Catherine Andrews talks about how she met her husband Daniel Andrews, now Victoria’s Premier, and life’s priorities and challenges being part of the Premier Crew.
One day when Catherine Andrews was an 18-year-old student at Monash University she walked into the common room in the college where she was living and met a young brainiac called Daniel. He was watching Sale of the Century and answering all the questions.
“In between answering all the questions he was being very, very funny,” she says. “I thought, ‘Oh, interesting’, you know? It was definitely one of those moments where I thought, ‘I’m going to sit next to you’.”
She did. “He still remembers what I was wearing,” she says. “It was the ’90s, so I had a psychedelic body suit and purple jeans. He still says, ‘You were wearing that amazing outfit’.”
The pair dated for five years and in 1998 Daniel proposed to Catherine. She was 24. They married on New Year’s Eve that year. “You don’t want to muck around,” she says. “When you know, you know.”
The young woman in the psychedelic body suit is, of course, now the Premier’s wife, Victoria’s “first lady”. We’ve met at a photographic studio in Prahran.
As her minder hands her a takeaway coffee, she seems utterly unaffected by the overnight fame that came when her husband became Premier last November.
Our interview seems more like a chat in a café about the usual stuff – kids, busy lives, trying to keep fit, finding time to pursue a hobby. This is a woman who does not stand on ceremony. It’s not hard to see why she was described before last year’s state election as her husband’s “secret weapon”.
Daniel becoming Premier has changed the family’s life only in the sense that it’s even busier. With three children – Noah, 12, Grace, 10, and Joseph, eight – the Andrews face similar challenges to most families, “signing school notices and washing uniforms”.
“As a family unit we haven’t changed at all,” Catherine says. “It’s still Dan and myself and the three kids. We’re exactly the same. The world around us has changed slightly. We haven’t forgotten who we are.
“You have to maintain your family routines, the things you’ve always celebrated together. They’re the important things, whether you’re in politics or not. Of course [the children] are our top priority. The children’s birthdays are very firmly in the diary, Daniel’s birthday, my birthday, our wedding anniversary is on New Year’s Eve, so that’s great because very rarely can work interfere with celebrations around that.”
Nor has the family’s change of circumstance meant they are treated all that differently by the public. “We’re very lucky here in Australia,” she says. “People are very respectful. Wherever we’ve been people just say hi and let us go about our day.”
Maybe it’s a product of an egalitarian Australia? “I’m very grateful for it actually. In another country it could be very different, especially when we’re out with the children.”
Catherine, 40, grew up with two older brothers in Mornington, near the beach. If it was hot her mother would take her for a swim on the way home from school. She was active in ballet, netball and piano. It was, she says, an idyllic upbringing. She dreamed of being a ballerina.
She attended ballet classes until university. In 2001, after a long break from dancing, she got a call from her ballet teacher who asked her to dance in a performance. “When I did this concert I realised I should have never given it up,” she says.
“Muscle memory is quite phenomenal. If you have learnt any form of exercise growing up, your body doesn’t forget.” She now attends ballet classes each Tuesday night in Prahran. “That’s my day,” she says.
Catherine has even danced on Broadway in New York. “I did a couple of classes on Broadway. You can just rock up to any class in the world because ballet is an international language.” Her friends at the Australian Ballet Company in Australia helped her find it.
“It’s amazing. It’s a bit like being in Fame – there’s a pianist in the corner and 50 people in the room moving through line by line, people of all standards.” New York is her “second favourite city in the world”.
She did an arts degree with a double major in English and history, then a master’s in public history. In recent years she has worked as a freelance copy editor, writing such things as wine labels and death notices, which is what she was doing until Daniel got the top job and life became too hectic to continue.
Last year former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett approached her to be on the board of The Torch Project, which helps indigenous prisoners connect with their culture. Kennett, chairman of beyondblue, told her he had been “impressed with you in the media”. She joined the board earlier this year.
“It’s really nice that he reached out,” she says. “In 1992, when he became premier of Victoria, I turned 18. He figured very large in my life growing up, especially spending my life with someone who was very heavily involved in politics.
“I had grown up in a family that wasn’t necessarily overly political and when I went to university that changed quite a lot. I signed up to [study] politics, wasn’t very good at it, met this really clever man [Dan] and I knocked on the door in the evenings to say, ‘Can you help me with this?’.
“I’m very grateful to Jeff for his concern about me too. He says, ‘You’ve got young children, don’t overwork yourself’.”
She is also an ambassador for Premier’s Active April, which encourages people to exercise, and Sunsmart Victoria, Cancer Council Victoria’s skin-cancer control program. She wants to use the opportunities she has. “I could choose to do nothing and I could choose to continue with my editing business that I’ve been running for a number of years,” she says. “I could try to do both but I think that would be almost impossible.
“Or I could take this opportunity of a lifetime and give back and contribute wherever I can. Daniel has this line that he often says at schools and various places, ‘If you have the opportunity, you have the obligation’.
“I agree with that. I have this opportunity now because of my profile … to do some really great things that are very interesting, challenging, thought-provoking, entertaining, fascinating. So I’m thrilled to be in this position.”
Life’s busy but then it always has been. “Daniel’s been a member of parliament for 12½ years. During that time I’ve been working and raising three children. We’ve always been extremely busy but it’s certainly stepped it up a notch. We just have to be more organised now.”
I ask Catherine about the view, commonly expressed by men, that they devote too much time to their work and regret missing out on watching their kids growing up. “It plays on his mind,” she says. “The children are our top priority. They’re all beautiful, they’re all very different and they’re a complete blessing.”
The juggle is a challenge. “But there are lots of people we know who are not involved in politics and they are struggling to find the work-life balance as well … I’m not sure we’ve got that balance right yet, but we’re working on it,” she says.
What do the kids think about their dad being Premier? “They barrack for him on the TV. Sometimes it’s the only time of the day when they’ll see him, so they like to watch the news,” she says.
“Noah has just started secondary school, so we were a bit aware of how that might be for him. The kids at his school have just been amazing, really friendly – ‘We know who your dad is’, ‘Good on him’.
“The little ones have been at the same school all along and the parents and teachers at the school know Dan and me. I’ve been on every excursion there is to go on, done the sizzle wizzles (sausage sizzle fund-raisers), the school fête.”
Catherine keeps fit with gym and running. Last year she ran the Melbourne Marathon. “My best friend said we should do a marathon the year we turned 40. Anything for a day off.”
The sole controversy Catherine has faced is when the car she was driving, with her children on board, hit a cyclist, who was not injured. “It was terrible, so traumatic,” she says. “It was really traumatic for everybody involved … The media onslaught in the days after was very stressful. The most important thing was the young cyclist was OK.
“I rang the hospital on dozens of occasions to check on him and the outcome, thank God, was good. It was awful, really awful.”
The media’s focus was that Dan Andrews had not made the incident public, on the grounds his wife was a private citizen, although she was driving a taxpayer-funded car. How did she see the privacy debate around that? “To tell you the truth, I was thinking more about the child on the bike and my own children.”
She says she loves being a parent. “We both do. Our children are amazing. Noah’s taken up the drums. So he’s got the drums and the violin. Joseph loves soccer and he’s rediscovered roller skates, so he’s been flat-out up and down.
“Grace is very adventurous. She does ballet and contemporary dance and has taken to learning to ride a unicycle. There are card tricks and unicycles and roller-skating and drums. It’s flat out. They’re very busy.”
She says her partnership with Daniel is a great one. “We’ve been together for 22 years. He’s my best friend. We talk about everything. We know each other really well … We’re really lucky, we work as an amazing team. I couldn’t do my role without him and vice versa.
“He’s my best friend in the whole world and I’m very lucky that I found in my best friend someone I could spend the rest of my life with.”
“We live in Mulgrave in the house we bought 12 years ago, in Dan’s electorate. Our neighbours are our friends. We wouldn’t live anywhere else … Dan became a member of parliament four months after we moved in. I was pregnant and letter-boxing the area. I got to meet all my neighbours that way. I introduced myself and said, ‘My husband’s running to be the local member of parliament, my name’s Catherine and, as you can see, I’m pregnant with our first child’. And they embraced me in their warm, loving arms.
“I have beautiful neighbours who are quite elderly, who are just my friends. I used to take them to the movies but they’re getting a bit old now.
“There’s nothing I don’t like about [Victoria].
“There’s never a dull moment. I love the arts, I love the Australian Ballet, I love the [NGV], the regional galleries of Victoria, I love our food and wine, I love the natural beauty of our state [and] its vastness. I love the city and fashion and food and coffee … I love all aspects of Victoria.”
Dan and Catherine sometimes get to go out for a meal. “We love Grossi Florentino. It’s like visiting Italy without jumping on the plane. There are a lot of great bars [in Melbourne]. In an ideal world we’d get to have dinner more often but the truth is he’s so busy that it doesn’t happen very often, so it’s quite special when we do go out.”