‘I’m going rogue’: Johanna Griggs moments before takedown
WHEN Johanna Griggs let loose live on air and tore strips of the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, she didn't ask permission.
"I'm giving you fair warning, I'm gonna go rogue, standby," the Channel Seven host told producers through the intercom as she stood in the commentary box overlooking a near-empty Carrara stadium.
Her anger had been brewing for hours. It started around the 30-minute mark when no footage of athletes had appeared on screens. An hour in, she was fuming.
"I keyed onto the bosses and said to my producer, 'Athletes are now walking out of the stadium'," she recalled.
"And then I keyed out later and said, 'Mate, the crowd's leaving the actual stadium'. And then I keyed on and said, 'There's no way I'm gonna stand up at the end of this and say I think it's a great closing ceremony'."
Seven's producers agreed. But they weren't sure how it would look if their host bagged the coverage. Griggs didn't care.
"I was like, 'Well, I'm giving you fair warning, I'm gonna go rogue, standby'," she said.
Producers went to Seven's big bosses. Everyone agreed. They had one message for Griggs: "Go your hardest."
What followed was a monumental lashing from a visibly furious Griggs on live television. The cutting monologue was unscripted from the veteran broadcaster (she doesn't use a teleprompter during live coverage and can remember up to 26 pages of script) but articulated exactly what viewers at home were thinking.
"I didn't write it down. I just thought about the key things I wanted to say. One, it wasn't our fault. Two, I just wanted the athletes to know. And three, it was just the wrong thing," she said. "I've been an athlete at a closing ceremony - it is so much fun, all milling together. People wanted to see Kurt (Fearnley, the flag bearer) having his moment. He was one of the first people who contacted me and said, 'Outstanding, mate'."
Within minutes, the moment was making national news coverage. Off the air, Griggs had no regrets. Seven's billionaire chairman Kerry Stokes approached her at a function after the ceremony.
"He said, 'I'm just so proud of what you've done, you have my total backing'," she recalled. Seven's boss Tim Worner said the same. Stokes emailed again the next morning: "I wasn't just saying it. I'm so proud of you."
Praise from viewers flooded in. And criticism soon followed. What left many so gobsmacked was who the savaging came from. To millions of Australians, Johanna Griggs is seen as the bubbly blonde face of the family-friendly show Better Homes & Gardens. This wasn't a side they'd seen before.
"I don't think anyone who knows me and works with me would've been shocked," Griggs laughed. "I'm not backwards in coming forwards. If I have a battle to fight, I can articulate myself."
Indeed, Griggs is straightforward and easy going. In the midst of the mayhem that unfolded after the closing ceremony, she was finalising an impromptu sale of her North Sydney home, organising a move to "a crappy rental", mulling over design plans for a new pad with husband Todd Huggins, welcoming her first grandchild and maintaining filming commitments. She lacks a preciousness many of her on-air peers have.
A few weeks into the latest series of her other show House Rules, Griggs isn't fussed about daily ratings.
"Every year we start the worst show in the history of the world and then we come home like a steam train," she laughed. "I don't lose any sleep over whether it will or won't [succeed] because you can't do anything about it."
It's a resilient attitude strengthened early on in her career. Her competitive swimming career was cut short after battling chronic fatigue syndrome at 17. And she was famously fired by fax from Seven in 1996 while four-months pregnant with her second baby.
"I distinctly remember it," she said. "I remember that my manager and Gary [Sweet, her ex-husband] came home just looking ashen-faced. Because my manager had obviously got the fax. And I just remember looking at them going, 'Why are they so worried?'
"When they told me, I was just like, 'That's disappointing, oh well'. There were bigger things to worry about. I remember their shock more than my shock."
But plenty of gigs followed. She appeared on every other Australian network before making her way back to Seven in 2000 to host the breakfast show during the Sydney Olympics. She's remained there ever since, helming the network's sport coverage alongside her Better Homes & Gardens duties.
"I love live [broadcasts] more than anything in the world. Because you have one chance. And you get yourself into trouble but you have once chance to get out," she said. "I learnt through public humiliation. Which is not always the best way to learn - I'm glad there wasn't social media. But it literally was public humiliation. I had no training. You learnt through making mistakes on-air. Millions of them."
The humiliations prepared her for anything - including sporadic live on-air rants. So, after witnessing the candid and uncensored Johanna Griggs in full force during the closing ceremony, can viewers expect more of it?
"I host Better Homes & Gardens, House Rules and Sport Now. To be perfectly honest, how many things have you gotta host?" she laughed.
House Rules airs Sunday to Wednesday on Seven.