EXCLUSIVE: Julie Goodwin reveals “I am lucky to be here”

Since the day she walked onto the MasterChef Australia set back in 2009, Julie Goodwin has openly shared her life. But in writing a memoir she had to examine the demons she’d battled privately … until now.

At the age of 16, something happened that would change the trajectory of Julie Goodwin’s life.

She was a student at Sydney’s Hornsby Girls High School, and it was a day, she recalls, like any other, when a memory came back to her. An awful, traumatic and long-buried memory of being sexually abused close to a decade earlier.

“It was sudden,” she tells The Weekly today of that watershed moment.

“Nothing triggered it, it was just like the memory was always there, like a dusty book on a library shelf. And one day I took it down and looked at it and went, ‘Holy crap, how have I not thought about that for nine years?’ Then, as I sat with it, I realised why I hadn’t thought about it and shoved it away again.”

This is just one of many previously secret stories the 53-year-old reveals in her memoir, Your Time Starts Now.

Julie Goodwin sitting on a couch

Honest, raw and at times incredibly confronting, the decision to open up her entire world, she says, isn’t something she has done lightly. But the thought of writing her life story without including those ugly parts?

That was something Julie says she would never have considered.

Her life has been public record since that iconic MasterChef win in 2009. Australians have watched her succeed as well as occasionally fall. She’s opened up to The Weekly in previous years about a lot of her tough times including a hospitalisation for mental health, a drink driving arrest and growing up with a single mum who at times struggled to put food on the table. She did this, she has always said, in the hope it might help somebody else treading an equally rough road.

“When I was asked to write a memoir, I knew I wouldn’t write a fluffy food-based memoir with just some MasterChef stories,” she says now of revealing her darkest moments, warts and all. “It was hard, but I had to do it.”

Where is Julie Goodwin from?

Like with any story, Julie’s starts with her childhood. She was the first-born child of Marlene and David McCormish, a father who was largely absent in the young family’s home.

“I do have very early memories of lying on the carpet in the front hall by the door with the beer-bottle glass, waiting for him to get home,” she writes. “Mum trying to convince me to come into the lounge room, away from the front door; that he was at work, and we weren’t sure when he would be home. He wasn’t at work; Mum didn’t know where he was, but that’s how she explained it to me.”

By the time Julie was three and Marlene was pregnant with younger sister Debbie, he was gone for good.

Young Julie Goodwin at the beach. Picture supplied.
Young Julie Goodwin at the beach. Picture supplied.

Reading between the lines, we conjecture her father appears to have had a problem with alcohol.

“I suspect so, but I can’t confirm and it’s really not my place to say,” she responds diplomatically. “So that’s why that’s between the lines. I don’t know him well enough to say that.”

Happily, a few years later her mother met Tony – a man who adored her, who she would marry, and who Julie and Debbie call Dad. The couple were a team. And Tony would help give the girls love and lots of security along with an outstanding example of a healthy adult relationship.

That’s something that Julie is eternally grateful for. And that has certainly stood her in good stead after meeting the love of her life Mick, father of her three sons and the man she’s been married to for 29 years.

Tony, Marlene, Debbie, grandmother Edna and Julie. Picture supplied
Tony, Marlene, Debbie, grandmother Edna and Julie. Picture supplied

A few years ago, after decades of no contact, Julie tells us, she reached out to David, “because I just don’t want to be on my deathbed and have regrets. And I don’t want anybody else to be on their deathbed and have regrets. So, I felt moved to find him and say, ‘I just want you to know that I bear you no ill will for anything that has happened in my life’. I was raised by a beautiful man – and he knows that, my father knows that I was raised by a beautiful man – and there are no hard feelings.”

The duo occasionally text or call and Julie shares photos of her family, including her treasured granddaughter, Delilah, now three.

“It’s sporadic and I don’t push it or pursue it, I just allow it to be what it is,” she says.

Julie Goodwin standing at fireplace

What happened to Julie Goodwin?

A smart kid, Julie excelled at school. She loved music, choir, debating and computer club. She was a proud “weirdo”. She was someone who wanted to be liked, to be loved. A girl who was determined to succeed. She had high expectations of herself as well as those around her. But then came that uncovered memory and the wheels began falling off her seemingly stable wagon.

She spoke about it to nobody, including her parents, who only recently learned of the trauma.

A year later, 17-year-old Julie had been elected school captain. She was in the middle of studying for her HSC. She also attempted suicide – another event she’s only revealing for the first time today.

“The people who knew me at the time will fall over because, my God, we swept it under the rug so successfully,” she says now of the instinct at the time not to “air dirty laundry”.

The shame, she says, was overwhelming. So too was the fear of what others would think of her. And so, after a few days in hospital, she returned to school and daily life, never to speak of what happened.

Schoolgirl Julie Goodwin. Picture supplied.
Schoolgirl Julie Goodwin. Picture supplied.

But internally her outlook had once again shifted. She lost that driven self-confidence and decided (with no evidence to back it up, mind you) that she’d never get the marks to achieve her dream job of becoming either a journalist or a criminal lawyer. So she simply stopped trying.

Her life, she’s quick to stress, hasn’t turned out badly because of this. In fact, she remembers school with largely fond memories. And just a year or so later she would meet Mick, who is thetrue hero of her memoir – his steadfast love and support holding his beloved wife up at every hurdle.

“He is the steadiest, most beautiful human being,” Julie says, choking back tears at the overwhelming gratitude she feels for her husband. “I don’t know what stars aligned for me to be the person that he has loved since he was a teenager, but I am so thankful. And I love him too.

“That is a part of my life that is rock steady. And does not falter. And I can’t even think about where I would be if I hadn’t had that for all these years. Because it wouldn’t be good.”

Becoming a mother would at times be tough – she had three boys under three and depression first reared its ugly head when her eldest, Joe, arrived in 1995 (followed shortly by Tom and Paddy). But the sheer joy of raising her sons buoyed her through many of those difficult days.

“They are a gift,” she says of the trio who are all firmly behind their mother in sharing this story.

Julie Goodwin with Joe and newborn Tom. Picture supplied.
Julie Goodwin with Joe and newborn Tom. Picture supplied.

Like many young mums, she’d have a few glasses of wine at the end of the day to decompress. There was no harm in that, she figured. She’d not drunk much as a teenager and certainly hadn’t touched a drop during her pregnancies or breastfeeding.

Sure, Mick questioned her drinking at times, but it wasn’t anything she felt she needed to worry about.

“There is real resentment around any questions around it,” she says now of being challenged in those early days. “‘Am I not doing quite enough for you that you would deny me this?’ And for a lot of people that’s perfectly fine. But it got hold of me.”

As the boys grew, she’d go from daily drinking to occasional drinking to only drinking on weekends or at times not drinking at all. “It let go of me sometimes and I could carry on and do all the things that I needed to do,” Julie says of her drinking patterns.

Certainly, her career was booming. After her MasterChef win came a near decade-long contract with The Weekly, a number of best-selling cookbooks, the launch of her own cooking school, a hit breakfast radio show and more.

Pages of The Australian Women's Weekly featuring Julie Goodwin
Julie Goodwin’s first contribution to The Weekly came in the wake of her MasterChef win.

She was busy spinning all the wheels – successfully, it appeared to outsiders. But behind closed doors not all was well. Reluctantly, she went to see her GP who finally diagnosed her with depression and anxiety.

What stopped her from taking this step earlier, we ask? For Julie, it was the classic case of “comparing down”.

“It comes from that very beautiful idea that we should be grateful,” she says, adding this is a common approach of many women – and men – of her generation to avoid seeking mental health treatment.

“Basically, if you are not starving to death in a developing nation with some stack of horrible diseases then you have no right to complain about anything.

“If you put upon yourself the idea that you must not complain because you live in Australia and you have a job, you have physical health and people around you? Then you shut that in a box? That box can only hold so much. When that box explodes, the shrapnel reaches into every area of your life.”

Julie Goodwin sitting in a kitchen

When Julie began taking medication along with introducing lifestyle changes, such as exercise, diet and meditation, those self-medicating glasses of wine were the last thing she wanted to let go of. Even, she admits in the memoir, after her notorious drink driving arrest in April 2018.

But, she says, “the worse I got in myself, the further it got hold of me and it was the last piece of the puzzle.”

Entering a new decade, the world was in crisis – the 2019 bushfires, then to the COVID pandemic. She was forced to close her cooking school – something that devastated her, knowing her team would also be out of work. And despite the work she was doing to stay mentally well, suicidal thoughts were rearing their ugly head.

She’d confided in Mick early in their relationship of her suicide attempt at 17. “There are a few things that I tested my beautiful boyfriend with to see if I was loveable when all that was out in the open, and I must have been,” Julie tells us today. “Because 35 years later we are still together.”

He made her promise at the time never to do that again. For over 30 years she kept that promise. Until she finally reached a place of dark overwhelm in 2020; a place that saw her once again contemplate ending her own life.

Julie and Mick Goodwin on their wedding day. Picture supplied.
Julie and Mick on their wedding day. Picture supplied.

Two guardian angels – three if you include their dog – saved her that night. As she was actively making plans, a young couple stopped the clearly in crisis Julie and asked if she was okay. Despite her insistence she was fine, they doubled back shortly after and sat with her; talking until she gathered herself to call Mick.

This was the night which led to her admittance to the psychiatric ward, which she opened up about publicly to The Weekly in May 2020.

Readers applauded her bravery for bringing her fight into the open. So too did the viewers of MasterChef: Fans & Favourites when she re-entered the cooking series two years later. Yet nobody realised that her fight was far from over.

“I was still very fragile, I was not well, still crying at the drop of a hat,” she says now of her state at that time.

Unbeknown to the public, she had been hospitalised again – and would go on to be in treatment after the show as well.

So she put in firm boundaries about what she needed to make the show work for her. And despite it being tough at times, she remains grateful for being given a platform to talk about her ongoing mental health journey.

“The messages I received were beautiful,” she says, tearing up at the memory. “It was like a floodgate opened. I’m always looking for meaning in things. And I’ve always been looking for the meaning in, ‘Why me?’ And if this is part of that meaning, if this is part of the leverage that I have now, then I use it for that. And maybe that gives some kind of reason for everything I’ve been through as well.”

Julie Goodwin standing on a staircase

And that, she says, is the impetus behind finally putting her true life story down on paper. Of revealing the long-buried secret she says made her “feel filthy” for many of her 53 years. Of going into the previously unknown suicide attempt and multiple hospitalisations. Her recovery is not linear. It is also something she will have to navigate for the rest of her life.

“You don’t get your head tweaked and go, ‘Yee-ha!’ and come out and carry on with your life,” she says.

“That’s just not how it works. I still have days that I struggle to put a smile on my face, I struggle to lift my mood … but I have better tools now. And if this book is the last public thing I ever do? Then it is. I’ll love my granddaughter and cook for my family and carry on with my life.”

Julie Goodwin memoir Your Time Starts Now book cover

The title of the book is Your Time Starts Now. So, as we wrap up our conversation it seems appropriate to ask Julie, what happens as the clock resets?

“I had a friend tell me a quote once,” she says, her voice thickening for the final time today with unshed tears. “‘We live two lives. And the second one begins when you realise you only get one.’

“I am living my second life. I am lucky to be here. And so I am saying yes to things that bring me joy. I am saying no to things I don’t want to do. I am making choices for my life, and I am choosing the important stuff and the important stuff has changed. It’s not money driven; it is joy driven.

“I’m 53. I’ve only got four good decades in me, so I better get on with it! There is so much I want to do. I have got painting I’ve got to do, my God I’ve just learned to dance! And I never saw [Dancing with the Stars 2024] on my bingo card. So what else is on my bingo card that I can’t see just yet? I don’t know. But I’m excited for it.”

Your Time Starts Now by Julie Goodwin, Ebury Press, is on sale April 23.

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