Exclusive: Michelle Bridges breaks her silence
On the morning of Australia Day this year, Michelle Bridges was arrested after returning a positive blood alcohol reading in a random breath test and later pleaded guilty in court to mid-range drink driving.
The ensuing media storm has made the already high-profile personal trainer and television personality one of the most talked-about people in the country.
Sitting down at her Lego-strewn kitchen table while her four-year-old son Axel plays happily in the living room, Bridges speaks exclusively for the first time to Stellar's editor-in-chief Sarrah Le Marquand about "the hardest two months" of her life - and what happens next...
Last month in Sydney you pleaded guilty to drink driving after recording a positive reading in a random breath test (RBT) on the morning of January 26. Can we start by talking through what happened the night before?
I suppose on the outside looking in, I seemed my happy usual self. But privately I was going through a pretty stressful time on a personal level, coming to terms with my relationship breakdown. I spent the evening with girlfriends who rallied around and do what girlfriends do, lend a shoulder, lend an ear. And with that, we were drinking. I'm not proud of that, but that's really the case, and that was my night beforehand.
How did things unfold for you the next morning?
I told Axel [her four-year-old son who was sitting in the back seat of the car] I'd take him to the beach. I made that fateful decision, that poor decision, and then off we went. It wasn't, I suppose, done with as much forethought as what I should have had, and I accept that. Unfortunately I have to accept that.
Were you at all concerned when you saw the RBT?
There was a lot of traffic, it was quite banked up. And I was taken through the breathalysing - I knew that I'd been drinking the night before and it was what it was, there's nothing more to say. That's just how it played out.
You have become one of the most talked-about people in Australia ever since news broke about this - how have you coped with the scrutiny?
It's been fairly confronting having a lot of media attention in a negative way. Not that I've gone out looking for it, but it's been there and it's confronting - not just for me but for my family and extended family.
But I understand - I say that genuinely - it's part of my job. I'm in the media and I have to take that on the chin, it's part of the work that I do. But it's been almost an overwhelming amount of people who have come forward and have just said, "Look, we love you and have your back. Stay strong. You made a big mistake; you're human."
And that's not just from my amazing online community but from total strangers. Clearly, I'm deeply remorseful. I still am, even today, just going back to thinking about it. I've got to live with the mistake I made forever, but it's good to have had some compassion and empathy.
After news of your arrest became public, you released a statement to apologise and also revealed that you and your partner, Steve 'Commando' Willis, had recently separated after seven years together. What impact has that had on your life?
Well, break-ups and separations are tough; they're challenging at the best of times. No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors and no one will, nor should they. We're two people who are going through a relationship break-up that sets about its own set of challenges for us, individually and for us as a duo going through a separation.
And I'm now trying to navigate a new life for myself going forward. Yeah, it feels different, it feels strange, and, yep, there are moments that I look around and think "Can I do this?" But then I see so many incredible women and men who do it solo and I think, "Of course I can."
So, yeah, it's a moment in time that we're navigating together and solo, and it does feel strange and unusual, but I feel confident we're going to be positive moving forward.
I'm not the first, and won't be the last person to go through something like this, and gosh, so many single mums and dads have given me so much beautiful advice and support... Several generations ago, divorce and separations weren't as common as today, so we all learnt from the past how to support each other.
My friends have been absolute rocks in my life. I've heard this before, and it's become so profound for me as of late, that you can tell your wealth by the people you have around you and the people who are there for you when you need them.
That's your wealth, that's your meaningful life right there. The relationships you've created that are there for you through the good, the bad and the ugly. Even if they come over and just lay on the couch and have a nap with you and don't even talk! [Laughs.]
How have your friends and family and your ex-partner been coping with the media scrutiny?
I think they've just been normal family or friends. I've had family come stay with me and spend time with me - their number-one concern is me. They want to know if I'm OK and getting on with things. They want to make sure I'm getting my training in and doing all the things that I know are good for me.
There was some criticism about your lawyer's description in court of you as "a rather special person" who required leniency. You have said yourself "this behaviour is inexcusable", so how do you respond to that kind of criticism?
I can't really speak for my lawyer, they were the words that at the time he chose to select. They were not my words. My words that came from me were really the ones I said outside the courthouse, that is how I feel.
I've made an incredibly huge mistake and I'm utterly remorseful for it. And I have to live with that. I definitely do not think I'm special. I'm like everyone else, I have a different job than most people, but I can't speak for his words, I can only speak for my own.
Presumably much of the attention this incident has attracted is because it seems so at odds with your high-profile image as a beacon of healthy living and fitness. What do you say to fans who might feel confused or betrayed?
Look, I've had people in my community that I've had the good fortune to work with for over 15 years - before Instagram and social media. And I completely understand there would be people in my beautiful community that would be disillusioned by what happened on that day, and to them I say an absolute heartfelt apology: I'm sorry. I've made a massive mistake.
With that being said, my community astounds me every day, and the incredible response of love and generally wanting to know if I'm OK... And for them to now rally around me, it makes me almost get teary. So I think to all of them and to new parts of our community who have only been with me for a short time, my words are: I've made a mistake, I'm deeply regretful for it.
I've got to live with that now for the rest of my life and I'm taking steps for myself to get back to my best, which is taking care of my community and giving them the strength and coaching and the power to empower themselves.
And, of course, my focus is with my son - 1000 per cent - making sure he has a safe, secure life and relationship with his family.
Last month you shared a post on Instagram saying thank you to your friends and family, and detailing how you "have received so many messages of kindness from both strangers and people I know". How much support have you received from the public, and what sort of messages are they sending?
Oh gosh, I've had so many men and women write to me and give me their personal stories of all sorts of things, similar instances, it's just been quite incredible. They make me laugh, some of them make me cry, but they've taken time, that's what's blown me away.
Some of the stories have been hilarious, but all of them have come with the same message, which is "We're all human, we all make mistakes and, yep, you made one, girl. We understand and we're empathetic towards it, and want to show you compassion."
If there is a silver lining, that's probably it. It's the compassion our society can show and offer for free. They don't have to do that, they don't have to write to me. I would have thought the people in my community would have done it, but not complete strangers.
A lot of women feel like they aren't living up to the notion of being a "perfect" wife, mother or employee. Do you think, in that regard, it's telling that people have reached out?
Absolutely. Recently, for International Women's Day, I was invited to this lunch and I was really unsure if I should go. I jumped in a taxi by myself and as I was in the car I was thinking, "Maybe I can tell him to keep going, take me back home" [laughs] because I was very nervous. I thought, "Why am I doing this by myself? Why didn't I bring someone with me?"
I'm so used to doing this on my own. So I walked in and the first person to see me was Sandra Sully, and she could probably see the trepidation on my face and she said, "Mish! So happy you're here." And off it went. I had so many ladies come up to talk, ones I'd met before and some I hadn't.
It was the best place I could have been in. It was perfect, and I can't say it enough - I'm deeply remorseful, and the humiliation and shame that comes with that, but it's the compassion of others that gives you a real sense of love.
In terms of the overall reaction from the wider public, have you found Australians to be compassionate?
Yeah. I've had an extraordinary time where I've been shown that. It's me, walking down the street to my local chemist and someone going, "I know you live around here. Just want to see how you're going. Saw your face on those magazines and you stay strong." It gives me absolute faith that we are compassionate and we do care about each other.
Have you experienced any instances where someone has come up to you and said something negative?
No, not one person.
What have you learnt about yourself over the past two months?
I would definitely say that these last two months have been the hardest two months of my life. Without question. So I've learnt that I'm strong and can get things in order and love myself and draw strength from others. I'm a fairly independent woman and haven't been that person to accept help and support.
I'm usually like, "I'm fine, don't worry about it." This has definitely changed me; I'm now more accepting of help when someone offers it. [Pauses to wipe away tears.] So that's very different from me, and I see people appreciate that they can help you. They get a lot out of that, too.
My mum is so used to me saying, "No, no, it's fine," and she said, "Did you want me to come?" And I said yes. All my friends have said, "What can I do to help?" and I'm, like, "Actually you can really help with this..." It's not been something I've done before, so that's something I have found out about myself.
I think, as humans, we tend to say, "No, I'm fine, I don't need your help," but what you see is beauty when letting people in.
How has your son Axel handled these past two months and what does the future look like for you both?
He's my world and he's as chipper as always, plenty to say [laughs], always has a conversation ready to have with anyone. He's great, he's more than great. People will say, "Oh, children are so resilient," and you go, "Well, are they?" But he's an absolute shining example of that.
So, moving forward, we're going to have a life full of love, compassion and empathy. Those are the things I would definitely be ensuring he gets life lessons in.
I feel like I've been a compassionate person and have been there for others, but it makes you want to be there even more. When something happens in someone else's life, you want to be there and give the compassion that you received in your darkest moments.
Speaking of the future, you have a new book, 12WBT Low-carb Solution, coming out.
The book has been in the making for quite a while. We started to put this together at the start of last year, so the idea was to do something together with my 12 Week team and community. My team is all so pumped because they feel like they've written it, which they have - it's their book.
We always encourage home cooking as much as possible, it's such a great skill to have. I get overwhelmed if there are a lot of ingredients and methods, so if I get overwhelmed, we need to cull. [Laughs.] It's all quick-and-easy recipes, all nutritious, all family-friendly and easy, and very efficient as well. When I talk about efficiency, it's things you can put in your freezer.
A lot of recipes are family-friendly, and I'm not just saying as far as the palate, but also for them to get into the kitchen, too. I've got mums that have been with me since day one that were single when they first started and are now parents.
What else is ahead for your business?
I've got a new project and bringing some new people into the business, so I can't say too much yet, but the focus won't be completely on me, which is really exciting because I see some fresh new ideas and people.
Before I turn off my pesky tape recorder, is there anything else you'd like to say?
[Pause] I've got a lot to do, Sarrah, and I've got a lot of people I want to be there for and who rely on me. Foremost myself and my son - but I still have a lot to do.
Originally published as Exclusive: Michelle Bridges breaks her silence