At Chrissie Swan’s house, the Christmas tree is up well before the ‘official’ date of December 1, weighed down with lights and long-loved ornaments. The door and walls are festooned with wreaths, festive bows, personalised Santa sacks and assorted decorations.
When her kids were small enough not to have any choice in the matter, she would dress them in tiny reindeer or pudding outfits.
“Leo was born on November 25 and I remember those long nights with a brand-new baby and sitting in the living room in a dark house, just watching the Christmas lights,” Chrissie says now of her sentimentality for the season.
“They’d soothe him, he loved them. So I always have the Christmas lights up.”
She seemed a natural choice for the star of The Weekly’s annual Christmas cover.
Yet, when the popular Nova 100 radio host received our request, she was so sure it must be a mistake she rang her agent to check if her eyes were deceiving her. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says, shaking her head again in disbelief.
“The iconic Christmas issue cover? I love Christmas so much and it’s always joyous to see The Australian Women’s Weekly with that gorgeous big red cover on magazine stands. It’s a signal Christmas is just around the corner. Like, ‘Yes, it’s happening again!’”
With a rack full of stunning gowns to model today, along with a tray of glittering diamonds, rubies and other assorted jewels flown in for the occasion, Chrissie is in seventh heaven.
“I feel like Mrs Claus,” she cries while oohing and aahing over the lavish array of earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
“I love a theme dress, and this is the ultimate one. Imagine if I wear it to Christmas lunch! I’d need two aprons with the amount of cooking I do on the day.”
Lest you think she’s serious, this is classic tongue-in-cheek Chrissie. Her wardrobe, she insists, is packed with tracksuits and trainers – not designer clothes.
“No offence, but I don’t own any fancy jewellery and I probably never will,” she shrugs. “I’m a very simple person, actually.”
It’s that uncomplicated simplicity, however, that has helped Chrissie become one of the most sought after and best-loved presenters on Australian radio and television.
Since stealing hearts during her Big Brother stint in 2003, she’s continued to engage Australian audiences with her warm approach to life and gentle humour. Perhaps, she says, that career choice is down to her love of Christmas too.
In Chrissie’s early years, the Swan family – mum Pat, dad Garry, Chrissie and sisters Elizabeth and Catherine – would road trip their way from Melbourne to see relatives in Brisbane over the holidays.
“We would take the long drive in the Ford Falcon up the highway,” she recalls. “In the ’70s, we thought nothing of it, but it was a two-day trip. We had Yes & Know books in the back to keep us going, and Mum listening to Neil Diamond in the front.
“Nobody is working, everybody is available, and the weather is fantastic. You’d just mooch around in other people’s living rooms day after day. I loved all of it. One year I got a cassette recorder. You know, the oblong ones with the retractable handle? They recorded your voice and that was just a miracle. We’ve got tapes of me singing in the car on the way back to Melbourne, recording everything. I would have been five or six. Is that where the radio career started? Maybe! Maybe that was the beginning of it.”
Certainly, other traits that would become her calling cards were clear to all from childhood. First up: Enthusiasm. “It was all through my school reports,” laughs Chrissie when we comment on her approach to not just the silly season but all of her life’s passions.
“‘She’s a very enthusiastic girl.’ And I am! I can’t help it, it’s in my DNA. I’m excited to wake up. I’m excited to go for a walk. I love people – they make me feel good and I love the exchange. I’ve always loved to be the glimmer in people’s day.”
Also very much in place during her childhood, she says, was an overwhelming disregard for how others perceive her.
“I’m not afraid of looking stupid and I do not care what people think,” she grins. “Honestly, there are two things I am grateful for every day. One, I don’t suffer from jealousy of any kind. And also, I just do my own thing, I trust my own judgement.
“You can’t change people’s minds about you. If you try, you’ll send yourself crazy, and it doesn’t matter. People believe what they want to. I know the truth and that’s all that matters to me.”
Plenty of things have been written about Chrissie during her 20 years in the public eye. Some good, some bad. Some right and a fair few wrong.
And while she prides herself on delivering her warts-and-all authentic self to audiences, it’s understandably made her wary of what personal information she shares publicly.
Her 2021 separation from her partner of 15 years, Chris Saville, is public knowledge. The last time The Weekly caught up with her, in the wake of that, the pair still lived in the same house to best raise their three kids – Kit, 15, Leo, 12, and Peggy, 10, – together.
She was quick to stress then that they were, above all else, great friends who were determined to stay that way despite no longer being romantically involved. And it’s still “situation normal”, she tells us today, two years on.
“It’s going great, very progressive. I don’t see the need to make it yucky.”
As they do each year, the family of five will celebrate Christmas Day together along with their extended family.
“My kids are getting older, so the 4am starts might be done,” she says. “Or maybe not! One tradition I’ve carried on from my childhood is that there is always a Christmas outfit under the tree – a fresh T-shirt, a nice pair of shorts, something like that. So, we put on our Christmas outfit and then a whole heap of our extended family will come.
“I love putting on Christmas for those I love so this is a dream for me. Plus, the kids will be around their cousins and grandparents so everyone’s a winner.”
Chrissie prides herself on thoughtful gift giving. It’s something she’s aiming to pass on to her own kids, and a lesson they are embracing with gusto.
“The real joy of getting a gift,” says Chrissie, “is knowing a person thought about you and found something just for you. It’s a skill to make someone feel good. For my daughter’s birthday, Leo went into a shop in the city he knew she would like and bought her a little cross-body bag. I had nothing to do with it. It was really sweet. I’m thrilled with my kids, they’re gorgeous.”
The trio are at an age now, she says, where they are “self-saucing puddings”.
“They do their own thing and are in charge of their own lives a lot, so I just get to hang out and talk to them. They’re great company. They’re such funny, interesting people.”
These talks, as they get older, can also encompass some tougher topics. First there were the COVID lockdowns, then a swathe of natural disasters. Now, with wars raging in Ukraine and Gaza, finding joy at a time when the world seems to have gone mad is a hard ask.
Like every parent, Chrissie has had to learn how to navigate tackling such big subjects. “I’m big on communication, as you can imagine,” she says of her approach.
“Leo, especially, is at an age now where he is an adult and has access to all sorts of information. So, we talk. Conversation is big in our house. We can’t solve the problems, but I think open discussion helps make sense of difficult situations.”
As does a lengthy cuddle.
“I read somewhere, probably Instagram, that you’re supposed to have eight hugs a day and they should last eight seconds,” she says with a throaty laugh. “So, I get three, eight-second hugs per kid out before they leave the house in the morning and then I’m like, ‘The other five are up to you guys!’ I top them up when they get home from school.”
Chrissie turned 50 on November 3, a milestone birthday that has made her assess what she wants to do as we start a new year. “I feel like it’s a whole new era for me,” she says, “and for my kids as well.”
Leo’s “starting the hardcore high-school years”, Kit is starting high school, entering Year 7, and Peggy is changing to a new school.
Chrissie’s national radio show is firmly embedded and she’s had great success on TV with The Masked Singer and Australian Would I Lie To You?, in addition to guest hosting Have You Been Paying Attention?
Travel has never been a priority for Chrissie, who has worked steadily for 20 years and raised a family for 15 of those as well. In fact, outside taking the kids to Disneyland a few years back, she’s never had an overseas adventure. But that’s about to change.
“I’m going to gift myself a holiday,” she says of what will await her under the tree come Christmas Day. “On my own. With a new pair of runners. I’ve never been to London. I haven’t seen Paris. I’ve not eaten pasta and cheese in Italy. It feels naughty to do it, but that’s about as naughty as I get these days!”
Is it mother guilt, we ask, that makes her see this as a “naughty” endeavour? The feeling that she’s being selfish?
“I don’t feel selfish and I don’t feel guilty but it does feel like a break from immense responsibility,” she says. “I’ve always liked responsibility – being class captain, making sure my radio teams are happy. But I don’t think anything prepared me for the intensity of the responsibility of three human beings. I’ve taken that very seriously. But it’s time for me to just be responsible for myself.”
So, if you’re in Europe next year and swear you’ve spotted award-winning TV and radio personality Chrissie Swan, you may just be right.
For 2024 it will be “phase two engaged,” she says, “or phase 15 engaged. It feels like it’s going to be the best year ever and I can’t wait for it. I’m really excited.”