Dropped in Parramatta in March with nothing but a laundry bag full of clothes and a sleeping bag, Skye Leckie tearily begs the manager of a shutting burger joint for a cup of water before scouring the park for a place to sleep.
Settling with her back against a topiary bush – “As a child, I always used to go to sleep with my back against the wall so if the bogeyman came in I could see him coming towards me” – she wakes the next morning to something smacking her in the face.
“The man from the council was trimming the top of the bush, and it was all just flicking on me,” she tells The New Daily.
“He could see what he was doing, but he didn’t care, because who am I?”
In her usual life, Leckie, 59, is a respected former public relations guru turned Sydney socialite who has received an Order of Australia Medal for the millions she has raised for charity.
She is also one of five volunteers who agreed to swap their privileged lifestyles for 10 days of homelessness to film season two of Filthy Rich & Homeless (airing on SBS over three nights, August 14-16).
Leckie first flirted with the idea of reality TV when approached for The Real Housewives of Sydney but decided to “let somebody else do that”.
Later, keen to educate herself about homelessness – a topic she knew little about despite her charitable efforts – she reconsidered.
With the blessing of her “very supportive” husband, former Channel Seven CEO David Leckie, she signed up for the extreme life-swap.
“I’m not going to use the word experience, because I think that’s rude to the people that I met. But I wanted to see for myself what it was like,” she said.
“And meet the people who, for whatever reason, have ended up on the street.”
Stripped of her phone, money, ID and jewellery, Leckie says she was unconcerned about leaving behind her luxurious lifestyle.
“I’m not really like that. I enjoy that aspect of my life, but it’s not the be all and end all.
“I can get down and dirty. I’ve walked the Kokoda Trail. I do challenges, and I’m strong. I’m not a princess.
“The emotional was far worse than the physical. The loneliness. I’m a control freak and I had nothing to do every day. It was the hopelessness that would be my undoing.
“I would be walking and I’d just start to cry.”
Now that it’s over, she’s quick to swat away critics.
“Someone said, ‘Oh, she would have had a security guard. Try sleeping rough without anything’,” Leckie says.
“Well, you try doing what I did. Take anyone out of their comfort zone – It doesn’t matter what economic bracket they’re from – it is scary.
“It’s pitch black, ibis [birds] are picking around, rats are running over me, I’m cold, I’ve got no food … It was terrifying.”
Upon arriving home, “I slept on the couch for the first few nights. I didn’t go to my bed, because I just didn’t want to lose the memories of what I had experienced”, the mother of two sons says.
“Ten days is only a short time, but in those 10 days I saw a lot, I learned a lot about humanity, and I learned a lot about myself.
“If I can impart any of that and in a small way help the situation, that’s a good thing. That’s how you make a change.”
Filthy Rich & Homeless airs on SBS from 8.30pm on Tuesday (August 14), Wednesday (August 15) and Thursday (August 16).