You look like a princess!” If there was any doubt which dress Megan Gale would be wearing on the cover of our Christmas issue, it was dispelled the moment her family saw her swathed in dreamy red tulle. “Moana!” squealed two-year-old Rosie in delight, adding to brother River’s high praise. From fiancé Shaun Hampson, there was simply an appreciative whistle. It’s true, the dress is a knockout, but it’s how she carries herself that takes it to fairytale proportions.
It was a decidedly more casual Megan I met the day before at a retro cafe in Daylesford, Victoria. Rocking black jeans and a slogan T-shirt, with her hair scraped back in a ponytail, her look screams off-duty model but her manner is more old friend than seasoned celebrity. “They do a bloody good scone here,” she confides, while masterfully arranging her long limbs into the sagging cushions of a pre-loved couch.
The cafe is attached to a sprawling antique and collectables market, just one spot in this quaint town that has come to be a special place for Megan and her family. For them, holidays are about quality time together and a return to life’s simpler pleasures – like trawling endless aisles of bric-a-brac. It’s ‘inquisitive’ River who embraces the treasure hunt most passionately. With a sudden yearning to play the fiddle, he spent the morning scouring the market in search of one, all the while keeping an eye out for the perfect wand. “He’s a pretty quirky, pretty cool kid,” the proud mumma laughs. “He feels very deeply. He’s very emotional and he speaks his emotions, which I’ve always taught him to do.”
River’s arrival into the world five years ago was a bittersweet time for Megan and Shaun. Their joy at becoming first-time parents was tinged with tragedy. They were grieving the loss of Shaun’s father, Tom, who had succumbed to prostate cancer one month earlier, while Megan’s father, Alan, was in the final stages of his battle with lung cancer; he passed away just 14 weeks after his grandson’s birth.
“It definitely wasn’t the experience I thought I’d be having with a newborn,” reflects Megan, who has admitted to struggling with the early months of new motherhood. “But while we knew it was horrible, we were all thinking, thank God we’ve got this baby. You’ve got the end of life and the beginning of life ... If we didn’t have him there, I can’t imagine what it would have been like.”
As devastating as the double loss was, Megan and Shaun took comfort in being able to support each other through their grief. It also helped forge a special union between their mothers.
“Losing their husbands very close together gave them that shared experience,” explains Megan. “When you’re going through something quite traumatic it helps when someone is walking in your shoes, and understands where you’re coming from.”
“It’s amazing to see our mums so close,” agrees Shaun. “I think, regardless of having been through what they did, they would have been good friends. They’re very similar people.”
The family’s first Christmas without both men had sadness to it, of course, but their presence was still very much felt. “We set places for them at the table with two little candles and we put pictures there and acknowledged them,” Megan recalls. “I think it’s really nice to do that in a positive way if you’re missing someone who’s passed.”
Not that Megan’s father is ever far away.
“It’s a bit ‘woo’, but I still feel him around, and I sometimes feel like he’s telling me something,” says Megan.
“Dad used to sweat the small stuff a bit, and I’ve also had a tendency to do that. Every now and then I can hear his voice, clear as day, saying, ‘Life’s too short, sweetheart, let it go’. If that’s something I’ve taken from him, or it is him, who knows. Either way it’s part of his imprint on me. Both the kids have his eyes, too. It’s a really beautiful heirloom. Sometimes when the light hits them, I just think, there’s dad.”
She’s the model, actress and TV presenter turned businesswoman who became a household name, but it’s easy to forget that success didn’t come quickly for Megan. “It was struggle street for the first five years. I could barely get a job,” she recalls.
It was in Italy that her big break finally came. That success flowed into modelling and TV work there, and eventually back here in Australia.
Her years in the career wilderness had left Megan acutely aware of just how fleeting success could be. She grabbed every opportunity that came her way. “Make hay while the sun shines,” she thought, fearing that if she said no it might all just disappear. The work rolled in, but Megan paid the price with her health. “I was conditioned to just keep going – don’t let people down, just say yes. Do, do, do, achieve, achieve, achieve.”
Her career was flying, but Megan felt like a mouse on a wheel.
“I’d go to the point of being completely run-down. Even when I was sick and could barely get out of bed there were still people around me who would be like, ‘You said yes to the client, you’ve got to go, you’ve got to keep doing it’. I’d be on set, on a catwalk or in an interview just completely sick.”
Burnout wasn’t the only troubling aspect of Megan’s time in the notoriously fraught world of modelling, of which she has “heaps and heaps” of bad memories. “Who doesn’t have negative experiences that they’ve tried to work through with their jobs?” she questions. When I press for specifics her famous emerald-green eyes momentarily cloud over.
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