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“This has been a wake-up call”: Australia’s famous faces share their rare and unique learnings from the COVID-19 lockdown

From the fun of camping in the backyard to discovering what love truly means, some of our favourite stars tell The Weekly the lessons they’ve learnt during self-isolation.
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Self-isolation due to Covid-19 has been a lengthy and stressfu ltime for many, but it’s also been an ample time to reflect, reassess and build new interests and skills.

We asked some of Australia’s brightest local talents how they and their families have been coping and what they’ve come to realise throughout their separation from society.

Scroll on to see what they said!

Yellow Wiggle Emma Watkins says recent events have reminded her of the importance of giving back.

(Photo: Alana Landsberry)

Emma Watkins

The Wiggles were on day two of what was to be a year-long world tour when they were forced to screech to a halt.

Deciding to self-isolate together to work out of their Sydney studio, Emma Watkins says the quartet knew they’d play a vital role in alleviating fears for children and parents and also empowering them.

And so for the past few months Emma and her turtle-necked companions, Anthony Field, Simon Pryce and Lachlan Gillespie, have been pumping out new content from songs about handwashing and social distancing to crafting activities, mini-concerts and more.

Not only that, but given how much tougher the regions they were due to visit – including the US and UK – are doing, they disabled geo-blocking, making it available worldwide.

“Parents are juggling being a teacher, a chef and a parent,” Emma says of what spurred them into action.

“Around the world, we have parents asking ‘Please make more content!’ And it makes you think, we’re responsible for providing entertainment at the moment so we’ll just keep going.”

Megan Gale worked to find the silver lining around the crisis.

(Photo: Julie Adams)

Megan Gale

For Megan Gale, affirming the value of family and practising gratitude has long been a staple – it’s what led her recently to launch Mindful Life, an ethical skincare range for children.

But when COVID-19 hit she realised she’d only scratched the surface when it came to appreciating simple things, be that popping to the supermarket, hugging a friend or having coffee at her partner Shaun Hampson’s cafe.

“This has been a wake-up call,” she tells The Weekly. “I’ll be taking away [from the crisis] the appreciation of what we’ve had up until this point.”

Her children also found positives during the family’s self-isolation. Son River, six, had just started school while two-year-old Rosie remained at home.

When schools shut, the siblings’ bond blossomed in a way that delighted their parents. “They’ve become extremely tight, they’re missing each other now River is back at school,” Megan smiles. “It’s been wonderful to watch.”

The Denyers say they learned to find creativity in their closeness over the past months.

(Photo: Alana Landsberry)

The Denyer family

It was on the set of Dancing with the Stars that the reality of the pandemic hit home for Grant Denyer. As Christian Wilkins shimmied his way towards the grand finale, the contestant’s entertainment guru father, Richard, received news that he’d been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“If coronavirus has the ability to penetrate Richard Wilkins then we’re all vulnerable,” Grant recalls thinking. “That man has lived the life of rock and roll and excess, so I thought if anyone was safe it was him.”

As a socially distant cast and crew wrapped the show barely two weeks later, Grant jumped on one of the last planes to depart Melbourne, heading for the sanctuary of the family farm in Bathurst, NSW.

Along with wife Cheryl, Grant found himself in the new role of home school teacher to their children, which both felt quite ill-equipped to play.

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“We were struggling because we weren’t great students ourselves,” he says. And so the family hit on an idea to help make learning fun as well as creating a fun activity they would all enjoy.

Setting up the YouTube channel Storytime with Sailor and Scout, the girls (aged nine and four respectively) share their favourite books alongside their parents, having plenty of laughs in between.

“We thought we’d make some videos, read cool stories and maybe other kids might want to watch it with their parents themselves.”

Having spent years on the road for work, lockdown came with a silver lining for Grant. “I’ve spent more time with my family in the last months than I have for years,” he says.

“It was magical. It took our bond to another level and ended up becoming one of the greatest periods I’ve had in years.”

Jessica Rowe and Peter Overton used isolation to rediscover some of life’s simple pleasures.

(Photo: Alana Landsberry)

Jessica Rowe and Peter Overton

To their children Allegra, 13, and Giselle, 11, Jessica Rowe and Peter Overton are “just daggy Mum and Dad”. But while usually their advice and counsel would be batted away, when the pandemic first hit the dial shifted a little.

Each night, Jess and the girls would sit in front of the TV, watching Peter helm the late night news, disseminating the latest updates on the state of the nation.

“It certainly focused my mind and also helped in talking to the kids in a calm way,” Peter says of how his job got the family through those early days of panic.

“We were learning a whole new language: ‘The curve’, ‘social distancing’. It was an avalanche of information.”

Peter’s job also came in handy in a second way – he had direct access to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, interviewing her several times. For Allegra, who had just begun Year 7, she used the opportunity to badger the politician for a return to the school room.

“The realisation and clarity of the importance of school – the structure, the daily exposure to your friendship group, the importance of teachers – has been a real positive,” Peter says. “Hopefully for a lot of kids that will be something that they do carry through when they return to school full-time.”

“We are aware that we are lucky, that for many families this hasn’t been a great time,” adds Jess. “But what I’d like to hold onto and think about when we’re back in the outside world is the joy in the simplicity of things.”

“Like many families we camped in our backyard during the school holidays. While I was lying in my sleeping bag, I looked out through the doorway of the zip-up tent under our tree thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen this view of our backyard. And I also never realised how beautiful this is’.”

“I’m taking each day as it comes,” Miranda Tapsell tells us.

(Image: Jason Ierace)

Miranda Tapsell

Beloved actress and first-time author Miranda Tapsell was readying herself for the release of her memoir, Top End Girl, when the entertainment world shut down.

Along with film projects, theatres, galleries and concert halls, book festivals – which she had been due to speak at to promote her passion project – were swiftly cancelled.

It could have been a crushing blow for Miranda but instead, she tells The Weekly, it was a wonderful reminder of how lucky her life is.

“I realised how many people were getting sick and how many were losing their jobs,” she says now.

“A lot of my friends are out of work. I felt like it was a weird time to promote the book but I’m really grateful that people are getting a lot of joy, comfort and inspiration from it. The warm reaction it’s received is heart-warming.”

And as a self-professed workaholic, she’s also relished learning how to “slow down and smell the roses” as she waits for the film world to get back on its feet again.

“I’m taking each day as it comes,” she says. “I’m learning how to be kind to myself. I always had to think about the next thing that was coming along.”

“Now it’s about listening to audio books, ones that make me really happy, and I’m becoming a lot more content. And I know it’s cliche but yoga has been helping too.”

“I’m a bit of an introvert so it didn’t faze me to isolate,” say’s Sam Armytage.

(Photo: Peter Brew-Bevan)

Samantha Armytage

As March dawned, Samantha Armytage was hanging by a thread. Having extensively covered the horrific bushfire season, she’d been laid low with a respiratory infection for months. So it was, for the first time in her 20-plus-year career, when the Sunrise presenter finally stopped.

“My body was breaking down and I needed a rest,” she says now of her six-week leave period. “We talk about it all the time; it was time to put it into practice: health is more important than anything else. I wanted to prioritise my life, my health, my private life and happiness over work.”

And so Sam and partner Richard Lavender retreated to their home in the NSW Southern Highlands. As the country went into lockdown in the weeks that followed, it reinforced that message to remember the important things in life.

“I’m a bit of an introvert so it didn’t faze me to isolate,” she tells The Weekly. “But I did reconnect during my downtime with old friends. I might be the only person in Australia who hasn’t been online shopping – I don’t want any more stuff.”

“I want to simplify my life, make my world smaller. I have a wonderful life, a great family, a great group of friends, we all have our health and I don’t need much more.”

Read more about what people have been up to the past few months in the July issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale now.

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