It’s a jungle outside Toni Pearen’s place, a sea of swaying green treetops stretching down from her hilltop eyrie to the ocean, surf booming far below on the rocky headland. Safely home again after her attention-grabbing stint on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! Toni has settled back into the comparative tranquillity of family life on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Everything is the same, yet subtly different since she became the show’s uncontested breakout star. It’s not simply that multi-talented Toni has gained newfound coolness with her children, Lucky, 11, and Ever, eight, and even husband Will Osmond. The most significant shift, perhaps, lies in the 48-year-old’s mindset.
“I really went into I’m A Celebrity with quite low expectations,” she confesses, settling down for a chat at her well-scrubbed vintage dining table. “I knew I wanted a huge challenge, I knew I wanted to step way out of my comfort zone, so they were reasons I decided to do the show. But in the end it exceeded all of my expectations, just above and beyond.
“Today I can’t believe I actually did some of those things, like jumping off a 50-metre tower or climbing into a box of snakes! I’m A Celebrity was one of those experiences I will always look back on with wonder and disbelief, but also accomplishment.”
By Toni’s own admission, it was “a game changer” of a comeback. Getting bitten on the face three times by carpet pythons – in a “distressing” challenge that outraged viewers and left Toni bleeding – will certainly redefine your sense of self. Especially when you suffer from a serious case of ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes.
“I think I had kind of forgotten my own power,” ponders the perennially youthful actress, singer, songwriter and TV presenter. “Having that time away from family to reflect, and also being faced with those enormous challenges, it restored that belief and strength in myself. I really felt I had left all that somewhere in the past. So it was a really empowering experience, something most of us search for as women.”
A wide smile crinkles the fine lines around her thoughtful blue-green eyes. “Who would have thought I’d get it in a jungle?” she adds.
There was a time in the ’90s and early ’00s when Toni Michelle Pearen was omnipresent. She shot to fame on sudsy drama E Street, played teacher Beth Armstrong on Home and Away, hosted Australia’s Funniest Home Videos from 2003 to 2007, sashayed onto the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars, and released a pop record (saucily titled Toni Pearen’s Intimate Album) and two gold singles.
Her romantic wedding to Will – then co-owner, with his brother Toby, of two ultra-hip Sydney bars – was a gossip columnist’s dream, featuring a plane-load of VIPs and three days of champagne-fuelled fun in Moree, the groom’s outback NSW hometown.
But suddenly after 2008, the popular performer virtually disappeared from view. Toni stepped back from the spotlight to become a full-time mum to Lucky and Ever – a decision prompted by the premature loss of her own adored mother, Marilyn.
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