Actor Samuel Johnson – facing the ride of his life as his sister battles breast cancer


Me with Samuel Johnson

Me with Samuel Johnson

I first met Samuel Johnson last year, after enrolling in the Howard Fine Acting Studio master class. World-renowned teacher Howard Fine was himself visiting Australia to teach this course and it seemed like an incredible opportunity to hone my rather limited acting skills. Sam was assigned as my ‘scene partner’ and knowing his enormous talent from watching him for years on the hit TV show ‘The Secret Life of Us’, I was a tad daunted at the prospect of working with him.


Luckily for me, Sam has an extremely generous spirit, and was patient and encouraging with my lack of expertise. It was an absolute delight working with him and I’ll be forever grateful for his support. Getting up in front of an audience, knowing your performance is to be critiqued shortly afterwards, is terrifying and I was reassured that Sam also found the experience, not only rewarding, but nerve-wracking.

But if you think that sounds challenging, wait till you hear about Sam’s next project. It is truly inspirational.

Tragically, Sam’s sister Connie is dying of breast cancer. In a bid to raise awareness and ONE MILLION DOLLARS for the Garvan Institute to conduct research, Sam is going to set a new world record – riding around Australia on a unicycle. You’d think riding a bike alone would be tough enough – but on such an ungainly contraption? Sam’s aim is to break the Guinness Book of Records world record for the longest distance covered on a unicycle.

Sam with his sister, Connie

Sam with his sister, Connie

The launch is going to be massive and you’re all invited. It’s kicking off just after midday in Federation Square in Melbourne, on Friday, February 15th. Put it in your diary now! Sam wants as many people as possible to turn up, to form a human corridor for him to ride through and cheer him on his way for the start of his epic journey.

Sam on his unicycle

Sam on his unicycle

It will be a stirring event, with a 40-strong drumming band from Mornington High School beating out their support as well as other entertainment. And while the drums beat louder and louder and the cheering from the crowds reaches a crescendo, Sam will ride off the stage, through the human corridor, to begin a ride that may take the entire year.

Channel Ten’s The Project is also supporting Sam’s ride and will be covering the launch with a feature piece that evening, as well as stories during the course of Sam’s ride. Sam’s thrilled to have the program’s backing, knowing how important it is to raise national awareness for his mission to be a success.


There’ll also be a one-hour program on Network Ten, documenting his ride when he finishes. Sam’s first port of call is Melton, before heading off to Adelaide and then Darwin.

It’s taken a long time for the ride to become a reality. Much planning and sponsorship sourcing has been taking place, ever since Sam and Connie came up with the idea.

Sam and Connie

Sam and Connie

‘My sister, Connie, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago,’ he said. ‘As often happens, this brought us all closer and we were keen to find a way to turn the negative into a positive. In facing her own mortality, my sister was forced to confront the issue of her legacy. She’s determined to leave a large one. And she’s desperate to prevent even just one other young mother from befalling the same fate.’


Connie has two young boys – Willoughby and Hamilton – aged five and six years old.

‘Not being able to see that through is obviously a cause of great pain and sorrow for her,’ said Sam. ‘In a way, this event we’ve hatched together serves as a way to show the kids the kind of spirit she encompasses. It’s not just something to keep her ‘up’ as she goes down… It’s not just an appeal for every woman in the land to be breast aware. It’s a chance for us to prove together to our families that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. No matter how bad the situation is.’

I was curious as to why Sam chose a unicycle as his form of transport. Turns out he’s already taken a long trip on a unicycle – riding from Sydney to Melbourne to raise money for the children’s cancer charity, Canteen, which helped Connie in her early years. Connie is not only battling breast cancer now – she survived two earlier bouts of cancer when a child. On that ride alone, Sam raised half a million dollars.

Sam in training

Sam in training

‘Obviously, with her diagnosis being so grim, we needed a concept that gave us the best way to remind every mum in the land to be breast aware. One of the best ways we could think of to do that was to go around the country and engage directly with communities.’

For Sam, the unicycle gives him a point of difference and attracts a lot of media interest. ‘I had to find something that hadn’t been done before,’ he said. ‘Otherwise I’m just another charity gig.’



The unicycle itself poses many difficult challenges. It’s much slower than a regular bike, so Sam will be in the saddle for up to EIGHT HOURS A DAY. Sam admits he prefers riding a bicycle but is willing to do it tough if it makes his mission a success. ‘There’s a greater margin for error with a unicycle and it requires an enormous amount of concentration and physical aptitude,’ he said.

A good point, I thought. So what happens when the going gets rough – when he’s faced with rocky dirt roads – and God knows, there are plenty of those circling our sunburnt country. Sam just smiled.’ Well of course they’ll hurt the ball-ios a bit more. And it sounds strange, but you get used to the pain.’

Ouch. Doesn’t sound like fun… I’m just starting to get a sense of how physically testing this journey is actually going to be. Sam though, is well aware of what he’s in for. ‘It’s going to be extremely painful and painfully extreme,’ he said. ‘But I won’t be enduring half of what my sister is going through.’

Sam at Riva restaurant, St Kilda

Sam at Riva restaurant, St Kilda

Sam’s training schedule has been arduous. He’s had to achieve an almost professional level of fitness to be able to conduct the ride over the distance he’s planning. ‘It sounds incredibly simple, but in amongst all the madness of putting my life on hold to organise this event, I’ve got to constantly remind myself that fitness is paramount. I cannot condition my body enough for this task. But I’ve got to be sure that on Day One, I’m the fittest I can be. As well, psychologically it’s going to be an amazing test.’



For this purpose, Sam gave up smoking and drinking several months ago, and says he’s enjoying his fitter lifestyle. Lunching at Riva, there wasn’t a ciggie in sight, nor did a drop of alcohol pass his lips.

I asked Sam if he’d miss acting while taking a year off and would he return to it when the ride was done. ‘Who knows what I’ll want at the end of this crazy thing?’ he said. ‘I imagine I’ll essentially stay the same person. After all, I don’t know how to do anything else, so I don’t know what else I’d go back to. But I can only think of the bike ride right now.’

So is he confident he’ll actually make it around Australia? Does he hold any doubts? ‘Healthy doubt, yes. True doubt – no,’ he said firmly. I believe him.

It’s a delicate question, but I asked Sam if time is of essence – given Connie’s condition. ‘I’d like Connie to be there at the finish line,’ he said.’The fantasy for me is that I cross the finish line in to her arms and she’s crying with pride and she’s still alive. As most people if professional sport will tell you, fairytales rarely happen, and I certainly don’t expect her to be there at the finish line, but we can hope.’

Sam’s hope stems from the fact that Connie has already defied medical predictions for her health. ‘But once she goes downhill, I suspect it will happen within weeks. Should she die while I’m doing the ride, I’d fly back for her funeral then fly straight back to continue on the road an push even harder. We’ve talked about that. Either way, she knows I’ll finish it.’

As I said, Sam’s mission and attitude are truly inspirational. I know I’ll be there cheering him on when he heads off from Federation Square. I’ll hope you’ll join me.


If you’d like to donate to support Sam, visit his website, Love Your Sister at

And to keep up-to-date with all the news about Sam’s epic journey, check his Facebook page at



Here’s the second interview in a series of stories I’ve prepared called ‘Inspirational Life Changes’. Given we’re all living longer, it’s highly likely we’ll all take on more than one career in our lifetime.  Sometimes this can be a dramatic jump  – sometimes a dainty side step. Whatever the change, it’s a leap of faith into the future. I’m curious as to why and how people make this happen.

Now on the verge of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, I thought something racy would be topical, so I caught up with a man who made a huge impact in the Birdcage last year.

INTERVIEW (2) : Mitch Catlin – Journalist turned Marketing Machine
(Head of Partnerships, Community and Media: Swisse)

I was able to pick Mitch Catlin’s voice even before I met him in person. I was listening to the news on 3AW when I first heard it – that striking, baritone vocal – and made sure I remembered his name because I was convinced, with a voice like that, he was certain to become a famous radio or TV presenter.

Several years later, after Catlin finished a stint as LA correspondent for Seven News, we ended up working together at Network Ten. But surprisingly Catlin moved behind the scenes, away from the microphone, to fill the position of Chief-of-Staff. Which he did extremely well. (Apart from occasionally forgetting to put a newspaper on my desk, which we often joked about.)

Then in October 2005, he announced he was leaving. And not just leaving Ten. He was leaving the media. Hanging up his boots as a journalist for good.

Mitch Catlin: Head of Marketing and Developement, Swisse

Mitch Catlin: Head of Partnerships, Community and Media – Swisse


And he hasn’t looked back. From Ten, Catlin worked for PR company Haystac, then quickly shot up the radar by shifting to Myer where his efforts made people sit up and start to take notice. Now he’s ruffling feathers among the marquee set at Flemington with his ability to grab headlines after a sensational debut in the Birdcage last year with the new company he now represents – Swisse Vitamins.

But what happened to make him want to leave the media? Was I too hard on him about failing to deliver my newspaper? I took him out for coffee to find out. Catlin laughs, remembering our verbal jousting, but says, no, that he probably started questioning his future a few years before he left Ten.


‘It was about the time I turned thirty. Like for many people, it’s a milestone year in your life, which gives you reason to think about where you’re heading. I decided I should try something else, because if you leave it too late and then try to jump in another direction, you become a bit pigeon-holed. I thought now is the time to have a crack.’ he says.

So why marketing? Catlin says originally he was planning to work in PR. Generally speaking, most journalists don’t want to work in PR. Public relations people are the ones trying to sell us the stories. We want to write the stories and are often skeptical about those doing the selling. So in a way, Catlin has gone to the ‘other side.’ But when he explains, it makes sense – his theory being that he was capitalizing on his knowledge base.

‘Because I had the knowledge of dealing with the media and for many companies, that’s gold. Because many people don’t actually understand how it works. I’m not for one second suggesting I’m an expert but the knowledge is there – regardless or not as to whether you are deemed to be an expert – you have a knowledge base, which a lot of people simply don’t have. If someone said to me, we’re putting you in I.T. tomorrow, I’d freak out because I don’t know anything about I.T. but I do know a bit about the media. And for many people, that’s a great benefit in this day and age.’

The turning point came when one of the companies Catlin dealt with as Chief-of-Staff – Haystac – offered him a job. ‘At that point in time, they were certainly the most ‘it’ brand as far as PR was concerned,’ he says. ‘They said we don’t necessarily need someone with PR skills but we do need somebody with media skills. So they created a role which was about getting media and PR for their clients which were the likes of Toyota, ANZ, Myer and David Jones.’

But surely it couldn’t have been easy, leaving a long career in the media? Wasn’t the switchover difficult? ‘Oh, at first I didn’t like it at all!’ Catlin says adamantly, shaking his head. ‘I thought, “Oh my God, What have I done? This is not for me!” And I think it’s because I really struggled with the concept of journalists not necessarily liking PR people and me making that transition. It was a challenge. But then I found that the journalists liked that I was able to provide what they needed for a story. I ‘got it’. So there was a connection I developed with them. And that’s because of the knowledge base I had from the media. Anybody who has been a journalist has a skill set that other people simply don’t have.’

It wasn’t until six months later that Catlin really found his feet. Once he started getting coverage in the newspapers, something clicked. ‘For example, I’d open up page five of The Australian and there was a story that I’d worked on. So it was like, “Wow, I’ve done this.” It took me a few months to feel like I could do it, but it’s the same with anyone starting a new job. Initially you have a sense of vulnerability and insecurity. For me, this was a COMPLETE change. So when I got a couple of runs on the board, your insecurity goes down a bit and things start to happen for you. You probably don’t judge yourself as harshly as you had.’

I’m guessing other corporate bigwigs were reading the papers too, because in a blink, Catlin was suddenly flying the PR flag for Myer, taking on board a high-profile PR role. Again, another transition, but he’d have to agree, a step up – yes? Catlin looks thoughtful and pauses. ‘Well, I guess so, I mean in Melbourne there are only a handful of brands that stand out and as they say, Myer is Melbourne. So as far as Melbourne goes, Myer is up there as one of the most famous of the city’s brands. So it was a great opportunity. It gave me a great belief in myself that I could really do this job.’

‘I have a great deal of respect for Bernie Brookes, the CEO of Myer, who took me under his wing and taught me a lot about business,’ says Catlin. ‘I might have had a fair bit of media knowledge but not necessarily a whole lot of business knowledge, so he did teach me a lot.’


Mitch Catlin with the 'other' Jen: Oaks Day, 2010

Mitch Catlin with the ‘other’ Jen: Myer marquee, Oaks Day, 2009


Catlin was obviously a good student. You only have to Google his name to gauge an idea of his success. Articles about his publicity coups and prowess are everywhere, littered with words like ‘publicity guru’. His flair for PR came to the fore during his time at Myer when Jen Hawkins seemed to feature on the front page of the Herald Sun every week.
So does he regard himself as successful? ‘People have a perception that if you’re publicly visible, you are a success and I don’t think that is necessarily what success is.’



For a man who deals so much with celebrity, his answer is surprising. ‘I think success is about being good at what you do. I look back at people who inspired me when I was young, like school teachers, who to me were so successful at what they did because they shaped the things that I believe in. My Mum was a full-time Mum her entire life and has been a wonderfully successful mother – raising myself and my brother – we were very much cared for at home. So the word success for me is difficult – it’s very subjective. I like to think I have achieved well in what I have done, but how you talk about that in terms of success  – that’s for others to decide, not me.’

Catlin is way too modest to blow his own trumpet. In fact, it took a lot of arm-twisting for him to agree to this interview. His preference is for the focus to be on the product, not himself – that his job is about delivering results for the brand. ‘I am more focused on promoting the product or brand – it is not about me,’ he says.

But if he won’t acknowledge his own success, can he explain how it has happened? ‘I always try to put myself in the shoes of someone else and think, what is it these people will want? And then manage to think that through and come up with concepts. It’s about having a strategy and a plan, then you deliver. It’s not about responding or reacting to events. It’s about having a clear long-term strategy and plan,’ he says.


Mitch Catlin, Kate Arnott and a photo-bombing Jess McNamee

Mitch Catlin, Kate Arnott and a photo-bombing Jess McNamee


So with everything going so swimmingly at Myer, why then did he jump ship and take up the PR reins at vitamin giant Swisse? ‘Oh, I think it was time for a change,’ says Catlin, after pausing for consideration. ‘I was looking for something in my life that was worthwhile and what Swisse represents, in terms of health and happiness, well-being and looking after friends, family and yourself – is all true. To be able to work in an industry that really does strive to make people happier and healthier is an important thing to do.’ He sits back in his chair and seriously, he really does look happy.



But there’s always critics. What about the vitamin-skeptics who say vitamins are rubbish – merely a product that makes for expensive urine?

‘Well everyone has an opinion on every single industry,’ says Catlin, sighing. He’s obviously dealt with this one many times before. ‘Look at the health industry in general. There’s always speculation about pills and potions – do they work – all of that. The biggest thing about Swisse is how much money they invest in research and supporting their products. You only have to ask anyone who takes them if they support them and of course they do, otherwise they wouldn’t buy them.’


Alan Fletcher chats with "Kim Kardashian" at the Swisse Stakes Day After Party

Alan Fletcher chats with “Kim Kardashian” at the Swisse Stakes Day After Party, 2011

I’m sure Swisse must be mighty pleased with Catlin’s efforts. His work has raised the profile of the vitamin brand to dizzying heights. Celebrity ambassadors include the cream of the crop from high-profile industries – sport, television and music. Catlin was also behind a move to push Swisse into the spotlight at the Spring Racing Carnival last year. And even when a star appearance on Stakes Day went down the toilet, with the non-appearance of Kim Kardashian, Catlin turned that into a coup, gaining almost more publicity for the reality star’s NO-SHOW by using a cardboard cut-out in the marquee and after-party. Almost every guest wanted their photo taken with Kim and then dutifully posted it on Twitter or Facebook.


Again Catlin is modest, saying Swisse’s marketing strategy was already in place when he joined the brand. ‘What our CEO and the board have set up is a massively successful marketing campaign of integrating ambassadors into existing programs.’

Mitch Catlin and Sonia Kruger

Mitch Catlin and Sonia Kruger


Of Swisse’s ambassador family, the celebrity line-up seems heavily skewed towards sport. Is Swisse neglecting the arts, I ask? Catlin shakes his head, smiling. ‘No, it’s more about looking at people who are the best in their field. And that could be anyone from an actor like Nicole Kidman through to a TV presenter like Sonia Kruger or a cricketer like Ricky Ponting. And the way our marketing strategy has been successful is that we integrate with our retailers, so the likes of Coles, Woolworths, Priceline and Chemist Warehouse are the ones who really dictate to us what they want to achieve.’


And we’ll see more celebrities during the races. Nicole Kidman is making an appearance on Derby Day, Kim Cattrall on Oaks Day and singer Rick Astley on Stakes Day. How does he manage to attract such a star-studded line-up?  Catlin credits his team. ‘With Swisse, what’s going to happen in the lead-up to the races, during the races and post the races, is a team effort. It’s not about me, Mitch Catlin, it’s about the Swisse team who have built this plan together. That’s why we’re confident about our outcomes as a business. I might do a few media interviews here and there but it’s very much about the team strategy.’

When you hear about how Swisse treats its staff, it’s easy to understand why Catlin appears so content. ‘We get 3-day weekends. We get breakfast and lunch provided every day. We get massages every Wednesday. There’s no doubt I wake up every day and feel blessed I’ve found a company like that who actually make a difference to people’s lives,’ he says. (I’m applying for a job tomorrow!!)

Aside from the professional work, Catlin says his time at Swisse has changed the person he is. ‘I’m a much more contented, happy person. More interested in helping others and what’s going on in the community. There’s a real focus on what’s happening around you which is a wonderful change.’

As for future plans, Catlin says he has a few ‘secret squirrel’ projects under his belt that he can’t discuss. But his focus next year will be a major push by Swisse into the global market, the face of Nicole Kidman leading the way. ‘My mission is to share the health and happiness story of Swisse around the world,’ he says.
Watch out world!

Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman

Looking back, Catlin credits three men for helping him get to where he is today. ‘They’d be 3AW broadcaster Neil Mitchell, when I started as a journo, ‘ says Catlin, ‘And Anton Staindl, the MD of Haystac who taught me when I first started in PR. And of course, Swisse CEO Radek Sali who constantly inspires me.’

It’s now seven years since Catlin left Ten. Would he say his decision to leave the media and head in a new direction was the right one? His smile says it all. ‘When you look at how life has panned out, it’s very different to what I imagined it would be, but I feel that I’ve achieved a lot and am really happy with where I am right now.’

Mitch Catlin: Head of Partnerships, Community and Media, Swisse

Mitch Catlin: Head of Partnerships, Community and Media – Swisse