BOOK REVIEW: A Bold Life by Kerri-Anne Kennerley

BOOK REVIEW: A Bold Life by Kerri-Anne Kennerley

Pan Macmillan Australia
October 2017
Hardcover, $44.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Biographies & True Stories / Arts & Entertainment

6/10

Kerri-Anne Kennerley is a blonde bombshell and the Queen of Australian TV. She has lived a rich and charmed life as she describes in her autobiography, A Bold Life. The book is ultimately a pleasant and rollicking little read, and it drips with optimism as she takes readers on a behind-the-scenes journey through the highs, lows, and mostly the joys of it all.

Strewn everywhere are memories, scrapbooks (John [Kennerley] meticulously kept every news clipping mentioning me for 40-odd years), photo albums, video cassettes and compact discs of career highlights. It covers all the shows, all the people I have learned from, laughed with, and leaned on.
It’s ironic to see my life piled up like this, my career unearthed, my private world about to be exposed. Yes, people believe they know me, and to an extent, the public does. But looking back at all this stuff, my life, reminds me of where I started and, what’s more, how I learned the hard way – in my mind, the best way. And how I’ve grown. Researching this book has been a fight.

Kennerley was born Kerri-Anne Wright. She had a happy and sheltered childhood and grew up in Sandgate Queensland. She made her debut on television at the age of 12 on the program, Uncle Jim and the Channel Niners. This happened after she called in and asked to be on the show. She performed alongside a group of her friends in blackface, something she makes no apologies for when looking back on the incident today:

At about 12, I decided that I wanted to perform at the annual school concert at the local Sandgate Town Hall. I got some friends together to perform Charlie Drake’s worldwide hit, ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back.’…
I know I would be lambasted for doing a skit in blackface today, but these were much less enlightened times and, as the song was a humorous one, and so popular, we didn’t think it was in any way insulting. I refuse to be ashamed of performing the skit or showing people the photo (there is only one) of us back then. We lived in an era where the term ‘political correctness’ had not even been coined. We were innocent kids, and we meant no disrespect to anyone.

This autobiography is a pleasant and easy read for the most part. Kennerley does briefly tackle some difficult subjects like her first-marriage to a violent drug addict named Jimmy Miller, her battle with breast cancer and the devastating miscarriage she suffered while carrying her second husband, John Kennerley’s child. Kennerley’s also describes John’s life-changing accident in 2016, which saw him break his neck and become a quadriplegic requiring around-the-clock care. Even when Kennerley tackles some of these darker subjects, you still get the sense that her overwhelming strength and sense of positivity takes precedence and shines through. This tone may be a little grating for some readers who are perhaps more cynical or pessimistic in how they approach things. That said, there is no question that Kennerley is like a beacon of resilience and her story can be quite uplifting and inspiring at times.

Another moment I will never forget from that horrible day was John’s doctor’s face as he brought me to a room where John’s X-rays were displayed on a light box on the wall. ‘This is very serious. Can you see these fractures here? Your husband has broken his neck.’ Those were the words I had dreaded hearing. The words that would trap my capable, intelligent, funny, enthusiastic and loving husband in his own body for the rest of his life.

Over the years Kennerley would go on to have on-screen and hosting roles on Good Morning Australia, The Midday Show and Mornings with Kerri-Anne. In her book, we get a glimpse of Kennerley as an ambitious, strong and determined woman. She originally had dreams of being a cabaret star. But the singing was soon replaced by her television work and she was dogged in her determination to become the host of Midday after Ray Martin left the show. After biding her time, Kennerley eventually got to perform this role from 1996 to1998.

I had always told John that if ever he was part of organising an episode of This Is Your Life about me I would kill him. And I meant it. There are several reasons for this. One, I loathe surprises. Two I don’t want a retrospective of my life while I’m still living it, thanks very much, and three, I didn’t think I had much to say about my life.

The rest of this book is devoted to descriptions of lots of glitz, parties and glamour. Kennerley has previously written about her life in show business in the book, People I’ve Met: Places I’ve been and in many ways A Bold Life feels like a sequel to this. While some readers will enjoy her thoughts and commentary about some of her famous and infamous interviews, others might find that she veers a little too far off tangent, covering unnecessary details like the cosmetic procedures she’s had or along the path of tiresome self-congratulation and name-dropping just for the sake of it:

I still remember being very upset one New Year’s Eve because I couldn’t go to the movies with the others to see Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday. Even as a kid I was a sucker for a musical, and this was a big one! The big kids wouldn’t take me, so I had to stay at home with the adults…I like to think I got my own back though, because years later I would not only interview Sir Cliff several times, I also opened a show singing ‘Summer Holiday’ on the top of a bus with him, and later sang with him at Albert Hall!

A Bold Life is hardly the kind of book that will dominate the literary awards. At the end of the day it’s a colourful autobiography about an intriguing star. Sometimes Kennerley uses some well-worn clichés in her text and at other moments she is quite staunch and even a little naïve in expressing her opinions. Her prose serves its function but it’s not particularly noteworthy or clever.

There wasn’t any helicopter-parent supervision going on either. If we fell over, Mum would put a Band-Aid on us and we’d be off again. If there were arguments, we were told, ‘I don’t care who started it, you will all get a hiding.’ And no tittle-tattles were tolerated. We all had to stick up for each other. I feel sorry for kids who don’t get that responsibility and freedom today, because it really was so much fun, and it teaches independence and resilience. You couldn’t be a crybaby, you just picked yourself up and kept going.

Kennerley is known as a survivor in the fickle media industry. She tells a lot of her anecdotes and stories with the same kind of engaging composure she exhibits while in her interviews. Although she briefly touches on some meatier issues like sexual harassment, bullying, and gender bias throughout her career, you get the sense that she is most comfortable playing the role of the starry-eyed observer recounting her brushes with fame. For this reason, you’re more likely to see words devoted to things like her getting then-Treasurer, Peter Costello to dance the Macarena; her exclusive interview with former Beatle-George Harrison; comedian, Robin Williams’ frantic and funny slot on Midday; and that infamous appearance by John Stamos than you are to get a hard-hitting account of Australian media through the ages.

In fact, a feature was done in the Daily Telegraph on graphology, or what a person’s handwriting supposedly says about them. The verdict on my writing was: ‘…compulsively persistent. There is animation, enthusiasm, often impatience to get things done. She often finishes a task in her mind before even commencing it. A strong visual sense. Appearances mean a lot and her style is outward and gregarious.’ Strangely accurate if you believe in that sort of thing!

A Bold Life is a shimmering and lively read by an endearing TV personality. It doesn’t break any new ground, it simply celebrates the glitz and glamour of Kennerley’s luminescent career and reflects her effervescent personality to a tee. A Bold Life often feels like the autobiographical equivalent of a cold can of coke – it’s bubbly and sweet with a tasty formula that you can enjoy and expect without having to stop and think too much.

BOOK REVIEW: A Bold Life by Kerri-Anne Kennerley

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