Real Life

EXCLUSIVE: Lindt Siege Anniversary ‘I had to survive for my daughter’

Pregnant during the ordeal, hostage Harriette has built a life full of happiness in the past eight years
Pictures: Phillip Castleton/

The day before the Lindt cafe siege, Harriette Denny posed holding her baby scan pictures for a photo she planned to send to her family announcing her happy news.

A barista at the Sydney eatery, Harriette had decided she was going to ask her manager Tori Johnson to be godfather to her first child when she returned to work.

“Tori was so happy and full of light,” Harriette, 38, tells Woman’s Day.

“Whenever I see a sunflower, I think of Tori. I see them at the most random of times. I could be having a really hard day and then I see a bunch of flowers and it makes my heart feel so full.”

Tragically, Tori was killed by the gunman during the 16-hour stand-off, in an unimaginable nightmare Harriette describes as “still so vivid” and understandably finds very difficult to talk about.

Harriette’s friend Tori was killed in the siege.

Desperate to protect her unborn baby, Harriette recalls how she kept as quiet as she could during the hours of terror, managing to escape after 2am, just minutes before police raided the venue.

Woman’s Day first met with Harriette in August 2015 to celebrate the arrival of her baby, Billie Georgina Rose.

Seven years on and quite a few centimetres taller, Billie is now happily twirling and cartwheeling her away around the garden as Harriette talks about how their lives have been since December 2014.

“We’ve had a couple of additions to our family since Billie,” Harriette smiles.

“Our life is very busy now – noisy, loud and chaotic but so beautiful. There’s lots of laughter in our home.”

In the years since we last spoke to Harriette, she has welcomed her daughter Margot, three, and more recently, a little boy called Rocco, one, with Jorge, 48, who she describes as her “best friend”.

Harriette’s family, including daughter Billie, are strongly supporting her.

(Pictures: Phillip Castleton/

When Harriette talks about her eldest, it’s clear she couldn’t be prouder of the seven-year-old.

“Billie is turning into this amazing human being. The way she interacts with the younger children with so much tenderness and love and care, it’s so beautiful to see,” she says. “She helps me get through a lot of hurdles,” adds the stay-at-home mum, who admits what she went through eight years ago has left its mark.

“I am very much a protective parent. I’m trying to let go of it. I’m not the mum I thought I would be before the siege happened.”

When asked what she thought she’d be like, Harriette explains how she imagined she’d be more “outgoing and relaxed”.

“I thought I’d be taking my children out everywhere, but unfortunately with my anxiety and my post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], I have to plan every outing – how we get there, how long we’re going to stay, how we can leave – it is meticulous.”

Harriette now avoids going into the Sydney CBD and finds being in large crowds of people difficult.

To help her navigate through her self-described “difficult days”, Harriette enlists the help of some of her most supportive friends.

“I’ve met some incredible women in the medical field – my psychologist and my two GPs have been with me since the start and they’re all mothers, too,” she says.

“The best thing I did was to ask for help.”

(Pictures: Phillip Castleton/

As Billie gets older and approaches high-school age, the thought of her finding out about the siege plays on Harriette’s mind.

“We will have a discussion with her later down the track. She has a few ideas as she has saw photos of herself from previous stories, but she doesn’t really understand,” says Harriette.

“I’d hope I could talk to her more about my experience post-siege, the struggle I had in those first years afterwards, rather than what happened inside the cafe.”

As the anniversary of the siege approaches each year, just weeks before Christmas, Harriette says she tries to keep in touch with her fellow Lindt cafe co-workers, Jarrod Morton-Hoffman, Fiona Ma and Joel Herat, who is also Billie’s godfather.

“When I see them, it’s like we’ve never been apart. We have this bond, especially Joel and I, and I know it’s going to last a lifetime,” she says.

“I don’t look at Christmas as fondly as I used to, but when you have three children, you want to make it joyful for them.”

Harriette will also continue to look out for sunflowers, which she explains were Tori’s favourite bloom. It’s fitting that when Billie began school, her kindergarten class was named “Sunflower”.

“It was such a beautiful reminder,” Harriette smiles.

“It’s probably just a coincidence, but I’d like to think it’s something more.”

Anyone needing support can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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