Heading into the city on the ferry for this interview with Samantha Armytage, I get a call from my mum.
"Just don't make it about her weight," she suggests, which is funny because several months earlier, when Sam was on the phone to her mum, Mrs (Elizabeth) Armytage advised the exact opposite.
So here we are, at a cafe near the Seven Network's studios in Sydney's Martin Place, happily discussing Sam's waistline, a national obsession that the popular breakfast television host has until now stewed, blued and even sued over.
"Wow. A newspaper bullying a woman about her weight – I thought those days were gone!" she tweeted in 2014, after The Daily Telegraph ran a spread on her fashion mishaps. Then, of course, there was the time she set her lawyers onto The Daily Mail after their bullying, body-shaming jibe at her "granny panties".
But today the topic of Sam's weight is very much on the table (alongside a virtuous pot of peppermint tea) because the Sunrise host is chatting exclusively to The Weekly about her new role as Australian ambassador for WW, or Weight Watchers, as it used to be known.
Sam, 42, is fully aware that this unexpected partnership could have naysayers accusing her of hypocrisy. Why take on a role that will guarantee scrutiny of her weight after years of chastising the media for doing just that?
"Do you know what? My weight is already scrutinised," Sam says pragmatically.
"I understand there will be more scrutiny that comes with this … but the paparazzi are always already trying to take pictures of [me] where there is a fat roll showing. My mother said to me, 'Darling, for Godsake, if they are already sitting outside your house taking pictures of you putting the bins out, why not just talk about it?'"
Sam, of course, is not the first star to fly the flag for WW.
Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Ferguson, Jennifer Hudson, Kate Hudson, Robbie Williams and, closer to home, MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan, have all signed on with the wellness and weight-loss giant.
But one of the risks involved with this sort of role is of increased trolling, where an ambassador is derided for looking too thin today, too fat tomorrow.
"I don't want to get caught up in silly social media trolling because it's hateful and in my job I've learned to just ignore that crap," she says.
"This is about living [my] best life and being strong. People know inside whether they feel good or not. Losing a few kilos is part of that – and it's only part of it. I've gone back to the gym, I've got a trainer, I box twice a week, I walk the dog every day. I don't think that's giving in to body shamers. This is about me feeling good and going into this next phase of my life, my forties, feeling strong and having energy."
It's a complicated time to be in the weight-loss game. People don't diet anymore – they eat clean, cleanse, go vegan or gluten-free, do a juice fast, an F45 class or they start following an Instagram wellness warrior like Kayla Itsines. It's no longer cool to aspire to thinness; you're supposed to want to be strong.
"Healthy is the new skinny," WW president and CEO Mindy Grossman declared in 2017, as she shifted the company's focus from pure dieting to a more holistic approach to wellness.
The move resonated with Sam, who in the past has turned down offers from other weight-loss companies.
"I have said it before and I will say it again: I don't want to be skinny. I have boobs, I have a bum, I have curves. I like being a woman with a womanly figure, so I don't want to be skinny-skinny," she says.
Her close friend and long-term colleague, Adene Cassidy, agrees.
"Sam's got one of the best body images of anyone I know. She's very happy in herself," she says.
"I have never heard her complain about the way she looks and you can't say that about a lot of other women. She's a great role model. I would love my girls to be like that."
Sam is looking, since you ask, trim and healthy, having shed 10kg (and counting) with WW since January.
After years of yo-yoing, she believes the WW SmartPoints system – which assigns points to foods and drinks based on energy, sugar, saturated fat and protein content – offers a realistic and sustainable path forward for those like her who can't go without entirely.
"I like cheese and biscuits in the afternoon. I like to have a wine. If I deprive myself of those things – I've tried before – I end up bingeing and being worse off than I was before," she admits.
"I've never been terribly disciplined with weight loss. Like everyone, you get tired, run down, you go for the carbohydrates, drink too much coffee, too much wine, you put on a few kilos and start to get bogged down. I didn't want to do that anymore so I made some choices."
There is an easiness to Sam, no doubt borne of her warm, country upbringing, that invites a trade in confidences.
After an hour at the cafe we're chatting like old friends – not just about her weight battles ("I went on the leek soup diet when that French Women Don't Get Fat book came out and I will never touch another leek!"), but also about her childhood, her two-year-old pup Banjo, her idols, her Instagram "inspo" and the paparazzi.
Yet even Sam has her limits. She groans audibly when I ask about that other topic of tabloid fascination: her relationship status. I tell her I have it on extremely good authority she is back on with on-off boyfriend Paul O'Brien, the multi-millionaire managing director of aircraft charter company AVMIN.
"Don't believe the rumours," she laughs.
"But life is good. I do give of myself a lot through four hours a day of live TV. I'm happy to share my weight journey but feel I should keep some things private."
Which, it has to be noted, is not a denial.
Still it must be irritating that her glittering career success – six years at the helm of the country's highest rating breakfast show – is continually overshadowed by talk of both her appearance and her status as one of Australia's best-known singletons. Would this be the case if she were a man?
"Not in the same way. I don't think people would be as worried if a man was single, but I still think there is a great appetite for personal information," she says.
She must have felt a tiny bit relieved, then, when former rival Karl Stefanovic assumed her mantle as most prized tabloid target following his divorce and subsequent remarriage?
"No, I hope he is happy – that's all you want for your friends," she says.
"He is a good guy. I don't like it when anyone's private life becomes tabloid fodder. I don't think anyone has the person's best interest at heart – it all just becomes gossip."
Sam has a famously frosty relationship with the paparazzi and gossip press, which has embarked on a kind of 'mean girls' campaign against her, on and off, since 2013, when she first joined David Koch on the famous Sunrise couch.
Her weight, her appearance, both on and off-set, her boyfriends, and hurtful allegations of mistreatment of Seven make-up and wardrobe staff have all been dissected.
Friends and colleagues insist her treatment by the tabloids has been manifestly unfair. Unsurprisingly, she harbours resentment; surprisingly, her feelings appear to have been transmitted to Banjo.
"Banjo is the most shy, coy dog I have ever seen," she laughs. "He now goes into bushes to do a poo in the park because we are always getting followed by men with cameras."
Sam bought Banjo two years ago as a "deliberate" ploy to bring her life into balance.
"He's my baby, my fur baby. I chose to get him at a time when I thought, 'I need to calm down, I need to go home and feed something, I need to think about something that's not me, and I need to quieten life down a little bit.'"
The plan appears to have worked. Acutely aware of being in her forties (she references her age several times during our chat), Sam now goes to bed at 7.30pm on weeknights, retreats to her second home in the Southern Highlands most weekends with friends, meditates, writes, exercises and gardens.
"I love gardening," she enthuses. "I have a beautiful garden. It's my antidote to my busy life and the news cycle, which can be very wearing!"
Although she paints a life of quiet domesticity, I gather Sam is a hoot socially.
"She's the person you want to sit next to at the dinner party," confirms Sunrise newsreader Natalie Barr.
"She's the fun person, the life of the party, the one you want with you on a night out. She's got all the stories, she's smart, she's sassy and she's hugely entertaining."
So would Sam one day like to add a human baby to her "fur baby" brood?
"I can't win with that question," she says, faltering for the first time in our interview.
"Look, how do I say this? I think for many years I've been saying I'd like to get my life in balance and I feel that's actually happening now so anything else after that would be a blessing." She has, however, ruled out embarking on motherhood alone.
In the meantime, she's a devoted aunt and surrogate aunt to her nieces, nephews, and friends' offspring. Adene says if she gets caught up at work, Sam will pick her children up from school, and drop off eggs fresh from her Southern Highlands retreat.
"She's a real mother hen, a really caring country girl at heart. You don't have to be a mum to have those qualities," she says.
Breakfast TV has a way of infiltrating our hearts. Its upbeat chattiness streams into our living rooms at a time when we are otherwise battling sleep deprivation and child-induced stress.
The hosts seem at times like the only cheerful members of our family, like they somehow belong to us. Natalie says it's not unusual for people to come up to her in the street and ask after her 14-year-old son, Hunter, because they remember when he was born. Relatability and continuity are key in breakfast TV.
This is one of the reasons, industry insiders say, why Today is languishing after taking a broom to its entire team and why Sunrise is enjoying a purple patch.
Kochie and Natalie have been there for 16 years and, after six years of "calling a spade a shovel", viewers know exactly what to expect from Sam.
"Authentic" and "what you see is what you get" are the words most often used to explain Sam's popularity with viewers.
"I'm a normal person people can relate to, particularly women, and I have a body a lot of other women have," Sam says.
"My weight goes up and down and sometimes I fall off the wagon as far as going on diets, and sometimes life is stressful and sometimes life is easy and I show that. It's been part of my success to be normal – who would have thought?"
Certainly not family and friends, many of whom have known Sam from her boarding school days at Sydney's prestigious Kincoppal-Rose Bay. Sam says they still tease her whenever a story or photographs appear in the tabloids.
"They're like, 'Why? You're not that interesting!' and I'm like, 'I know! I'm picking up dog poo in the park, go figure!'"
Sam had a "very run-of-the-mill country, happy, outdoorsy, well-loved" childhood in Adaminaby, a small town in New South Wales' Snowy Mountains.
Her mother was a stay-at-home mum and "very good country cook" while her dad ran the family's property. She and her siblings never thought about what they were eating; food was simply fuel.
So it was a huge shock for Sam to step into the goldfish bowl of Sydney celebrity, where her every move and outfit is scrutinised.
"I wasn't used to that; I wasn't prepared and it's been brutal, but I've got a handle on it now," she admits.
"Luckily my self-esteem has always been very healthy and I thank my country upbringing for that. Of course I've had moments where I've thought, 'I need to lose a few kilos' but my self-esteem, my values and principles have never changed."
WATCH BELOW: Meet Samantha Armytage's gorgeous puppy Banjo. Story continues after video.
Sam's insistence on her representative normality is sincere, but it also masks the complexity involved in making her job appear effortless.
"It's the grind of the 3am starts and stress of live TV every day," explains Natalie.
"It's not for a week or a month, it's for year after year. It takes over your life. It's the lack of sleep, it's thinking about the job all day. Like most journalists, you have to keep across everything from Federal politics to entertainment. She does that so well."
There have, in the past, been suggestions from others – and Sam herself – that her gruelling work life and sleeping patterns have led her to neglect her private life.
"I have no life," she once joked on Tea with Jules, the YouTube show of fashion/lifestyle host Jules Sebastian. "It's no wonder I'm single."
But today, Sam is shouldering all responsibility for where her life is at.
"Jane Fonda once said, 'I am a slow learner and a late starter.' And that is me to a T,'" she tells me. "I feel like I might just be working it all out in my forties. Your twenties are a nightmare. Your thirties you are sort of getting it together. I feel like in my forties I'm in control, I'm really happy."
So what hadn't she worked out before? "The whole balance thing. I've made dating mistakes in the past."
Indeed Sam also told Jules Sebastian: "My mum said to me one day, 'Sam, you have worse taste in men than Princess Diana'. It's true, it's appalling. If there are 29 great guys in a room and one d---head, I will pick the d---head every single time."
Yet she now feels she's on a better path. "I've a fairly young spirit, so I feel like there's time for me, and life is heading in a very good direction."
So, where to from here? Sam re-signed with Sunrise just before Christmas, which means she and Kochie will be brightening our mornings for a few years yet. And when that chapter closes, there are her interests in interior design, architecture, business and writing to pursue.
She's currently "playing around" with a sit-com because she misses writing.
"It's about a girl in television who conquers the world," she says, then bursts out laughing. "No, but it is about a girl in television. You've got to write what you know."
And after years of figuring it out, you get the feeling Sam now knows who 'that girl' really is.
For information on WW (the new Weight Watchers), visit ww.com.
Sunrise screens weekdays from 5.30 am on the Seven Network.
The June issue of The Australian Women's Weekly is on sale now.
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Australian Women's WeeklyJan 23, 2020