Angie Hilton : Barwon River, Newtown : Geelong, Australia
“It’s just getting the building blocks right. I’m not necessarily worried about whether I can do the job itself, it’s more about getting it right and beating out that perfectionism in me that creeps in every now and then that holds you back until it’s exactly right. So just get started, get it happening and just deal with things as they pop up rather than make sure everything’s exactly perfect”
It’s likely that if you’ve spent any time in front of Australian television in the last 20 years you’ll recognise the face of Angie Hilton. Raised in the port-city of Geelong, about 75 kilometres from Melbourne, she was the first in her family to discover a passion for music, so it came as a surprise to them when she asked for singing lessons at 13 years old. From there it was a volley of activities including countless singing concerts, time with the renowned GSODA Junior Players (a youth theatre company that has groomed other well-known talents like film actor, Guy Pearce, and opera stalwart, Peter Coleman-Wright) to an appearance on New Faces (with Bert Newton) that solidified her choice to forge a career in the entertainment industry. And since then, she has logged an enviable professional track-record as: backing vocalist with the Hey Hey It’s Saturday house-band; vocalist as part of the hit BMG girl-group, Sirens; and a presenter on Coxy’s Big Break on the 7 network. This is before you get to the countless TV ads, corporate gigs, live appearances and print work, so you’d be forgiven for not being able to pin her down to one thing.
Her current TV role is as a co-presenter on What’s Up Down Under, the popular Network 10 lifestyle program, in which she’s enjoying her fourth year; somewhat surprising in an industry where the future is rarely secure and show-cancelations all too familiar. As such, Angie is loving the opportunities the program provides as much as ever, and continues to enjoy taking viewers on a lounge-room journey to the countless amazing places Australia has on offer. But of course, as a travel-show, it requires time on the road and there is the reality of balancing this with her other presenting and gig commitments; and – most importantly – her children and husband (former Melbourne Tigers NBL player), Braith Cox.
“I really never know when I’m going away (but) I’ve always said if it’s too much, I’ll back out at any moment, but (Braith)’s really supportive and when I go away he’s got it all covered until I get back…and see there’s 10 loads of washing to do! The kids have grown up with it and, (as) I go away in stages, I think it’s helped them become a little more independent. This year it’s been busier than normal and the longest stretch might have been 10 days, but when I’m home, I’m home for ages. So I do still have that internal battle of what’s right and wrong, but I call the kids and if they sound happy, I’m fine. If they were ever saying “Mum, can you please come home” then I guess I’d be weighing things up a bit more, but they’re resilient little kids and I’ve got a lot of help, so I’m pretty lucky”
At a surprising 40 years old, the Big Brother appearances and nightclub events are behind her, and now that her youngest child has started school she’s enjoying yet another shift in her day to day which is affording her the one thing that we all covet; time. And with this unexpected newfound luxury, she’s not rewarding herself with the countless champagne brunches she no doubt deserves but with a focus on a new and exciting project; a web-series of her own design that she’s building from the ground up by combining her personal experiences and professional expertise alike.
“My passion is for helping people with mental health issues, and while I haven’t gone and done a psychology degree or anything like that, I guess I try to look at what I have done that could be utilised to essentially get things out to people in the self-help field. I’m creating a web-series to be like a vehicle to direct people who don’t know what to do; this is where you can go, these are some ideas of how you can get help”
With such a broad professional foundation it would seem safe to assume that an inherent confidence would carry her from one job to the next, but as you wave away the veneer of the perceived expectation of a full-time entertainer, the reality is refreshing and authentically ground-level. There are nerves there; the intelligent trepidation of asking for what you want in order to put your own ideas in front of a new audience is a terrifying and humbling process, and as this is her first executive producing venture it’s only natural to question yourself and feel the stress as the project grows. But balancing the anxiety is an inherent energy she draws upon which has allowed her to accrue such an impressive list of achievements to date.
“One of the hurdles holding me back is (the idea of) putting yourself out there, the fear of the unknown, and not being afraid of rejection; all those things that pop up when you try something new like this. Getting that initial step by step plan of how I’m going to attack it (is the challenge) and having the right people with me will help as well; to bounce the ideas off, because when you start doing too much on your own you can get a little bit overwhelmed”
There is a hidden benefit to spending days exploring positivity and looking for messages to help others adjust their happiness-compass, and it’s a welcome surprise to Angie. The deeper she descends into the content and shape of the project, the more she is feeding on the positive impetus. This is of particular importance to her as the drive behind ‘Destination: Happiness’ stems from her own experiences, as at the age of 27 she found herself at the start of a battle that would have an immeasurable effect on her; both professionally and personally.
“I had a really severe bout of depression and anxiety, which was quite debilitating, and at my worst I guess I became almost agoraphobic; I didn’t want to leave the house cause it was that constant panic attack cycle where everything was triggering it. In fact, I was panicking about having a panic attack, so it just became a circle. Not being able to get in control of the panic attacks led to the depression, and I kept thinking at the time, “I’m a strong person, I can beat this; I’m not going to let it beat me” but, without having the tools I needed, it was just something I couldn’t get out of without extra help”
This unexpected and relentless personal challenge had an extended and profound impact on her professional life too. For this self-described perfectionist, whose success is determined by her ability to entertain, interact and deliver to varied audiences, it created a whole new raft of challenges.
“I can remember at the time doing some gigs where every single second of that gig I was feeling like I would rather be anywhere else but here; pushing myself through it and trying to put on a face, an entertaining face. Nobody at the time wants to say, “Hey I’m really suffering and I feel performing is just too hard for me right now” so I was trying to suck it up but I was just getting worse and worse. I can just remember a few gigs (where) every single millisecond was me in total panic for three sets. I suppose for a lot of people they can go to work and really don’t have to talk to people, but I have to get up and pretend to be really happy. In some ways it was probably really good for me to be making myself do it, but it was a really tough stage”
As with all mental-health battles, any respite is unique to the person affected and Angie tried a number of options to help her back to a perceived normality. But in conjunction with an understanding that this wasn’t her battle alone and that countless others in the community had been and were going through something similar, it was meditation that generated enormous change to her mental well-being; and taking time to stop and clear her mind of negativity continues to be a go-to when she recognises the signs of the inner-demons starting to take hold.
“I did try anti-depressants for a while, but I knew that I didn’t want to stay on that, so I thought I was going to study everything I possibly could about it to learn how I ended up in that hole and how I could get out of it. It was really when I found meditation that it cemented a practise for me that would keep the anxiety at bay at lot more. I’d read so much, I understood that my negative thoughts were impacting my feelings constantly and I started to watch what I was saying to myself, and when you stop and watch what you say to yourself you realise, you’re speaking to yourself horrendously. And I thought, if I have kids in the future I want to try to prevent it in the first place with positive psychology. But if they do end up going down, (I wanted them) to have the tools to get themselves out of it”
Angie has a clear and very real commitment to engaging people on mental health and ensuring that she shares the practises that assist her with anyone in a similar situation; to remind people dealing with these challenges that they’re not alone and that options and support networks are available. It seems like the perfect fit to use her on-screen presenting capability as a vehicle to creating a community that openly discusses the realities of mental health by normalising the language of medical professionals and funnelling countless ideas into cohesive messages that people can understand, relate to and easily access.
It’s also a healthy reminder that the distant perception of someone can be jaded by the lens you see them through, and that a reassessment of the societal perspective of “normal” is well overdue. Speaking out and communicating to those battling the effects of anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges is imperative and, with ‘Destination: Happiness’, Angie is determined to try and galvanize the process through connection, education and empathy.
Follow her new project, “Destination: Happiness”, here: Destination: Happiness