After 24 years, the state of Natalie Joyce's marriage came down to a look. Or, as her husband Barnaby sprinted for his plane without a backward glance, the absence of one. "I stood there paralysed, my stomach wrenched in a million knots, and I knew then the marriage was all but over," Natalie, 48, tells her friend, journalist Lizzie Wilson, for The Weekly's exclusive interview.
Natalie is recalling the day in July last year at Sydney airport when, after what would be their last overseas trip together as Australia's Deputy Prime Ministerial couple, the Joyce's caught their respective flights - Natalie back to Tamworth and their four daughters; Barnaby to Canberra and his media adviser, Vikki Campion. But, in hindsight, Natalie now realises Vikki was set on insinuating herself into the Joyce family months before.
"She wanted my life from the get-go," says Natalie. "This was a whole lot more than a fleeting office romance."
At their first meeting in 2016 at the Joyces' family home, Natalie was struck by Vikki's icy demeanour. "She was so cold," Natalie recalls. A few months later Natalie's intuition, honed by decades of marriage, suspected something between her 50-year-old husband and his 33-year-old staffer.
"After watching them at the Nationals Christmas party, I had a feeling they were having an affair," Natalie tells The Weekly. "As it turned out their tawdry union was the worst kept secret in Canberra."
But Natalie wasn't ready to surrender. As Barnaby drifted away from his family and finally stopped coming home, Natalie took action. Told her husband and his mistress were at his local electorate office in Tamworth last March, Natalie jumped in the car and drove into town, headlong into a confrontation with her husband and his mistress.
"I was very measured," says Natalie of that day, "I didn't raise my voice. She and Barney were smoking outside. He bolted when he saw me. I turned to her and said, 'My husband is out of bounds, off-limits, he's a married man with four children,' and then I called her a home-wrecking wh---. It was not one of my finer moments but, looking back, I'm proud I stood up to her."
As their marriage crumbled and her husband's career went into free-fall, Natalie watched on in disbelief. And then she found out that Vikki was carrying Barnaby's baby. An emotionally charged meeting at the Joyce family home ensued. "I asked him to come home," she recalls. "He said, 'I can't, she's pregnant and I have to be there for my son.' He always wanted a boy and, while the girls really are the epicentre of his universe, we had no chance: she was giving him a son."
In February this year The Weekly was with Natalie Joyce when she heard the news that Barnaby had resigned as Leader of the National Party, and Deputy Leader of Australia.
Wiping away a tear, Natalie ended the phone call and said, "He's finished". But there was more humiliation to come. The birth of Barnaby and Vikki's son followed in April and when the baby's name, Sebastian, was revealed, "It felt like another malicious taunt in a very long line of appalling behaviour," says Natalie. Had they ever had a son, Sebastian had always been number one on Barnaby and Natalie's list of favourite boys' names.
Barnaby and Vikki's much-maligned interview with Seven's Sunday Night program last month brought media attention surrounding the story to fever pitch. Much has been made of the $150,000 price tag on Barnaby and Vikki's Channel Seven exclusive, and Vikki's role in negotiating the deal.
The interview failed to deliver the ratings juggernaut the network hoped for, and was far from the tough tell-all expose that had been anticipated. Barnaby refused to answer questions about when the affair with Miss Campion began, his family or his wife.
"I don't know, mate. When did it happen with your missus?" Mr Joyce replied when asked who made the first move. Worse, Barnaby Joyce insisting that as an adult, he had to take responsibility for the events led his new partner to remind him that she too was an adult.
The former Deputy Prime Minister said he and Ms Campion "didn't stumble into this like we were kids" and hadn't set out to hurt anyone with their affair.
"You show me the person who has a perfect marriage and I'll show you a liar," Mr Joyce said. Describing the TV interview as "an absolute disgrace" Natalie says it didn't come as a great shock to her that Vikki was the driving force behind it.
"I wasn't surprised she sold their 'exclusive' story, and certainly not surprised the $150,000 went to her child, but it begs the question, if Barney agreed to be a part of it, how could he allow his four girls to be overlooked? In saying that, I wouldn't want a cent of that money. It was all we could do to watch it without throwing a brick at the TV!" Barnaby has since taken extended personal leave to deal with the fallout from the scandal.
Read the full exclusive interview and photos, only in this month's Australian Women's Weekly.