Peter Saxon reviews Amanda Keller’s book

Amanda Keller is a motivational trainer’s worst nightmare.

Though hugely successfully as both a radio and television broadcaster, she never had a specific goal or carefully laid out  7, 10 or 17 point plan to succeed. “It’s been a series of opening doors. And because I didn’t have a path in my life that I thought – no that’s not part of my plan – I think that’s been the making of the jobs I’ve taken,” says Keller. 

Why write a book and why now? “I’ve got a whole lot of friends at the moment,” says Keller. “We’re all in our early fifties and we’re all looking back at the choices we’ve made in our lives – the patterns of our lives and I think it was the right time for me to reflect on that.”

A welter of distractions along the way meant it would take three years to write Natural Born Keller; My Life and Other Palaver an autobiography that, at its core, is nothing more than a story about an Australian girl who grew up in the bosom of a happy, nuclear, quintessentially Australian family and somehow ended up in the exciting world of media while making a happy, nuclear, quintessentially Australian family of her own.

Amanda Keller manages to blur the two worlds making ordinary family life worth reading about and at the same time de-gushing the glamour of media – all with charm and mildly self-deprecating humour.

And while the book is not an exposé or a tell all about people she has worked with or encountered along the way, it is brutally honest about herself. 

I was dreading writing about my mum passing away and I put that off and put that off.

Her success on breakfast radio comes down to the genuine connection she has with her listeners which stems from her willingness to open up about her personal life and share experiences most people would be embarrassed to speak about, even with close friends.

Yet, there were parts in the book she found difficult to write. “I was dreading writing about my mum passing away and I put that off and put that off. That probably slowed me down for a whole year. I kept thinking oh I’ll do that bit later. But ironically that was one of the easiest – well not easiest – but one of the quickest chapters to write.”

Keller, who turned 53 in May, began her career at 21 as a researcher on Simon Townsend’s Wonder World of which she writes: There was, of course, that massive ego to contend with every day, and the childish tantrums we all had to endure but at least they were easier to deal with than his dreadful breath. But enough about the dog! (Woodrow, Townsend’s famous bloodhound.)

From researcher she soon found herself in front of the camera. Along the way she worked on Ray Martin’s Midday Show and the internationally acclaimed Beyond 2000 where she had to confront her greatest fear in taking her first parachute jump which was that her jump suit might reveal her camel-toe.

Having worked with long-time friend Andrew Denton on television, the radio door was opened for her in 1995 when he invited her to join him on the Triple M Breakfast show in Sydney – the station’s most successful ever after the legendary Doug Mulray.

Denton lost it with studio guest Mr Methane – whose specialty was to fart his way through Smoke on the Water and God Save the Queen

Keller writes: Radio is a great medium. I love it. The way it gobbles up material there’s no way to be a perfectionist. You fly by the seat of your pants, and what’s created in that moment is as good/bad/libellous as it gets. It’s incredibly freeing.

In this section she devotes page after page to anecdotes ranging from the time Denton lost it with studio guest Mr Methane – whose specialty was to fart his way through Smoke on the Water and God Save the Queen – to gross-out promotions such as Whirl ’til You Hurl which involved well fed listeners on a rollercoaster. If you spew, you’re gone. Last one left aboard without losing their lunch wins.

Amidst all the fun and laughter, came September 11 in 2001 which, as with all media, put a sombre tone on the program. Keller recalls: We stayed on air til midday. For days and weeks after 9/11 the emails kept coming. They were a real jumble of emotions – fear, paranoia, love, grief confusion. A true reflection of those awful days.

Andrew and I still talk about that broadcast – being able to speak and listen to our city on a momentous day in history, one where the world really did shift on its axis.

When Denton quit the show, Keller stayed on with Mikey Robbins but after her seven years on Triple M breakfast, the show was replaced by the Grill Team networked from Melbourne. 

She didn’t have much time to mourn her axing because, she writes: As luck would have it, as is often the way with the sliding doors of the media world, ABC TV had come calling. Leaving radio suddenly became a whole lot easier.

Perhaps the show, Mondo Thingo, was ahead of its time. Keller insists it was a winner (having spawned similar shows that are seen today) but admits few people back then agreed. It was axed after one season.

By 2005, aged 42, with a world of life experiences to draw from including  a long term marriage that produced two children under four, radio beckoned once more. This time with Brendan “Jonesy” Jones on WSFM, broadcasting to an audience who no longer thought fart jokes were funny but took baby poo seriously. The rest is history – still in the making.

None of that maturity has dulled the fun. Currently the number one breakfast show on Sydney’s FM band, Jonesy and Amanda present a show that’s totally engaging and covering a wider range of topics up and down the demographic scale than most shows would attempt.

I have yet to meet anyone in the industry, including their rivals, who have a bad word to say about the duo. Amanda Keller is universally acknowledged as being genuinely warm and personable devoid, of all artiface. Unlike many, when she talks to you at a cocktail party she’s not glancing around the room, looking for a better option.

Nonetheless, she’s fascinated by other celebrities and considers that one of the great privileges of hosting breakfast radio is the opportunity to speak with so many a-listers. As far as I’m aware no star has ever walked out on a Jonesy and Amanda interview.

Part of Keller’s success is her innate presence as a strong, self assured woman who has broken through the glass ceiling, yet without a hint of self-importance. As a team, Jonesy and Amanda can do self-deprecating with the best of them as evidenced in this exchange with Jerry Seinfeld.

He was talking about his film The Bee Movie and we asked him how he got Sting to do a cameo.

“I just asked him,” he said.

“If it’s that simple,” said Jonesy, “will you be in our movie?”

His answer? “No!”

There was a pause before he added, “Do you guys actually have a movie?”

“No,” we mumbled in unison.

“I thought so,” he said.

“How did you know?”

“Well, having met the two of you, I just kind of guessed.”

A common thread throughout the book is her lifelong girlish crush on Barry Manilow which started in her early teens with bestie and fellow Manilow tragic Melanie Dutton. Back then she never dreamed that she would get to meet him but meet him she did on several occasions – some more nightmare than dream.

I thought I’d end up looking like Meg Ryan and then got told I looked like an 80 year old woman at the bingo.

Also, scattered throughout the book, is plenty of useful home spun advice such as: If you have a family of boys never go near the toilet barefoot or wearing a long dress. And: Don’t perm your hair when you get a broken heart. 

She tells me, “I thought I’d end up looking like Meg Ryan and then got told I looked like an 80 year old woman at the bingo. So yes, I would like people to learn from the mistakes I’ve made.”

It’s difficult to pigeon hole Amanda Keller. She says when she fills in the customs form on a plane, she always has to think about it, “What do I put here as occupation? I put broadcaster. But I don’t know. When people say to me I like your show, I don’t know which one they’re talking about. Which is a nice feeling to have  but I don’t know if I’m defined by a certain media so I don’t know what I call myself.”

Having read Natural Born Keller; My Life and Other Palaver, I’d describe her as an observer of life – a raconteur. Regardless of whether she’s on radio, on television or in print.

Most of all, her book is an uplifting read. Keller finds positives in everything – even if the experience is bad, she sees it as a lesson learnt, just another rite of passage.

I feel incredibly lucky that I found a good man who doesn’t mind that my waxing regime is intermittent.

The last chapter is simply called Happy. In a time when so many have so much and yet remain unhappy and unfulfilled, here is a woman who is grateful for everything she has – totally comfortable in her own skin.

On her choice of husband she writes: I feel incredibly lucky that I found a good man who doesn’t mind that my waxing regime is intermittent.

Says it all. Does it not?

 Peter Saxon

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