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EXCLUSIVE: When Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales started a podcast characterised by their own madcap friendship, it showed them what happiness is all about

And sparked a cult-like following
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They say they are just two chicks chatting into the same phone at a kitchen table and if you tune in to their insanely popular podcast – along with the 100,000 or so who download every episode – you really will find just that.

Only these are not just any chicks, they are high-profile journalists Leigh Sales – host of ABC’s searing nightly 7.30 report on which she regularly grills politics’ toughest nuts – and Annabel Crabb, who excels in putting the Canberra bubble under her microscope, sometimes while baking cakes, and recently brought us the rigorously researched TV series Ms Represented about the rocky rise of women in politics.

Okay, but here’s the thing… this podcast is nothing to do with political hot potatoes, current affairs or any of that complex and serious stuff.

Well, potatoes do get a look-in – a recipe for glass potatoes using a jaw-dropping 250ml of oil to be precise.

Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb say they are just two chicks chatting into the same phone at a kitchen table.

(Image: Stephen Blake Photographic)

And it is hot, in the sense that Annabel and Leigh have stumbled upon something that has ignited the Zeitgeist.

But the true appeal of the podcast, while no doubt founded on the living room profile of these two women, is about something that has the power to connect us all.

One listener sums it up as: “Friendship like this is what everyone should aim for in life.”

The statistics, including those for the spin-off Facebook group with its 45,000-and-counting members, suggest a movement is underway, a cult even. But the reality is far less calculated.

So, to invoke Michael Caine, what’s it all about, Annabel and Leigh?

Under its highly confusing masthead, Chat 10 Looks 3 – an in-joke reference to the song Dance Ten: Looks Three from Leigh’s favourite musical A Chorus Line – presents the often random and frequently off-the-wall ramblings of “Sales” and “Crabb” on what they’ve watched, read, cooked and thought about.

The dynamic duo digresses with alacrity: musical theatre fanatic Leigh can break into a show tune accompanying herself on the piano, both regularly tumble into fits of giggles and ridicule one another with that ribbing that comes with years of familiarity and at least one episode was hijacked by garden fairy wrens!

All this babbling has hit a national chord, with followers – called Chatters – growing in numbers and flocking in their thousands to the live interstate sell-out stage shows.

Next stop is the newly released book, Well Hello: Meanderings from the World of Chat 10 Looks 3 in which Annabel and Leigh are depicted in illustrations with a distinct Scooby Doo-esque aura. Jeepers!

“It’s weird, isn’t it. When I think of the amount of resources in the entertainment industry that go into trying to make things work, it’s bizarre when something just happens literally by accident,” Annabel muses while sipping a cup of tea and sitting at – yes – her kitchen table.

Well Hello by Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales, Penguin Random House, is on sale now.

(Supplied)

“Sales was a bit smarter about it than I was, but it did really just sort of occur,” Annabel continues.

“Yes,” chips in Leigh. “I think it’s really hard to identify why it happened or what the key to its success is, but in hindsight I think it’s just the sense that it gives people a community where they feel connected to like-minded people.

“When they listen to us it gives the same kind of s**t that you get if you have a night out or a lunch with your female friends.

“I think that’s a big part of it. Fans of the podcast respond to us and interact with us. They see us as their friends.”

“I think it’s a great reminder for me of how therapeutic it is to take time out to talk to someone you love talking to about stuff you’ve been doing.

“The terrible secret about this for me and Sales is that we’ve maintained time for it because we’re also creating content. It’s the workaholics’ excuse for a catch-up,” jokes Annabel.

“We’ve learned conversationally to follow those ridiculous rabbit-holes wherever they go and that’s part of the pleasure of it.”

(Getty)

“I actually find it really useful because I always feel so much happier and so much more on top of things after talking to the scaly mate over there.

“If people listen in and get the same feeling, well, oh my gosh that’s an amazing thing to be able to give others.”

“As Crabb says … because often we get there and we’re tired and we’re stressed, and then you always feel better at the end of that interaction.

“Often we’ll start a conversation and we’ll say, okay, we’re going to talk about this TV show and this book, and then within seconds it’s off in a completely different direction that’s often hilarious.

“So we’ve learned conversationally to follow those ridiculous rabbit-holes wherever they go and that’s part of the pleasure of it.

“I think when you have interactions in real life with friends, when you reflect back over them it’s those silly conversational things that get everyone crying with laughter uncontrollably and after you have that kind of interaction, it’s an actual, tangible, physical change to your sense of wellbeing.”

Leigh and Annabel’s own friendship started at work. Leigh was anchoring the late-night news at the time and Annabel was transitioning from newspapers to the ABC. Annabel called Leigh for advice and they ended up sitting near each other.

“At some point after that, I invited Annabel to my house for morning tea,” recalls Leigh.

“She showed up and we got on fabulously but as the hours passed, I started to get somewhat anxious and wondered if she was ever going to leave.

“She’d arrived at about 10.30am and somewhere around 4.30pm she looked at her watch and declared she’d lost track of time and had a live radio cross to do, so raced up to my bedroom for a quiet spot.

“She finally went home and we’ve been firm friends since, although these days I prefer to go to her house for the obvious reason that I can control the departure time and bring the rendezvous to an end in under 6.5 hours!”

When you hear this tale, the genesis for the podcast is obvious.

And while the show’s proudly meagre production values, with often questionable sound quality and minimal planning, have been slightly spruced up over the years – they now mostly record in a studio – the authenticity that this amateur around the edges-ness creates promotes the idea that this really is how Leigh and Annabel chat to each other.

But is it?

“The thing that makes the podcast easy is that it’s completely authentic.”

(Image: Stephen Blake Photographic)

“The thing that makes the podcast easy is that it’s completely authentic. It’s not like Sales and I are performing an element of what our friendship is like. That’s exactly what it’s like.

“One of the things I liked about Leigh the first time I met her was that she’s basically a dirty big bogan, just like myself, and we have pretty good connections to ordinary life.

“We don’t take each other or ourselves too seriously, we enjoy having a super big laugh at ourselves and various pompous people around us and that’s totally legit.

“It’s what we’d talk about even if we didn’t have a microphone in front of us.”

In the wider world of social media, like many women in the public eye, Annabel and Leigh are battered by increasingly more vicious trolls and both have developed ways to deal with them.

“I think Leigh and I have slightly different approaches. She’s a very enthusiastic blocker. I’m not but I have learned a huge amount from Leigh about how to cope,” Annabel tells me.

“You have to turn it off and address yourself to the things that are real in your life, answering your own standards of competence and decency.

“If you start listening to every pub galah on social media you will go crazy. There’s no way to win an argument with various massed voices on social media.”

But while Annabel aims to ignore those who want to harm and listen to genuine reasoned critics, Leigh simply refuses to engage at all.

“I don’t want to use up my precious time in my day arguing with a stranger about something that’s not that important.

“Sometimes when I see colleagues embroiled in social media rows, I feel like you could be outside in the sun, you could be listening to music, you could be playing with your children, this is adding so much weight to your mental load and you don’t have to do it.”

Well Hello by Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales, Penguin Random House, is on sale now.

Read the full interview with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales in the November issue of the Australian Women’s Weekly – on sale now.

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