Willow and my leg cropped

How Not To Be Shy and Other Life Lessons

If you’ve ever had a little girl in your life, you’ll know the year they turn five is a busy one. The parties are endless. (I won’t lie, it hurts to have a daughter with a better social life than me.) And they are all, without exception, fairy and princess dress-up parties. Having done six months of this Tour de Glitter, I can tell you that unless you’ve won Project Runway, don’t even think about making the costume yourself. Next to Disney’s perfect princess re-creations, your idea of quaint and rustic just looks like something you found in a hard rubbish collection.

I’ve also learnt that the best kind of invitation comes with two magical words: drop off. Yes, a clear and guilt-free instruction to leave your child at the party, and run! A sanctioned and safe opportunity to snatch a two-hour window on your own, in the middle of your weekend, while your cherub overdoses on red cordial and lollies at someone else’s house. It’s like a miracle.

Unless, of course, your daughter is like my daughter. My darling is painfully shy. When other little girls are ditching their mummies faster than a carrot stick at cake time, my baby is clinging to my legs as though her life depends on it.

Admittedly, the most recently hired entertainment – a hungover Snow White in a shabby wig – did look unnervingly like she’d come straight from a huge night out with the seven dwarves. But I don’t think she was armed and dangerous, as my daughter’s vice-like grip around my neck implied.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I begrudge her my attention. She is my world, and every minute she’s in my arms is a blessing, even if it’s while I’m coaxing her face from my bosom so that she might mix with her friends or engage in such high-risk activities as pass the parcel.

But my heart breaks for her timid fragile introverted spirit. I feared her first day of school so much that we repeated preschool to delay it. In a crazy moment, I even investigated home schooling. I mean, under my tutelage she probably won’t know her times tables, but she’ll have a vast knowledge of nail colours and Broadway musicals.

And then I remind myself that I, too, have struggled with chronic shyness, and I’m okay. I’ve known what it is to feel sick in the stomach at the thought of walking into a party, even when those in attendance are friends. And to be written off as cold, rude or arrogant because my introverted aloofness sent all the wrong messages. As anxieties go, it’s not that extreme, but there have been times I’ve found it debilitating.

This might sound hard to believe. I’ve made my living as a performer for over a decade. I began my life in showbiz as a stand-up comedian. To some, that’s like facing a firing squad. The majority of my work on TV has been as a guest or fill-in on well-established, tight-knit teams, which is exactly like fitting instantly into someone else’s dinner party, but doing it live on-air.

Oddly, shyness has never manifested itself in the performance space for me. It was always backstage where I felt my heart racing, in the terrifying moment when I was faced with the horror of (dramatic sound effect) talking to strangers. When all social graces escaped me, small talk became a foreign language and natural banter floated over my head as I froze in a dark, self-conscious loop of negative self-talk, wishing I could spontaneously combust. I think of the person I was then and the people I worked with, some of whom are now very prominent in both radio and TV, and I think they must have wondered who was that strange silent girl in the corner, clutching a table leg like it was her mother.

I also know there’s still a big part of me that would regress, were I to find myself working with them again. But the difference is, after 12 years of breakfast radio, I’ve learnt two things: first, people love to talk about themselves; and second, if you ask people questions, and you engage with their answers, you shift the focus away from your own inner quivering mess. Basically, get over yourself and think about someone else.

Radio became the antidote to my shyness, because through my daily practice of conversation – and it really does take practice, like any other skill you’re honing – I learnt to put myself at ease by simply taking an interest in others. The by-product of this was that whether I was chatting with listeners or Oscar winners, I would hear wonderful stories that were hilarious, moving or shocking … and invaluable material for a content-hungry breakfast show.

I wouldn’t say I’ve totally mastered my fear, but I’m far more comfortable in my introverted skin because I have this technique, which is so simple I feel confident I can teach it to my daughter. You know, as a key part of my home-schooling curriculum. That and the handy tip that if all else fails, check your phone every three minutes as though you’re expecting a life-changing tweet.

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