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Karl Stefanovic’s ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn: “My life without Karl”

It’s been two years since Karl Stefanovic left his wife and children. In this candid interview, Cassandra Thorburn reveals what it was really like being married to the Channel 9 star.
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Earlier this year, The Australian Women’s Weekly sat down with Karl Stefanovic’s ex-wife Cassandra Thorburn to hear her side of the story. Read our exclusive full profile below.

January school holidays earlier this year and poolside at one of the not-so-swank, old-style apartment blocks on Queensland’s Hamilton Island, Cassandra Thorburn is positively beaming.

The mum of three glorious children smiles broadly, bursting with pride as her two youngest – Ava, 13 and River, 11 – duck and dive with not a care in the world.

It’s the last day of the trio’s unforgettable Whitsunday adventure and Cass, as she prefers to be known, has called final swim. It’s time to pack up and fly home.

Picking up towels and goggles and pool toys, she had no clue that, lurking behind the bushes, two grubby paparazzi are frantically snapping away.

“They got what they came for – a very unflattering set of photos of a middle-aged mum of three – warts and all. I couldn’t care what they got, but don’t come near my children – they’re off limits,” says Cass, 47.

“That’s just one of the more heartless acts we’ve endured since Karl decided to up and leave back in 2016. Jackson, our eldest, had his car vandalised with the words, “I WAKE UP WITH KARL” written across the back, and I’ve had my tyres let down.

“I find it puzzling that there was not an ounce of interest in me before he left, and now I’m a prime target. It’s disgusting. I’ll continue to speak out until the madness stops – we didn’t sign up for this.”

Two years to the day after Nine Network TV presenter Karl Stefanovic walked out, The Weekly is catching up with Cass at her harbourside home on Sydney’s lower North Shore. That agonisingly dark emotional space that she spoke of last year is gone. She’s back – strong, healthy and more confident than she’s been in a long time.

In her own words, Cass is not remotely interested in discussing what is already “done and dusted”.

Karl’s departure was swift and decisive. There was no fight, there wasn’t even a conversation. He simply walked out and never came home.

Enough said. Nor does she want to talk about Karl and Jasmine Yarbrough’s imminent wedding. She insists that whole chapter of her life is no longer relevant.

“Thankfully I’ve been gifted with enough resilience and strength to have got us all through these past two years. I want only for my children to be respected – so walking away, that’s not respectful.”

READ MORE: Karl Stefanovic’s three children did NOT attend his wedding ceremony to Jasmine Yarbrough

Cassandra Thorburn says she’s moved on from her former life. (Image: The Australian Women’s Weekly)

Normally very private, Cass, a former journalist, put her own career on hold to be a stay-at-home mum while Karl pursued his childhood dream of fame.

He found that, and is now one of the highest paid TV personalities in the country.

Cass says she has had a gutful of the mistruths around their public split. “We are divorced but like many broken families it is extremely stressful for everyone concerned.

Why so much speculation about me?” she asks.

“Recently, there was another stupid lie [in the media] suggesting I’m paid a crazy monthly allowance, painting me as some money-grabbing scorned ex who sits around getting her nails done, sipping chardonnay. It’s hurtful and downright insulting.”

Watch the intimate video from inside Karl and Jasmine’s Mexico wedding …

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Despite a successful run as a television producer, Cass’ decision to give up her profession for the sake of her family is one she will never regret.

She remains a strong advocate for women who’ve made the decision to park their own careers, and believes her choice to be there for her three children while their dad went to work does not equate to lost opportunities.

“I’ve had an incredibly full and interesting life and wouldn’t give up the years of being there for them for anything. It incenses me that stay-at-home mums are, on the one hand, applauded for putting family first, making the choice to forgo careers for the sake of our children. But then, when there is a split, we’re either accused of manipulating the children or criticised for asking for the money that is rightfully ours – you can’t win.”

But Cass’ career is far from over. With her close friend, Cara Campbell, she is about to embark on a whole new chapter of her life.

The friends have co-authored their first children’s book – Leo Lion’s BIG Bed! – which is set for release this month.

“We both share a passion for reading. We’re two mums who genuinely care about child literacy and the importance of reading to your children,” Cass explains.

“I did a Bachelor of Teaching back in 1989 and my tutor was the children’s author, Mem Fox. I read every night to all three children – it was always my favourite time of the day. I have one of the largest collections of children’s books and will make sure they go down through the generations.”

Karl Stefanovic and Cassandra Thorburn during happier times. (Image: Getty)

The couple were married for 21 years. (Image: Getty)

Cara, 43, a human resources consultant, is one of a handful of Cass’ closest friends. She’s been there from the get-go, a constant and reliable rock for her sometimes fragile mate.

A mum of two young boys, and loving step-mum to four grown-up children, she’s also done her fair share of reading over the years.

“We first met in 2012, through kindy, when my son, Tom, asked River if he would be his friend. We’ve been there for each other right from the start; been at the coalface of this bitter split. While any divorce is difficult, some situations are more difficult than others. For Cass and the children, this playing out so publicly has been brutal at times.”

When the pair signed up for a children’s picture book writing course last August, neither could have imagined that 12 months later they would be knee deep in books, posting out hundreds of copies across the country. And Leo Lion’s BIG Bed! is quite an achievement for a self-published debut, with 30 glorious pages of illustration and the sweetest of prose.

For Cass, it’s a moment she’ll cherish for a very long time.

“I’ve written a children’s book to help other people through a divorce,” she explains.

“Proceeds from sales are being donated to Relationships Australia. I’ve seen first-hand the shortage of support and services for families, particularly children, and the work they do is invaluable.

“We took risks, we self-published and we managed to scrape the funds together. It’s been a real labour of love for us. The storyline – little Leo, a baby lion, is transitioning into his

big bed – mums and dads across the world will relate to. We were blessed to find such an extraordinary illustrator in Jennie Deane, who is also a mum. I met her through this wonderful friend of mine – he’s my guardian angel – and from the first stroke of her pencil, we knew we were onto a winner.”

A tad coy on some of the cryptic references in the book, Cass can reveal one of the key elements of little Leo’s journey to his bed is his much cherished blanket, affectionately named Bee-Bee.

“I have an ex-husband who still carries a piece of his baby blanket, ‘Bee-Bee’, in his pocket every day. It was something that always stuck with me,” says Cass. “Despite everything that has happened in his life, he wants a piece of his childhood to always be with him.”

Karl Stefanovic and Cassandra Thorburn at the 2011 Logie Awards. (Image: Getty)

Cass’ own childhood was markedly different from her former husband’s.

Born March 16, 1971, Cassandra Rae Thorburn came into this world blessed from the outset with a remarkable set of parents.

Growing up on the banks of the Murray River in the north-west Victorian community of Mildura, she always had an inquisitive mind and a wicked sense of humour.

Mum, Pat, is Cass’ greatest support – a woman who put herself through university in her late thirties and became the CEO of a large job networking company before retiring.

Dad, Max, moved from Melbourne to Mildura as a young man to work in radio, later becoming the local newsreader.

A member of Australia’s Country Music Broadcasters Hall of Fame, he never agreed with cross-media ownership so he started his own newspaper and community radio station, and today continues to call the horse races, and is a local councillor.

Cass adores her parents and her four siblings – Craig, Ashley, Sonya and Allegra – and her three kids are also very close to the Thorburn clan.

Karl Stefanovic and Jasmine Yarbrough started dating just five months after he split from Cass. (Image: Getty)

“My parents separated 30 years ago but they speak regularly and are great friends,” says Cass, “the way it should be, I suppose. Dad is the only grandfather the children have ever known and it feels like mum has been the only grandmother these past couple of years, since Karl and I split. My family’s love and support can’t change what has happened with the other side of the children’s family – it feels like they wiped every one of us in a matter of days. That’s one of the heaviest casualties from all this mess.

“Last year, I declared that Karl really was dead to me, a man I no longer know, but the children still have their father. The flip-side of that is I feel like we’re dead to his family and almost anyone from our old life. There has been practically no contact.

“The children were not invited to Sylvia and Peter’s wedding [Karl’s brother, Peter, and fellow television presenter Sylvia Jeffreys were married in March 2017]. I feel like we’ve been discarded and disposed of, replaced by a whole new line-up of starters. It has been a real adjustment period for me. For 21 years, that entire family was a part of my life and in a matter of a few days, two decades of memories are gone.”

READ MORE: Sylvia Jeffreys on kids, Christmas plans and Lisa Wilkinson

Karl Stefanovic and Jasmine Yarbrough’s official wedding portrait. (Image: Supplied)

The couple were married at the One & Only Palmilla resort in Mexico. (Image: Supplied)

Sadly for Cass, the past couple of months have brought more sorrow for the family. Her dear dad Max’s cancer is back.

“It is the third time in three years,” she says.

“It has been the most confronting thing I’ve ever had to deal with. He has been instrumental in my life, guiding me with my career and life choices. I have so much respect for him. I remember, for my 13th birthday, I asked for voice lessons so I could work with him at the radio station. Last month I packed up the car with the two youngest, and the pet pug Ponyo, and we drove to Mildura, stopping at motels and road stops along the way. It was, for all of us, some of the best times of our lives.

“Jackson, the eldest, is away overseas on a gap year but he managed to see his granddad before he left. Jackson is so much a Thorburn in character. He turns 19 at the end of August – he’s a beautiful young man and, just thinking about him, my heart swells with pride. I hope my other children are as caring and compassionate as he is, when they reach 18. He has a strong sense of family and, like me, does not tolerate disrespect.

“I talk a lot to the children about respect. They know it is something you earn. As a parent, you reap what you sow. As children get older, if you’re involved and interested in their lives, they allow you to be a part of theirs,” Cass explains, “knowing they can come to you for advice or just to have a chat. I’ve instilled in them right from wrong from when they were younger, and that’s why they’re so much happier now.”

And in some ways, Cass’ book is a message to her children about the lessons she’s learnt.

“When they get older and read my first book about little Leo to my grandchildren,” she says with a smile, “I want them to be reminded that I was their mother lion – the lioness who is strong and powerful, and will fight always for her cub and her pride … I want them to also believe it’s okay to have a Bee-Bee – even when you’re all grown up.”

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