Wendy Harmer has done it all – TV, radio, print, stand-up comedy, breakfast radio – and has experienced success in everything she takes up. Her books are best-sellers, her radio program was a consistently top-rated breakfast show in Sydney, and her children’s book is being developed into a TV series. He also wrote a libretto for an opera. Wendy has overcome significant challenges to achieve all the challenges, though – she was born with a bilateral cleft palate, which did not operate until she was 15 years old.
Wendy Harmer visited specialists throughout her youth, hoping that her disability would be corrected and endured many years of cruel teasing. Listening to her own children’s reactions to her scars has helped her recover from the painful experiences of her youth. “They said, ‘[The doctors] did a very good job. You are very beautiful,'” says Wendy. “And then Maeve said, ‘Yes, Mom, you are the most beautiful woman in the world’ … and of course, [she was] crying when she came home … It was really a healing process for me.”
Wendy’s most recent book is a children’s book, Pearlie and Great Aunt Garnet, and as a child Wendy loved to read. She had a willing ally in her father, a school teacher. “I had a whole school library for me [on school vacations],” she says. “I used to set myself the task of reading the entire school library over the holidays, starting at A, and seeing how far I could go.”
She always had a very vivid imagination. “I started writing stories when I was very young,” he recalls. “I must have had about eight or nine. I used to stay at Aunt Pat’s house and put on recordings of Swan Lake, and write what I thought was the story that went with Swan Lake music.”
Wendy began her career as a journalist with the Geelong Advertiser and moved to Sun-News magazine, now called Herald-Sun. “After a few weeks, the inevitable [happened]: I ran out of legs in the pub and didn’t come back after the tea break. I called the deputy editor-in-chief of the pub and said” I won’t come back in. “The office.” And he said, “Oh, thank God, you’re a normal sheila. We thought something was wrong with you.”
Wendy first discovered the existence of stand-up comedy when she was working as a journalist and went out to write a story on the subject. “I thought this was amazing … and there were no women doing stand-up comedy. For me, I could see all the stuff. It was writing again.”
When it came to presenting her own comedy routine, Wendy was not nervous at all. “I was standing on stage, I had the microphone, a big loud audience. And then I thought, wait a minute, you mean I have the microphone, and people pay to listen to me. Oh man, this is as good as it gets! “
Now Wendy has taken over almost everything except politics. She decided not to do it while her children are young. “My father used to say he wanted me to be Australia’s first female Prime Minister. God knows we should have had one already!” she says.