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EXCLUSIVE: An intimate interview with Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull

He's a Prime Minister constantly under siege, but Malcolm Turnbull knows his family always has his back. Here, The Weekly talks to Malcolm and his wife, Lucy, about childhood trauma, falling in love and why being a grandparent is "a beautiful thing".

By Juliet Rieden

It's early January, at the end of the summer holidays when The Weekly manages to gather Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull together with their grandchildren for a very special shoot.

We've been warned that persuading Jack, four, Isla, two, and Alice, one, to sit still together is no easy feat, so we've hired the gardens of a Sydney mansion where we've set up a picnic blanket bedecked with toys under a sturdy swing slung from a tree.

The children throw themselves into it, jumping onto the swing and sifting through the toys, watched over intently by their grandparents. So far, so good. But then the heavens open and a drenching summer storm threatens to ruin everything.

This is when Lucy and Malcolm spring into action, sweeping up the now rather boisterous and antsy children for a family reading session under the portico; and then when the rain stops as abruptly as it started, Malcolm persuades Jack into a game of impromptu cricket.

It's a touching and no doubt familiar scene.

Malcolm and Lucy are loving their role as grandparents!
Malcolm and Lucy are loving their role as grandparents!

Being a grandparent is "fantastic. I highly recommend it to anyone," Lucy says a few weeks later when we sit down to chat in the Lodge in Canberra. "These little people make you feel young again. It's wonderful to have that close relationship; and to see your own children as parents is a beautiful thing."

Jack, the eldest son of the Turnbulls' daughter Daisy and her husband James Brown, is the undisputed leader of the grandchildren pack, with bundles of energy. His sister Alice, born just over 18 months ago, can only watch with wonder.

Isla is the daughter of their son, Alex, and his wife, Yvonne, who live in Singapore. "Yvonne is Chinese and so Isla speaks fluent Chinese and English," Lucy explains. "She very cleverly observed that we don't speak Chinese so she's speaks English to us."

Isla is certainly a bright spark, shooting off words in Chinese to her parents and gleeful English quips for the rest of us. "Alex and Yvonne have a genuinely bilingual household, but little Isla, or Ming Ming as she is known, is very, very astute," says Malcolm. "I was cuddling her the other day and she pointed to a picture of a fish on the wall and said, Yu, which is Chinese for fish, and then she looked at me and she said, Fish, Yeye!" says Malcolm laughing.

"Isla calls me Yeye, but Jack and Alice call me Baba," he adds. "Yeye is Chinese for the father's father."

One of Malcolm and Lucy's grandkids speaks fluent Chinese and English - and she's only two.
One of Malcolm and Lucy's grandkids speaks fluent Chinese and English - and she's only two.

In a month when traditional family values have been whipped up into a political tornado in Canberra, resulting in the resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, the cynics out there may detect a whiff of spin doctoring about The Weekly's scene of family harmony.

But here's the thing... Our shoot and interviews are in fact the result of months of organisation and both took place well before the Barnaby Joyce story hit the headlines, and, according to the Prime Minister, before he had any sense of his Deputy's ill-advised extramarital relationship.

Since we talked, Malcolm Turnbull has declared the Nationals leader's affair with a former staffer resulting in her pregnancy as "a shocking error in judgement" and announced a "captain's call" ban on sexual relations between ministers and their staff. He also said that parliament needs to take a long hard look at itself. But how can he and his ministry fix the problem?

"Simply by ensuring our workplaces are respectful places and that, particularly, in this environment here in parliament where most of the members are men, that women are respected," he responds.

And whether you think his change to the ministerial code of conduct is dignified and principled or patronising and nanny-state, there's no question that Malcolm, who converted to Catholicism in 1999, is serious about the sanctity of marriage and the damaging effects of separated parents on the family unit.

Indeed, it's something the Prime Minister has experienced first-hand. As an eight-year-old, Malcolm was devastated when his mother Coral walked out of the family home, leaving his father to raise him on his own. Malcolm was Coral's only child and I suspect that feeling of brutal abandonment has never left him.

"As a little boy, I remember before she left we used to run around the Hills Hoist in the backyard and chase each other around. I remember her reading to me; in fact, after she died in 1991 [in the US] I brought all of her books back to Australia and I have the three volumes of Lord of the Rings which she used to read to me," he says.

"She was a fantastic mother until she left, absolutely great in every respect, but then she left and she wasn't there."

To read the full story buy The Australian Women's Weekly April issue, on sale now.

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