As an actor, Grant Hackett is a pretty good swimmer
Does Grant Hackett deserve sympathy and forgiveness? Or does he deserve an Oscar – or probably at best a Logie – for his supposed “tell-all” interview with 60 Minutes? An interview conducted by the same network which has a commercial interest in facilitating his rehabilitation, given the criticisms Nine faced for keeping the troubled former Olympian on its commentary team for the London Games?
Nine has endured a public relations crisis since photographs emerged of the impromptu renovations which Hackett, five bottles of wine under his belt, conducted last year on the Southbank apartment he shared with his now estranged wife Candice Alley and their children.
Westpac immediately downgraded Hackett’s role as brand ambassador to behind the scenes “executive”. The bank rightly sensed that the remarkable photographs would galvanise public opinion against Hackett. With the up-ended grand piano, the over-sized couches tossed across the room, the broken mirrors and glassware, the images told a story of a bloke who has some pretty massive issues, to say the least.
The more damning allegation was contained in the police statement taken that night, saying that Hackett threw his wife Alley across the room “like a rag doll”. Yet Channel Nine, which has a long history of sacking female presenters for daring to turn 40, stuck by its man, inviting accusations that the network is a boy’s club which was rallying around one of its own.
The commercial stakes were significant for Nine but they were much more onerous for Hackett, who like many Olympians spent his youth so devoted to his sport that he never developed other professional skills. The only thing Hackett can now sell is himself. His standing as a “brand” synonymous only with heroism in the pool was destroyed in the course of one night. If Hackett is unable to restore his reputation he has limited sources of employment.
Having watched the 60 Minutes interview, I strongly doubt that it will have done much to restore his standing in the eyes of the public. The first problem with the interview was that it was conducted by Nine itself and as such many viewers will be understandably sceptical about whether it was as robust and probing as it might have been, or bordering on a staged confessional aimed at getting the network and one of its celebrities out of a scrape. I don’t want to be overly critical of Tara Brown but I have seen more ruthless interviews done in the past, most memorably Tracey Grimshaw’s stern examination of Matty Johns, which did not have the in-house propaganda quality this one did, with its hushed tones, its box of tissues at the ready to mop up tears, the timing of which were undoubtedly war-roomed with whatever PR company is in Hackett’s employ.
The annoying feature of the interview was that it seemed to be all about Grant when it should really be more about Candice and the kids, as he was the one who was out of control. Hackett kept using the words “embarrassed” and “embarrassing” to describe his feelings about that night and its aftermath. They are soft words which fall short of what you might expect from an incident such as this. You get the sense that Hackett is more upset that the incident became public, and that everyone now thinks he is a lunatic, than remorseful about what he did. Indeed his suggestion that other blokes have been in a similar position was pretty odd. We have all had our issues from time to time but I have never known anyone who can chuck a Steinway across the room and put it down as a misunderstanding or a novel attempt to end a relationship. As one of the many cynics on Twitter wrote in disbelief at Hackett’s claims, a quick telephone call to Relationships Australia would have been an easier way to get out of a marriage than piano-hurling.
The question of whether any actual violence was involved has not been resolved, but cemented as a he said/she said issue. Candice Alley’s lawyers tried to prevent the interview from going ahead, and Alley refused to provide any comment to 60 Minutes.
From what we can understand though, she has stood by her original version of events, which is that Hackett did throw her into a window. Hackett denies it.
While we can only take them both on their word, there was one strange moment in Hackett’s interview which suggests that someone needs to sit the bloke down and provide him with a simple definition of what constitutes domestic violence. Hackett’s assertion that he did not threaten Alley in any way does not past muster. You do not have to hit someone to threaten them. It is hard to imagine a more threatening scenario, for a woman less than half Hackett’s size, than being holed up in an apartment with this drunken and violent man, as he systematically trashes everything they own. His claim that he did not verbally threaten her is also dubious. To his modest credit he did not blame alcohol for his actions, he blamed himself. Yet if he was as drunk as he says he was, how on earth can he reliably remember what he did nor did not say to his wife as the mayhem was unfolding?
As an actor Grant Hackett makes a pretty good swimmer. His effort on Sunday reminded me not of the Matty Johns interview, which despite being a Channel Nine in-house operation was excruciatingly thorough and painful journalism, where Johns appeared so thoroughly gutted by Grimshaw’s excoriating cross-examination that some resolution emerged from it all. This was a puff piece. It reminded me more of Tiger Woods’ pathetic stage-managed statement of remorse, which was more about appeasing his sponsors and getting his career back on track than showing any genuine regret at the fact that he’d been having sex with the entire planet.
The final point I would make about Hackett and his limited number of backers out there is that they should shelve their muted sense of indignation that these are private matters which do not belong in the public arena. They are not private matters. Domestic violence is not a private issue, it is a public issue, and any attempt to suggest otherwise plays straight into the mindset which for years has seen neighbours remain silent while all hell breaks loose next door, or the cops chuck a u-turn on the front porch when they discover that the screaming coming from inside is “only” a domestic.
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