Thick tufts of couch grass poke through cracks in the floor, plaster peels away in sheets from the walls and a menacing dark brown stain creeps across the ceiling of Andy Lee and Bec Harding’s dream home.
“As you can see, she needs a bit of work … the house … not Bec!” Andy quips of the derelict property on the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River.
It was once described by a real estate agent as “something out of a horror film”.
Two years ago, after they drove past it almost by accident, Andy, 41, and his long-time partner, Bec, 32, splashed $8 million on Ravenswood, a crumbling 150-year-old mansion which they plan to painstakingly restore to its former glory.
It’s the second time the popular comedian’s future has been boldly decided on a whim.
As Andy proudly points out, on the day The Weekly meets the fun-loving couple, it is nine years to the very day since they shared their first date, which followed a chance encounter at a Melbourne cafe.
“Oh, that’s so cute, happy anniversary darling,” Bec says, planting a kiss on Andy’s cheek.
“I always forget our anniversary, it’s a bit of a running joke,” Andy says. “I thought, what better way to celebrate our anniversary than invite The Australian Women’s Weekly over for a photo shoot,” he laughs.
Call it fate or serendipity, but Andy and Bec first met at a cafe about 500 metres from Ravenswood. It was love at first sight then, just as it was with their ‘fixer-upper’, the forever home they will share.
He was perched over a coffee writing scripts for the Logies; she was working as a waitress while finishing her studies for a Master’s Degree in Media and Communications. Cupid couldn’t resist.
Bec instantly caught the eye of the former 2006 Cleo Bachelor of the Year, who was taken by the part-time model’s statuesque beauty, and the snatches of the charmingly self-deprecating personality he witnessed over an increasingly long breakfast.
“There’s plenty of hot chicks in the world,” Andy quips, knowing Bec will roll her eyes, “but with Bec it was the way she was chatting to people in the cafe. I sat there for a long time watching her, which is probably weird in hindsight,” he laughs.
“I ordered just about everything on the menu so I could stay there longer. In the end it was a full degustation breakfast. I ordered things I’ve never eaten in my life. ‘Another lemongrass and ginger tea please’,” he says, mocking himself.
“She was genuinely interested in everyone in the cafe. She got so excited chatting to the customers that she knew what their children were studying at university and where they’d been on holiday, but totally forgot what they’d just ordered.
“She was a terrible waitress. She had to come back to the tables a few times because she’d mucked up people’s orders, and she blamed the chef, which impressed me.”
In a romantic gesture that would delight writers of The Notebook and Love Actually, Andy penned a note for Bec on a napkin and left it for her to find, “and thank goodness she picked it up and not the old lady on the table next to me,” he jokes.
“He wrote down his email address, not a phone number, which I actually thought was a bit weird and a bit of a smooth move,” Bec laughs. “I thought to myself, ‘I bet he does this all the time’.”
“Honest to God, it was the first and only time,” Andy laughs.
“He was very cute,” Bec says, “so I emailed him, and barely 20 seconds after I’d pressed ‘send’, he phoned and asked me to go on a date – the very next day. I said to him, ‘You’re very keen’, and he said, ‘Would you like me to hang up and call you back in 48 hours? We can play that game.’”
They’ve been together ever since, a perfect match. They finish one another’s sentences, the tips of their fingers unconsciously touch as they talk, and they love nothing more than taking the mickey out of each other.
Bec says the keys to their longevity, beyond their obviously playful and fun relationship, are mutual respect, an adventurous spirit and good communication – and never, ever, taking themselves too seriously.
“Most of the time we are just having fun,” Andy says. “Sometimes Bec wishes I’d take things more seriously.”
“Oh, like when your apartment flooded and you thought it was so funny you filmed it?” she quips.
“That’s when I’m like: ‘Oh, Andy!’ He’s just a big dork,” Bec says.
“We all know he’s handsome and funny and charming and very cute, but he’s really very dorky and I find that quite sweet. He’s very caring and he’s everything you want in a best friend, a life partner.
“He makes me feel amazing and he makes the people around him feel amazing, which is a real skill,” she adds, squeezing his hand. “I feel so lucky to be able to sit back and watch him do what he does.”
It’s been almost two decades since Andy and his best mate, Hamish Blake, burst onto Australia’s airwaves. We fell in love with the goofy pair whose schoolboy pranks made Hamish & Andy the highest rating radio program in Australian history, and now a hit podcast.
A string of successful TV shows, such as Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year and The Caravan of Courage, naturally followed and the two of them, together and separately, have been in our lives ever since.
Andy has recently also enjoyed solo success with The Hundred, which airs on the Nine Network, and his picture book, Do Not Open This Book.
Created for his nephew George’s first birthday, there are now nine books in the series, which have sold over two million copies in 38 languages.
Andy says the formula for his success in life, both on and off camera, is very simple: Have fun.
“That’s how I’ve approached everything I’ve ever done, and it’s how Hame [Hamish] and I have approached everything we’ve done – if it’s fun and interesting, we’ll give it a go.”
Bec has never been too far from a camera either. She’s been the face of some of the world’s biggest beauty brands, including Kérastase, Lancôme, L’Oréal and Mecca Cosmetica.
The savvy entrepreneur has just launched her own business, a luxury body-care brand called Lui.
It’s been three years in the making, working with designers around the globe to create an ergonomically perfect razor for women, and a luxurious range of environmentally friendly body products.
The creative pair credit one another with inspiring the courage to pursue big, bold ideas.
“There’s no doubt having Andy in my life has helped make it possible for me to pursue Lui. He inspires me in the way he goes about things, and he works incredibly hard,” Bec says.
“Bec is my sounding board,” Andy adds. “She’s honest in her feedback and sometimes she can be pretty brutal! When I started The Hundred, which was my first project without Hame by my side, Bec was incredibly helpful. She’s a consumer – she doesn’t watch things analytically, she watches for enjoyment. She can’t hide her emotions, she wears them on her sleeve. You know when you show something to Bec, you are going to get an honest response.”
“Gotta keep him grounded … ” she adds with a cheeky wink.
For as long as he can remember, after growing up in the nearby suburbs, Andy Lee has dreamed of one day having a home on the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River.
After years of unsuccessful house hunting and auction let-downs, he’d almost given up hope. But the stars aligned when the couple just happened to drive past Ravenswood as the sign was being placed out front for its very first inspection.
It was theirs 48 hours later.
He’d found his perfect love, and now the perfect house for them to share.
“Mum saw a story about the house on the news, she filmed it off the TV and sent it to me with the message ‘I think I’ve found your new home’ as a joke,” Andy laughs. “What was incredible about that is that Mum’s ability to do anything technological is terrible, so that was a mini-win in itself.”
“We were out looking at another house, and sort of joked with one another, ‘Let’s drive past that weird place your mum showed us,’ and by chance it was open,” says Bec.
“We stepped inside and looked at one another like, ‘whoa … ’ We both had the same feeling – that feeling people tell you about when they find the perfect property. Something just felt so right and we’d never had that feeling before.”
After two years of plans and paperwork, the local council has now approved their design to restore Ravenswood, faithful to its historical heritage, while adding a stunning new wing with a golf simulator, pool, theatre, gym, mail room, expansive cellar and a state-of-the-art outdoor entertaining area.
It’ll be at least another two years before they get to move in, and they agree it’s a very special feeling knowing that one day they will have their forever home that they’ve painstakingly created. They don’t take it for granted.
Despite their very public success, it is striking just how humble both Andy and Bec are. As soon as the lights and cameras are off, it’s track pants and runners on.
“We are well aware that it’s a really tough time for people to buy property at the moment and we are really fortunate to have been able to buy this place,” Andy says.
“This house was more expensive than I ever imagined I’d be willing, or able, to spend on a house, and it’s going to cost more to build than I ever imagined I’d be willing or able to pay. And we’re still working out how!” he adds, with that trademark self-deprecating smile.
“But we feel like we are going to have a lifetime of fun inviting our family and friends to enjoy this with us … and half of Melbourne!”
“The other day we were wandering down near the river and someone yells out, ‘Ahoy!’ from across the river [Hamish and Andy’s trademark greeting],” Bec adds. “We were like, ‘Yep, that’s a listener’.”
For most couples, renovating is the time that can test the best of relationships. So, do either of them have any experience?
“No!” they burst out in unison.
“My mum was an architect and interior designer so I grew up in renovated houses that were never finished,” Bec laughs. “I don’t think we ever lived in a finished house before she was onto the next project.”
“You won’t be seeing us on the tools too much, I don’t think,” Andy adds.
“My dad’s offered to help and he’s a pretty handy bloke but I had to say, ‘I think this one’s even a bit too big for you, Mick’.”
With six bedrooms, Ravenswood will be a home fit for a growing family, but Andy and Bec are keeping mum about what plans they have to fill the vast space beyond the two of them and their fur-baby, Henrietta.
“I think we’ll AirBnB a few of the rooms,” Andy jokes, deftly avoiding the question of whether they hope to expand the family.
Despite being one of Australia’s most photographed couples, with half a million followers watching their every move on social media, Andy and Bec still cleverly manage to keep their very public relationship private and they’re not going to spill such secrets today.
“Henrietta might get a sister one day,” Bec says of the adorable Welsh Terrier Andy surprised her with two years ago.
“We definitely want more dogs!” she beams.
Although their new home may still be a little way off, one of the things Andy and Bec are most looking forward to down the track is hosting Christmas festivities for the Harding and Lee clans at Ravenswood. Clearly, family and friends are at the heart of everything they do, and that’s no laughing matter … or is it?
“Our goal is that, in three years, we will be hosting everyone here for lunch and a swim by the Yarra afterwards.
The architects have put what looks like a 96-seat dining table on the renders so I guess we’ll be hosting quite a few people,” Andy laughs. “Maybe the whole neighbourhood, and we’d love it.”
The Hundred Christmas Special, hosted by Andy Lee, airs on the Nine Network on Sunday, December 10 at 7pm.