Which unsung singer would Myf Warhurst want to have been in a former life? What will she never stop Googling? And what was it like for her growing up in the country? Julia Baird gets the answers in this instalment of Anything But.
Myf Warhurst is almost absurdly likeable. She laughs readily, beams constantly and is devoid of the self-conscious airs that can so often accompany a face accustomed to the spotlight.
The host of booming digital radio station Double J spent the best part of a decade spinning discs, taking requests and hosting a trashy lunchtime quiz on triple j. She also starred in a six part series on the ABC in 2012 called Myf Warhurst’s Nice, which would be hard to argue with.
But Warhurst is perhaps best known for being a musical geek, captaining a team on the trivia show Spicks and Specks from 2005 to 2011. She still maintains that her greatest moment was being on a panel with Brian Mannix from the Uncanny X-men. We tried, and almost succeeded, to talk about Anything But that.
Do you have a favourite item of clothing or an item of clothing you’re superstitious about?
I’m not much of a clothing gal these days, I used to care a lot more about how I looked and now I think as I’ve gotten older, it’s much more about being practical and wearing something that’s not covered in food and I don’t have to iron.
But I do have a great love for a good pair of comfy undies, that gives me the greatest joy, that would have to be my favourite item of clothing. If you have a good pair, if you put those on, sometimes you know you might perform better or get that job…
Is there a time when you should have shut your mouth and you did not?
On my first mid-dawn session on radio where, when you’re starting radio they make you do the really late shifts, so from 1am till 6am when the breakfast team take over. I realised I should probably, from that day on, not sing along to any songs in full voice thinking that no one can hear me, especially if I have the announcer microphone on, and singing the entire song. I actually sang a You Am I song, I think, in full, like at full voice, on my very first shift. The phone was hot lighting up. I was going “What’s going on?” (laughs) I had no idea and no producer. I was trying to be professional and I was devastated.
Is there a time when you should have spoken and you didn’t?
Yeah. I think recently … with my sadness and frustration about what’s going on with the Bali two at the moment, I feel like I should have taken more steps in terms of offering support or perhaps encouraging Australians to think more about what was going on there and how we could support them and how we could perhaps have a conversation with Indonesia. I mean, I feel completely powerless in that situation, to see this happening and I would love to … I would love to have spoken out or at least joined with people who are standing up for, you know, their mercy campaign.
When was the last time you felt genuine fear?
In Mexico with my partner, we were on holiday and we were flying from Oaxaca down to the coast which requires flying over these, it’s the most incredible mountain range I’ve ever seen from the air. But we were flying in this single propeller four-seater and as we were taxiing down the runway the driver just decides to open the door, like a car, ’cause it’s pretty hot in there … And then as we go up … I’m already freaking out because the doors are open and it’s casual as … then the pilot starts texting on his phone, just as we’re taking off and then it gets even worse, the sun comes up because it was early in the morning and he gets one of those silver fold-out things that you put on your front window of your car when you leave it in the car park because it’s too hot. He put the entire thing on the windscreen as we were flying. He couldn’t even see out of the window as we’re flying through this treacherous mountain range and that was genuine fear. I just had to shut my eyes and just wait for it to be over.
Now who, apart from Amelia Earhart, who would you like to have been in a former life?
Her name’s Betty Davis and not to be confused with the actor with the same name. She is a funk and R&B singer and she was married to Miles Davis and she was the one who was credited with, I guess, the transformation of his career: that whole new look, all those groovy outfits and him hooking up with people like Hendrix.
But she had her own career, she was a fashion designer and she’s got the most kickass voice I have really ever heard, she is extraordinary. And she ended up leaving Miles and then, just, you know, just doing these amazing albums that really haven’t had the credit they deserve … it’s hard to find women in history that have, you know, really strong roles because, you know, it was a pretty sexist time back then.
What’s something that you will never stop Googling?
I think I am obsessed with the sixties and seventies … mid-century modern houses. People’s real estate listings. I love a Frank Lloyd Wright. I just adore that kind of architecture. I’ve been trying to work out if it’s a regression into living styles of my childhood because you’d go to someone else’s really special house… It was all brand new and modern and we were kinda daggy teachers’ kids who just lived in the local, it was almost a council house I guess and, you know, these kids would have these sophisticated houses and then as I’ve grown into an adult, perhaps I’m regressing, just wanting to have that.
Do you have one particular year at school that was most memorable for you?
I don’t know … school is a bit of a blur to be honest. I had some great moments but I’m not sure about a particular year. Maybe it was the year where we had a Norwegian exchange student and, you know, I was in a small country high school, there was only like 20 kids in my class and when the exchange student comes it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever, ever happened…
I think I kind of secretly had a crush on him and I think that year that I might have, maybe, nabbed the exotic exchange student as my special friend … I don’t know how that happened, it’d never happened before. And we parted ways, I think, he gave me his men’s watch and he engraved on the back … this was when he went back to Norway, it was all very tragic … he wrote, he had engraved in it “Distance is only in the mind” which is lovely and I swapped him with my ladies’ eighties Swatch watch (laughs). His name was Urstein.
Did you see him again?
No. You had the watch.
I had the watch, I had the watch.
City or country? Is it a false divide?
I think you can be both. I mean, like I said, I grew up in various very small country towns and we had a property on the Darling River which is out on the way past Wentworth in NSW towards Broken Hill so, you know, whole world of nothing, flatness, sheep stations.
That simplicity and the quiet, yeah, the space. I think it… it never leaves you.
I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted and use my imagination and do all these wonderful things and never felt like I missed out on anything.
It was only when I, as I got older, that I felt like I was missing out, perhaps because there was no such thing as internet and that kind of thing, it was much more difficult to access information especially as I was loving music. Now I’m totally urban and I’ve always lived really inner-city, I couldn’t imagine anything else, but there’s a part of me that misses whatever that was that I had back then. That simplicity and the quiet, yeah, the space. I think it… it never leaves you.
Do you have a favourite view?
It would have to be early morning on the Murray River and the river is glass and that light, that perfect sort of, perfect morning light. Not that I get up early in the morning anymore, I don’t … I try not to, anyway. But you know back in that time it was so crisp and clear and just wonderful, and the glass of the river, that would be my perfect view: looking out through the reeds on the side of the river.
Mmm. Is there an Australian that you haven’t met, that you would like to have?
I’m not a big fan of meeting people that you really admire. It never turns out well. But to think that thirty-something-year-old me would be sitting next to Brian Mannix from the Uncanny X-men and I’d be ribbing him as much as he was ribbing me and he’s completely inappropriate … stuff like that just still blows my mind today that I’ve had that experience to be doing things like Spicks and Specks the TV show and, you know, just meet all my little eighties icons who are kind of fun, normal…
What makes you happy now? What are those moments for you?
I just think having time. Time to enjoy things, spend time with friends and with your family and all of those things that sound so cliched, but I really do think that the slowing of the mind, being happy in that time that you can spend with them … that, that truly makes me happy.
I find it harder and harder to switch off in this very connected media world that we live in now, so I think those odd occasions where everyone else is having holidays, I like the fact that everything’s just stopped… and that to me is just the best time because there’s no pressure from outside.
An earlier version of this article was published on ABC’s The Brief.