amazing."
WATCH BELOW: Richard discusses his son Adam live on Today. Article continues below.
"Forget that," scoffs Richard. "Those footsteps are unknown to me, I could never do anything like that. He's immensely talented, as he's subsequently shown.
"I've always said to Christian, 'You are going to work twice as hard to get half as far'. Because people assume – incorrectly – that I've said, 'Hey, can you put my kid in this thing?' and it just doesn't happen that way. You can open the door but once it's half open it's all up to him."
Certainly, Christian seems to have taken that advice to heart. He's warm and charming in person and quick to acknowledge the role his father has played preparing him for life in the public eye – an imperviousness to becoming starstruck being chief among them.
During his quarter century he's seen just about everything and everyone come through these doors.
"We had dinner with Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe one night," he grins. "And it ended with Dad complaining that his back was sore and Mel walked on his back to crack it."
"I remember looking up from the table and thinking, 'Well, this is one to remember!'"
The tales roll on. There's the one about Jon Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora dropping in for a jam session. The night Julian Lennon's imminent arrival prompted Richard to clear his bookshelves of all his Beatles books, including the conspiracy theory tome Who Killed John Lennon?.
And there's the time John Travolta and Kelly Preston – who just days before our chat had passed away after a secret battle with breast cancer – rang to invite themselves over for a drink. Christian declined to stick around, preferring to head out with his friends instead.
"It's not like we were the best of friends but John and I have crossed paths a hundred times over the years," Richard explains of his unlikely house guests.
"Plus Olivia Newton-John is a very close friend of mine. In fact, I think it was my idea after an event one night that they should do a Christmas album together which of course they did."
"I was always shitty that they gave that money away to charity – no 10 per cent for me! No, they were a lovely family and Kelly could not have been nicer to me. I was extremely sad to see her go."
But while the stories roll on of the famous faces Richard has met in his time on the screen, one thing remains clearest of all. He'd swap any of those experiences for time with his children.
"I remember one time we were all on Hayman Island for a family holiday," Christian recalls. "It was the first time in years we'd had all of us kids together and it was completely unrelated to work."
But on the second day of their week-long vacation, the phone rang. Elton John was in Australia and he'd agreed to do one interview – but he'd only talk to Richard or Molly Meldrum. "You need to come back," said his bosses.
"We were like, 'Dad, it's so much cooler for you to go and interview Elton John than to be on a family holiday with us," Christian says they urged their father. "But he stayed. He said no."
And so Molly Meldrum got the music scoop. But, says Christian, "I reckon we got the scoop right here with Dad."
Read the full interview and many more in the September issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.

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