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Shelley Craft: Why it pays to be nice

Nice guys don’t always finish last, and Shelley Craft is living proof.

Shelley Craft is like a smiley face sprung to life – even when she has been dragged out of bed before dawn.

Byron Bay is still waking up this morning as her two little girls flit around the hotel room and her husband surfs at Wategos Beach nearby, but Shelley chats away in the make-up chair, every bit as warm and sunny as her on-screen persona.

“There’s no demarcation,” says her husband, Christian Sergiacomi.

A former cameraman, “Serge” fell in love with Shelley’s “permanent bubbliness” and suspects it’s why so many Australians like her, too.

“The most common thing I hear is, ‘You just know that off-camera she’s going to be normal’.”

Shelley has made a career out of that girl-next-door normality, from her first TV appearance as an effervescent 18-year-old, wearing an ice-cream bucket on her head and talking about magpie-bombing season on Saturday Disney.

She has kept it light ever since, presenting on shows such as The Great Outdoors, Australia’s Funniest Home Videos and The Block.

Niceness, it seems, is her calling card. “If there is any cynicism or ego, she keeps it in check,” says the editor of website TV Tonight, David Knox. “Insiders say you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has a bad word about her.”

Perhaps Shelley is that rare thing: a happy, well-adjusted TV star.

She describes herself as “vanilla”, but it’s probably the secret of her success.

“I guess I was trained from a very early age,” she says, “that when you do say something, it will be judged.” It pays to be inoffensive on TV and Shelley isn’t the type to make waves anyway.

These days, though, Shelley says she’s less likely to sit on the fence; motherhood has helped her discover who she is and ushered in a more thoughtful version of herself.

“I’m getting better at not just saying what I think, but actually thinking at all,” she says. “I’m liking discovering what I do and don’t like, what upsets me and what doesn’t. People have said, ‘Gee, you’re a lot harder on The Block than you ever were before.’ It’s because I feel I’m allowed to speak my mind more. I don’t need to apologise for who I am or what I do. And there’s a lovely freedom that comes with that.”

As she nears her 40th birthday in June, Shelley says she has never felt more at ease with herself.

“I’m not controversial – I’ve always had lovely, light roles – so being a mum is probably the most serious job I’ve ever had to fulfil and that’s given me a real sense of self,” she says. “It’s allowed me to grow up. I’ve always been the happy, smiley one, and you can’t always be like that in motherhood. It’s taken me a little while to adjust to that, to not just being their friend or the fun one, but that role of responsibility.”

On the beach, the photo shoot is stretching into its fourth hour and the girls are understandably over it. As three-year-old Eadie clings to Mummy, Milla, five, makes a run for it and tries to scale a nearby tree. Shelley snaps into discipline mode: “Milla, now! Get down!”

Shelley, who calls herself a “pretty tough” mum, jokes, “I only need to yell once and I will use that power.” Her own mother, she recalls, could silence Shelley and her three siblings with just a look. She’s working on that.

When Eadie was a baby, Shelley told The Weekly she was aiming for four kids – which was news to Serge. They have since decided to stop at two.

“Time is so precious and so limited for us that I really couldn’t do it to the girls, let alone Serge,” says Shelley. “[The girls] are great friends and I didn’t want to mess with that dynamic either. I’m one of four and it occurred to me that Mum and Dad ended up sort of being overseers. We’re a tight unit of four and we’re a really good team.”

For the past seven years, they have made their home in Byron Bay, the balmy seaside town in northern NSW beloved by backpackers and hippies.

Shelley’s work life, however, isn’t quite as Zen, with the self-confessed workaholic travelling for her TV roles and brand endorsements – and now a kids’ entertainment band called Animals Rock.

Shelley recently started touring with local musician Beau Young and a bunch of life-size animal mascots, rocking out to tunes such as Moo Moo Cows and The Happy Horse.

“I was ready to live out my inner rock-star fantasies,” says Shelley. “I love being scared to death and performing on stage, even in front of three-year-olds, is damn scary.”

So are TV ratings. The second season of Reno Rumble, featuring Shelley and her Block co-host Scott Cam, launched last month to disappointing numbers, which means producers of The Block’s upcoming 12th season will be feeling the heat.

When the series starts filming in May, Shelley will commute from Byron Bay to Melbourne three days a week, returning each night to be home with her family.

“When I am away, I know [the girls] do feel it,” she says. “I always thought kids could just go with the flow, but there’s also a point where they need consistency and routine.”

Something had to give – which is why the couple canned a renovation on a spectacular hilltop property they bought three years ago.

They recently sold the house and moved closer to town instead. Real-life renovations are far more painful and prolonged than the TV versions, Shelley says, and they already had their hands full with two kids and a 52kg Rhodesian Ridgeback called Aldo.

Without a live-in nanny or family help nearby, Serge is the one who carries a lot of the domestic workload. “I couldn’t do motherhood without him,” says Shelley.

Now a local real estate agent, Serge takes calls throughout the shoot, in between helping his daughters into their outfits.

“Give me a swish,” says the burly, ex-professional rugby player, wiggling his hips, and Milla does a twirl. Apparently Serge’s only parental failing is his incompetence with plaits and ballet buns.

“Once we had the girls, that was it – he was in love,” says Shelley. “It’s beautiful to watch and it makes you even more in love with that person when they can have that soft side.”

Shelley and Serge, who were in the same year at neighbouring private schools in Brisbane, both worked on The Great Outdoors and were friends for years before they got together.

“He saw the real me,” says Shelley, “long before we ever hooked up.” Serge recalls one work trip when he found Shelley had clambered deep inside the coach’s cargo hold early one morning to help the bus driver load the luggage.

“[With Shelley] it’s always about everyone else,” says Serge. “The beautiful blonde locks and big blue eyes obviously help, but you can have that and not have any soul … We are definitely best friends. We just know each other so well, and there’s huge trust and respect, too.”

Keen to make time for each other, the pair tries to meet for a coffee or surf during the day, and recently spent four nights together in Fiji – their first trip away from the kids since Milla’s birth.

Marriage, however, shouldn’t be hard work. “You need to work through certain things, but the actual marriage should never come into question,” says Shelley, who split from her first husband, marketing man Brett De Billinghurst, in 2007.

“There is a point in a marriage where you’re either going to get through it or you’re not, but if it’s a good marriage I don’t think that line ever comes up – and if it’s not right, you probably innately know that.”

Conscious of her own good fortune, Shelley has become a patron of RizeUp Australia, an organisation founded by her ex-sister-in-law, Nicolle Edwards, which helps furnish new homes for family violence victims. Although Shelley hasn’t experienced domestic violence first-hand, she has close friends who have.

“Choosing the wrong partner is sometimes just plain bad luck – and you’re too far in before you realise that,” she says. “To feel in fear of your life standing in your own kitchen while you’re making your kids’ dinner is something that no one should ever have to feel.”

Shelley hopes that a loving, supportive dad will help her daughters grow into strong, confident women. Most of all, she wants to teach them to be happy with who they are. “If my girls can grow up comfortable in their own skin, without too many hang-ups, I will be a happy old lady,” she says.

Personally, says Shelley, she has never understood the obsession with body image or the compulsion to compare oneself to an unrealistic ideal. “It’s just not on my radar,” she says. “I’ve never dieted.” She rarely wears make-up and hasn’t tried Botox either. “I just don’t see any need. I work with a bunch of tradies! The day Scott Cam gets Botox, I’ll get Botox – so I think I’m pretty safe.”

She seems to revel in her ordinariness; when people ask her on social media about her wardrobe, for example, she’s proud she can direct them to Witchery or Sportsgirl. “I don’t walk around with designer handbags,” she says.

“It’s lovely to be that everyday mum and I hope that’s how people relate to me.”

As soon as the interview is over, Shelley wastes no time wiping off her make-up. Back in her board shorts, one of Australia’s best-known faces gathers up her girls and heads for the beach.

This story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

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