Michael Rowland says his knees literally “quivered” when he proposed to the love of his life, fellow journalist Nicki Webber. It was late December back in 2001. Oh what a night! to quote a seasoned Frankie Valli song.
The ABC News Breakfast anchor is a self-confessed music tragic, so it’s tempting to add a soundtrack to his life story, although his song of choice would be slightly more blokey. He cites The Rolling Stones, Midnight Oil, The Beatles and Cold Chisel among his top of the pops. He actually took Nicki to a Stones concert on the night son Tom was due. “We hadn’t bought tickets naively thinking the baby would be born on its due date,” recalls Nicki. But when a colleague couldn’t use their tickets Michael couldn’t resist. “He absolutely loved it … I was uncomfortable and unborn Tom spent the whole concert kicking.”
“Michael also croons Frank [Sinatra],” Nicki adds. He can’t hold a tune, though he thinks otherwise, and to prove it gives The Weekly team a few bars of Fly Me to the Moon as he corrals his family for our photo shoot in their home.
Yup, he can’t sing. Nicki says Michael is the quintessential “daggy dad” and right on cue his footy-mad son Tom, 16, who plays for home club Altona Vikings, and daughter Eleanor, 15, who has a beautiful singing voice and performs in school musical theatre productions, roll their eyes.
“It was the most nervous I’ve been in my life,” says Michael, continuing his marriage proposal story. “I’d booked a table at the restaurant at the top of the Sofitel Hotel. It has big views over Melbourne, although that was the last thing on my mind in the elevator on the way up there.”
The couple had been living together for a little over a year, having met as political journalists covering parliament. “He was a radio reporter for the ABC and I was the state politics reporter for the Herald-Sun,” says Nicki. “I’d see him at door stops and outside Parliament House. He was very handsome and a bit aloof. He didn’t speak a lot but he’d ask a question of a politician and I thought, ‘oh, there’s a bit going on in there’. I didn’t ever expect that he would look at me.”
Both had had relationships before, but knew this was different as they entered what Nicki calls “a very old-fashioned courtship … we didn’t want to stuff it up.”
Nicki was raised in a tiny country town “in the middle of nowhere”, riding horses and running free. Her natural bent is to embrace adventure, something she did when she married a handsome Greek on the island of Antiparos. “We were together for two years, married for one – short lived, but everything brings you to where you are today and how lucky am I?”
For Michael, Nicki was the first girlfriend he had lived with and while he was in no doubt she was the one, nor that she would say yes, “it was a big life decision to make. I’d never asked anybody to marry me before”.
On Nicki’s part, she was preparing for the worst. “I didn’t see it coming,” she recalls. “I met him for a drink beforehand at a little bar in Collins Street and he seemed twitchy and uncomfortable. I thought, ‘he’s going to dump me!’. He was so nervous and out of sorts. Then we went for dinner and he ordered expensive champagne and I thought, ‘that’s unusual’. And then he blurted out: ‘It’s been the greatest days and months of my life, will you marry me?’.”
A sense of humour is one of the qualities that sealed this union – “she’s got that in spades,” says Michael – and 20 years after they first found each other, the couple is still laughing, a picture of love’s young dream. “I still look forward to seeing him every day,” says Nicki. There’s a yin and yang-ness to Michael and Nicki; their differences completing the whole. He is quiet and considered, while she is a ball of passionate energy.
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