PR maven Roxy Jacenko has built an empire by courting controversy.
This extract from Annette Sharp’s biography of the “Sweaty Betty” founder details how Jacenko met her match in Oliver Curtis, her now-husband, while he was engaged to another woman.
Oliver Curtis was twenty-four when he met Roxy Jacenko. He was younger than her by five years and engaged to be married. His fiancée was his girlfriend of five years — ‘childhood sweethearts’ some called them — Hermione Underwood.
Hermione was, at that time, something of a minor celebrity thanks to her friendship with Lara Bingle, at the time engaged to cricketer Michael Clarke.
Bingle’s relationship with Clarke unravelled spectacularly in March 2010 — the cricketer made the evening news after taking “compassionate leave” to fly home from a New Zealand cricket tour to end the relationship with Bingle before flying back across the Pacific to resume the tour.
Hermione was propelled into the spotlight as Bingle’s friend-in-a-shiny-black-Mercedes who would frequently dash to her side when Bingle needed to flee ever-present paparazzi.
After moving out of the Bondi beachfront apartment she had shared with Clarke, Bingle would move in, up the road, with Hermione and Curtis. The apartment was the same one Curtis had once shared with his insider trading partner John Hartman, before their bitter falling out.
Thanks to her new closeness to Sophie Curtis (Oliver’s sister), Roxy would soon befriend bride-to-be Hermione, who was still on a high after her boyfriend, Curtis, proposed to her during a romantic holiday at Italy’s Lake Como in the European summer of 2009 — immediately after a Supreme Court–ordered travel ban relating to his insider trading charges lapsed on 28 July.
Roxy and Hermione would become new best buds and Hermione would find herself discussing her wedding plans with Roxy, a woman known to have excellent and expensive taste in clothing, cars, property and men. The pair were only a few months into their friendship when Hermione invited Roxy to attend a PR event with her at the Woollahra Hotel. One guest would recall:
There was a dinner at the Woollahra Hotel. They took a table. It was for a charity. It was Hermione’s event. Roxy went as Hermione’s guest. Sophie went as well and so did Oliver. Roxy arrived a bit later than the rest and she just walked in and took a seat between Hermione and Oliver. Oliver probably didn’t know what hit him.
At the end of the night, weary after organising the event, Hermione would head home after dinner, leaving Roxy and Oliver to party with friends.
Hermione would confide to friends that within twenty-four hours of their night at the Woollahra Hotel, her relationship with Curtis was over. She had been replaced that quickly.
“It devastated Hermione. Oli had been her first love. They had moved in together one week after she finished high school,” a family friend said. “The wedding was called off and the whole Curtis family was kind of in shock. They loved Hermione. They still do.”
As Curtis was flush with the excitement of a new love affair in the winter of 2010, John Hartman, was preparing for his forthcoming insider trading trial. In April 2010, Hartman had pleaded guilty to insider trading charges.
Curtis must have felt like a man marking time, even though ASIC had decided in the middle of 2009 not to pursue court proceedings against him. He had lost his job at Transocean in February 2009 as a result of ASIC’s investigations.
Curtis’s father Nick would later reveal in a character reference during his son’s trial that Curtis had become ‘’withdrawn’’ and ”private’’ as his relationship with Hermione ended. It is possible Roxy, who would say she knew nothing about Oliver’s insider trading history when they started seeing one another, was oblivious to the emotional turmoil in Oliver’s life in the early weeks of their relationship.
For the first time in years she was enjoying a heady old-fashioned courtship with a man who was smitten and lavishing gifts upon her.
“During their first couple of months together, it was crazy,” said a former friend. “He was sending her hundreds of roses from Grandiflora with a note, ‘Miss You’. I would have to say he was totally into Roxy. It looked like love … He was in love.”
But after a couple of months, Curtis’s calls became less frequent. Roxy might see him on a Friday and not hear from him until the following Tuesday. She was wondering what was diverting him, and it was irritating her.
To cope, Roxy would do as she had done many times before. She would use her powerful social media skills and resources to see if she could locate and track her lover. Many people in Roxy’s life would share the experience of being surveilled by Roxy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
She was brilliant at it, though sometimes, if someone hadn’t embraced social media to the extent that she had, Roxy could draw a blank. When that happened she might phone a friend and ask if they had recently seen the subject. If that then failed, she might make passing mention of it to a paparazzi photographer who could, for the heck of it and because Roxy was good to them, have a look on her behalf.
This, say those who witnessed it, is exactly what happened when Curtis became inattentive a few months into their relationship.
A friendly paparazzo took a look on Roxy’s behalf and found Oliver’s car parked at an unexpected location—outside Lara Bingle’s new apartment. Days later the newspapers were linking Curtis to Bingle—though whether it was Roxy who leaked the story or the paparazzo is unclear. What is clear is that it had the desired effect. A threefold effect, in fact.
Firstly, Curtis went dashing back to Roxy; secondly, a media outlet got a fine gossip story tip; and thirdly, Hermione’s still-fresh break-up wounds had salt newly rubbed into them with the revelation another close friend had betrayed her with her ex-fiancé.
It would take Roxy the best part of a month to forgive Oliver. In her free time she was rumoured to have taken a shot at Bingle’s ex, Clarke. Curtis finally managed to break the ice with a long and passionate love letter delivered to Roxy’s home. The relationship was back on, and within three months Roxy was pregnant. It was just five months after she had met Curtis.
Roxy would do her best to spin the story of their romantic beginnings to fashionista social writer Kate Waterhouse: “It was publicised that we both had partners but it was actually after and nothing really happened for a good four months. People talk like it was instantaneous. If only I was so lucky that everything would happen instantaneously!”
While Roxy would say ‘Oli’ was “mature beyond his years” when she met him at age twenty-four, and was “a nice boy, very shy”, Curtis, many believe, was in freefall in 2010 as he tried to move on quickly from the insider trading allegations that had resurfaced on 31 March when Hartman had provided his first statement to ASIC that could be used in future proceedings against Curtis.
The pressure would mount in November that year when a Supreme Court judge named him as being party to Hartman’s scheme. He would be exposed in the media to the general public for the first time.
Roxy would tell Good Weekend in 2013 Curtis was “the only boyfriend I’d ever had who was working the hours that I was working. He got it. I was like, ‘This one’s a winner.'” Curtis would say: “She and I share similar traits as far as perfection is concerned. That was one of the attractions to each other. We both strive to achieve and achieve.”
Having asked father-of-the-bride Nick Jacenko for his daughter’s hand, on Christmas Day 2010, Curtis proposed. “He proposed at home after Christmas lunch with all our families,” she said. “What a way to finish the year.”
A photo posted by Roxy Jacenko (@roxyjacenko) on
With a wedding not in their plans until 2012, and a baby eight months off, Roxy found time for a new obsession—Hermione. The fashionable Hermione had left the relationship with her engagement ring, her battered pride and an enviable collection of handbags.
It didn’t take long for Roxy to start visiting Hermione’s favourite nail salon, her hairdresser and cafés. When Roxy started turning up at Indigo café in Double Bay, Hermione would head further east to Jackie’s restaurant and bar at Bondi, owned by a friend, Jackie Milijash. When Roxy soon after turned up at Jackie’s, Hermione would feel compelled to move on again.
That Roxy had an obsessive nature was established. She admitted it openly and used to say it made her very good at her job, and it did. But socially it could also make her overbearing.
When Hermione later opened a PR agency, Roxy approached her clients hoping to entice them to Sweaty Betty. “Hermione could win a client and on the day of signing they would ring her up and say they were going with Roxy because she would do it for free,” said one of Hermione’s friends.
Hermione would eventually move to London and start a successful travel and lifestyle blog, Hermione Olivia—shedding her surname in the process.
Before she left town, Hermione, perhaps unintentionally, found a way to exact some small revenge on Roxy. Feeling compelled to smooth things over with his ex-love, Curtis—possibly at the urging of his family—bought Hermione a farewell gift, a navy BMW 3 Series car.
It was a beautiful farewell gift, bought in Curtis’s name, and if Hermione was issued with a parking ticket, which happened from time to time, the tickets would sporadically end up being sent to Curtis at home where he would pay them.
Roxy started to notice the parking tickets, registered to an unknown car, arriving in the post and asked Curtis about them. Unsatisfied by his attempt to smooth matters over, Roxy kept a watch for the car until the day arrived when she chanced upon it. It was parked at Sun Studios in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria, where Roxy was herself going for a photo shoot.
Driving into the Sun Studios parking lot, Roxy, accompanied by a Betty and daughter Pixie, noticed the navy BMW 3 Series in the lot. She decided to deal with the parking ticket problem once and for all.
Hermione, as chance would have it, was chaperoning model Bingle to a photo shoot at the studio. With no occupants visible in the BMW, Roxy parked the offending car in—leaving the Betty to stand watch over the two cars.
Hermione would later approach, offering an apology: “Excuse me I think someone has parked me in,” she started.
Roxy hurried out of the building asking when the fine would be paid. Then she asked: “What are you doing driving around in your ex’s car anyway?!”
This is an edited extract from Blonde Ambition: Roxy Jacenko Unfiltered by Annette Sharp (MUP, RRP $32.99, ebook $14.99), out now. The Blonde Ambition audiobook will be available from Audible from November 25.