Twenty Years ago this month I was part of the highest debuting TV series to date in Australian TV – Channel 7’s Gladiators. I was one of the 6 Gladiators to launch Gladiators at the Logies.
Why would appearing on the awards show feel humiliating?
Full of the usual red carpet glamour and high-end fashion, there are ‘after parties’ to mix with all ‘those famous people’ afterwards, and the whole bit.
As one of the ‘chosen few’ (not all the Gladiators were picked to go to the Logies), this was a pretty big occasion, so to learn you were only allowed to wear a baggy black tracksuit with your Gladiator Name embroidered on it was kind of like being forced to go to your school formal in your gym class gear.
From here on we were regarded as a bit of an industry joke – where the other ‘talent’ had enough autonomy to get to choose what designer they were going to wear, we were made to wear a Gladiator brand tracksuit.
But it wasn’t so much about the clothes that hit me hard, it was realising that I had become a commodity – a product.
Beautiful Bev disappeared that night for nearly 3 years. Blade, or Bladie (by close Glad buddies), was now my name. It appeared on every article of merchandised clothing, including sports bras and shoes. To help us get used to our Gladiator names, everybody involved in the show, including riggers and set designers, were only to call us by our Gladiator name or be fined a small fee. We could never use our real names in press or public appearances.
A couple of weeks later my best friend said “hey Bev, let’s go and have some fun and try out! What do we have to lose? – it will be fun!”
That Saturday morning I was exhausted and reluctantly I went along, not really thinking anything of it. Yet as I observed the audition process I knew I could do this. I could see what was needed; I noticed that people were moved up or down the group as the audition went on and of course I clocked where the successful ones went – up to the front.
The audition process was called ‘9 minutes from hell’! Say no more: it was intense, painful (physically and emotionally) and highly competitive.
It was a series of continuous anaerobic body weight exercises that fatigued you to the max, depleted you of everything so that they could see your ‘mental strength, physical strength, your form, your attitude, how your body looked, how you performed under pressure’ etc.
People dropped out, vomited, struggled, yet Bev shone; it was like I had trained all my life for this moment. Finally during my abdominal series I was taken to the front line . . . that was the line that I knew. . . I had succeeded to the next stage of the auditioning process.
I finished the day by singing ‘Good King Wenceslas’ (Christmas carol) very badly – it was the only thing I could think of to sing at a moment’s notice when the judges put me on the spot. I then showed off my gymnastic prowess through Biranies (aerial cartwheels & tumbles): these would go on to become my signature moves on Gladiators.
After a couple of weeks waiting for the outcome of production meetings I was finally told “Bev, you have the job – you are one of 7 girls picked out of thousands….”
The next stop was ‘styling days’ where my hair was turned ‘pinky blonde’ & puffed up like a poodle. I didn’t have the confidence in those days to say “NO” . . . the boys had to be held down on the table for body waxing . . . Fury’s hair went black, Flame’s went red. All the girls had to wear red ‘sexy’ lipstick and everyone seemed orangey brown with fake tan . . . it was the start of our transformation into Gladiators.
The biggest misconception is that we had lots of training and preparation. There were some things we could prepare for like learning to rock climb, building our strength and speed and so on, but the games themselves were nothing you would find anywhere else.
For me I was always going to be the ‘Hang Tough’ girl because I was the gymnast.
Hang Tough was ‘the blue ribbon’ event and it was very popular. Everyone wanted to do this one, so there was already another undercurrent of competition within the Gladiators because of the fact that I would become the Hang Tough girl.
By the first week we were so physically sore we were falling like pins and they gave us a day off. We kept asking for massages and physio as some of us were international athletes and we knew what our bodies needed to survive competition and prevent injuries. Yet the producers felt massage was just about ‘being pampered’ and ignored our requests . . . they had absolutely no idea of an athletic body's needs and requirements, but they had to take notice when we all crashed.
For me I felt the proof would be on our performance and seeing who the audience connected with most, yet as I found out that had nothing to do with it. It was the producers who picked who played what game, who got interviewed at the end of the event, how many times you would be seen on TV, who would be interviewed for what magazine, who was the Gladiator doll etc. Yes we had the pressure to win, yet it was all about ‘being popular’ and who they thought would be popular.
It wasn’t about being a great performer, being professional, being ‘easy to work with Bev, low maintenance person, reliable and trustworthy’. It didn’t take long to see ‘a squeaky wheel gets the oil’, the ‘arse licking’ that had to be done, all that ‘sucking up stuff’ – yuk! I remember lying in bed one night pondering on what was required for me to be successful. ‘Bev, you know what you have to do to get noticed, to be the most popular gladiator . . . Are you prepared to do that sort of stuff?’ I made a conscious decision that night to say ‘NO’ to that. To simply be the lovely me, to do the best I could every day and to sleep every night with myself feeling proud of my choices and say NO to the devil (as I called it). Needless to say I was never the ‘most popular’ but I was loved by the amazing crew and riggers.
The filming process in series 1 was horrific; the only food provided for us Gladiators was bananas & rice crackers. Our filming days went for over 12 hours, then we had to shop and prepare and cook. Those of you who know me know that this is not my forte, especially back then, so I feel to say thank you to my room-mate Stormie, who cooked and cared for me, and when possible she still does all these years later.
Meanwhile the TV crew all had catered food, breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. We were not allowed to eat there. Many channel 7 people tried to help but isn’t it ironic that the people doing the most physical job were almost entirely unsupported with food and medical help?
One of the good memories:
To be honest I have no idea how they would have found the time in such a crazy work schedule, which made this so incredibly special.
I was the only Gladiator that received a gift from these amazing men who had held my life in their hands every day throughout filming and practising.
I trusted them with holding me by ropes metres above the ground, to break a fall to the ground, to check safety etc., so I always found a moment to acknowledge that, and each person working on set at the event.
These men were like angels: they made me smile, kept me safe, they cheered the loudest for me and in this moment of such love it made me feel so precious and special . . . Thank you lads, you made such a difference!
More to tell next blog. . .