James O’Loghlin reveals the stories behind some of his favourites

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James O’Loghlin at home in Sydney. Pictures: Toby Zerna.

He’s probably best known as the host of more than 300 episodes of former ABC-TV show The New Inventors, but James O’Loghlin has other strings to his bow.

He’s been a stand-up comedian, a presenter for ABC Radio and is now in demand as a corporate speaker and MC.

But O’Loghlin, who lives in Sydney with actor wife Lucy Bell and their daughters, Bibi, 16, Nina, 14, and Lily, 11, was originally a lawyer.

“I realised I didn’t like being a corporate lawyer very much so I moved to crime. But I was also dabbling in stand-up comedy, and during the 1990s, I was a lawyer by day and a comedian by night,” he recalled.

“Eventually, in about 1999, I reached a point where I felt like I wasn’t doing either job as well as I should be, so (decided) I should pick one.”

His comedy career won. But his eight years as a lawyer weren’t completely wasted, as they provided material for his comedy show Lawyer Lawyer.

Melbourne-born O’Loghlin is also an author. As well as writing nonfiction, including Innovation is a State of Mind and How to Balance Your Life, he writes children’s fiction.

His latest book is The New Kid: Very Popular Me (Pan Macmillan Australia, $14.99), which, like its predecessor, The New Kid: Unpopular Me, is loosely based on his own experiences as an only child who moved to Canberra aged seven.

“The story arc of the books is how 12-year-old Sam navigates the challenges of making friends at his new school. With a lot of the incidents in the books, I’ve taken things that happened to me but made them funnier and more embarrassing,” he explained.

The 53-year-old, who’s now working on “a novel for grown-ups”, originally started writing children’s fiction because he thought it would be easier than writing for adults.

“But that turned out to be not true at all. Children demand as much, if not more than, adults. You’ve got to make sure the characters are interesting and that it’s funny and has a compelling plot.”

O’Loghlin eventually chose comedy as a career over law.

Typical Saturday morning

We usually have a fairly lazy, not-running-around-with-the-kids Saturday. As we live in North Bondi, we’ll often head down to the beach or a local cafe.

Emergency snack

Peanuts. We’ve got a jar of them at home and once you’ve had a handful, it’s really hard not to have five more.

Signature dish

Spaghetti bolognese. When my girls were younger, I got into the habit of hiding as many finely chopped vegetables in it as I could.

Fantasy place to live

We’re lucky to live where we do but part of the human condition is to always want more, isn’t it? So, I’ve got three: Noosa, Port Douglas and Paris. Obviously, it’s the weather and the beaches that appeal in the first two. And Paris is just alive.

On my bedside table

A lot of books. I’m currently reading Wild and Crazy Guys by Nick de Semlyen, which is all about how the likes of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and John Belushi changed Hollywood in the 1980s. There’s also an eye mask and some antihistamine tablets.

Chill-out music

Since I’ve discovered Spotify, I’ve created a playlist of 250 songs that I can work to. A bit of classical, a bit of jazz and some mellow songs like Sebastien Tellier’s La Ritournelle.

Happiness at home

Having a long family dinner where we talk and everyone doesn’t rush off to their room as soon as they’ve finished.

Secret domestic skill

I’m good at finding low-tech, non-handyman solutions to problems. For example, I temporarily fixed our draughty sliding doors by using a two-metre piece of sticky tape.

My favourite things

Footy

I’ve been playing touch football (which is a variant of rugby league) every Saturday arvo for about 20 years. I love it. When I started, I thought I’d probably give it up by the age of 50, but now I want to keep playing for as long as possible. Being able to do that is kind of the inspiration for me keeping fit as I don’t want to have to give up touch footy or, more importantly, made to look like a fool by the younger guys. I try to do at least half an hour of exercise every day, either running, some squats and push ups or a session with a punching bag. As a writer, it’s also good to move after a few hours of sitting down.

Game on: O’Loghlin has played touch footy every Saturday afternoon for about 20 years.

Beanie and scarf

Everyone has a favourite item of clothing or two and I’m very attached to my beanie and scarf. The beanie’s very important to me because, as I’m bald, it stops all the heat going out of my head. My mother-in-law knitted it and it’s pretty much on my head whenever I go out from May to September. The scarf is a newer acquisition. We were fortunate to be in Paris in 2018 and I noticed all the men elegantly wearing scarves. I thought they looked really cool so I decided to do the same in Sydney. Not many people wear scarves in Sydney, so I do wonder if people are looking at me and thinking, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Good yarn: the beanie is a useful head warmer.

And the scarf purchase was inspired by a trip to Paris.

Photo

My daughters, along with my wife, are a very important part of my life. This photo was taken a few years ago on the way to Mt Selwyn (in NSW). I have to confess we didn’t actually build the snowman; we saw it on the side of the road and then got the girls to pose with it. The girls are all quite different but do get on, despite the occasional squabble. I find that when we go on holiday, they get on better because their friends aren’t around and they kind of need each other more.

Chilling out: a family holiday moment.

Mug

My daughter Lily gave me this mug. I like it for three reasons. Firstly, because Lily gave it to me. Secondly, because I go about pretending that all the attributes listed on the mug are indeed true. And lastly, I like that it’s a really big mug that has a much bigger capacity than your average mug. I became a fan of a big mug when I was on ABC Radio and it would get you through a whole hour of your show, even if the contents were a bit cold by the end of it. Then, when the news was on, you could go and make yourself another cup. I was on radio for 15 years and I still fill in occasionally when people are sick or away. I really like it and wouldn’t mind doing it again (on a more permanent basis).

True to life: the cup is a treasured, and handy, gift.

Laptop

I used to have my own office at home but then the time came when we needed to convert it into a bedroom so the girls could all have their own rooms. At first, I was a bit worried what I was going to do without my office, but then I realised that all the stuff in my office was obsolete because everything I need to work was actually on my computer. So, now my office can be anywhere: on a plane, in a taxi or, as it is most usually, at my kitchen table. I wrote my latest book there. I hope I’m commissioned to write a third book (in The New Kid series) as I really love (the main character) Sam and his struggles.

Good job: the laptop is like a portable office.

Book

I’m a big reader, and Don Winslow’s The Border is probably my favourite book that I’ve read in a while. It’s the third in a trilogy that is a heavily researched fictionalisation of America’s relationship with the Mexican drug cartels. It looks at what the policies, both successful and unsuccessful, have been towards those cartels, as well as the people who run them and the epic power struggles within them. It’s like an epic kind of Game of Thrones with cocaine! I’ve always loved reading. As an only child growing up at a time when, if you missed your favourite TV show at 8.30pm on a Tuesday or whatever, you’d never have the chance to see it again, I did a lot of reading!

Page turner: like “an epic kind of Game of Thrones with cocaine”.

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