Ray Meagher: Life lessons and how a flamin’ Aussie icon found his way back to Priscilla
As he reprises his role as outback mechanic ‘Bob’ in Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Ray Meagher says “touching the toes is a little bit harder now” but feels incredibly lucky to be back up on stage. Here Ray speaks with Grey Matters about life at 74, both in and out of the spotlight.
Q. What motivated you to step back into the role as outback mechanic Bob in Priscilla Queen of the Desert?
A. Two reasons. One, having done the show before in Sydney, London, and Auckland, I obviously love it. It’s a fantastic show, it’s great entertainment, and people always go out tapping their feet. It’s just a feel-good show that deals with a few issues. And hopefully, people go away feeling a little more inclusive, a little better informed, but basically and more importantly, having had a fantastic night out.
The second thing is I was born in Queensland, grew up in Queensland, went to school in Brisbane, played rugby in Brisbane, played rugby briefly for Queensland, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Queenslander. So I’m just so over the moon to go back to Brisbane and do the show.
This is a quintessentially Aussie story about mateship, self-discovery and acceptance. What can audiences expect from the show and has it changed in any way?
The entertainment value is at least as good or better. There are a few musical changes. The show used to open with a song called, Downtown, which was a Petula Clark song. It now opens with, It’s Raining Men. There are a couple of little song changes, but all the songs are basically from the same era.
Do you feel in any way different towards playing the role today than you did when first took to the stage as ‘Bob’?
No. I probably just realise more now how incredibly lucky I am to play and be in the show.
You have been in show business a long time. How do you continue with such wit and energy day in, day out?
I think I’ve grown up with a pretty solid work ethic. I just feel that once you commit to something, you just do it. I just think, “I’ve committed to that!” You get on with it, and do it. And most of the time, it’s an absolute joy.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced growing older in your personal life and your career?
In terms of challenges, touching the toes is a little bit harder now than it was when I was 20. There are a few of those things. I had a line in Home and Away the other day where I was talking to somebody on the phone and I (‘Alf Stewart’) said: “No, no, no, I’m fine. Still doing the same old things. Working, fishing, whatever. Although my left knee is a bit dodgy now – although I suppose you expect a few mechanical failures when you get to my age.” So that’s pretty true.
What do you think is the key to staying/feeling young?
Generally speaking, I don’t have time to think about that. You just get on with it. And because I shave every morning, you see yourself in the mirror every day. So you probably don’t notice the changes as much as someone who hasn’t seen you for 20 or 30 years!
I do try to walk for an hour, or an hour-and-a-half, whenever I get the opportunity. That used to be two or three times a week minimum. And lately, because of my schedule, I’ve been lucky to get a walk once a week in.
But on the credit side, while I’m on location sometimes there’s a bit of walking. And I never get a car from the base to the actual location. Normally, I always walk there and back.
How do you feel about the way older Australians are perceived?
I hear people say, “The older you get the more invisible you become.” I’ve heard that a fair bit. But to be fair and honest, because of what I do, a percentage of people have either seen you onscreen or onstage. So I don’t feel invisible, but that’s an unfair advantage because of my occupation.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing older Australians today?
Because I’m at the right age pool, I suppose, you see people handling retirement with different degrees of success, or frustration. Some people that might have had big, high-powered jobs, when they retire a lot of the incoming calls was because they had those high-powered jobs and not any true relationship.
When a lot of those calls drop off, some people seem to have a little bit of trouble dealing with that. Others are relieved. I think it’s probably a good idea, if possible, to try to work out what you’re going to do when you do retire, if indeed you do retire.
Do you ever see yourself retiring? What do the next few years hold for you?
Oh God, I’m not sure about that! I’ll be with Home & Away, that’s my next few years. Maybe taking a tiny bit more time out and trying to do what people my age do. Not a transition to retirement, just taking a few more breaks.
What would I do? Return to Queensland to Sunshine Beach, which is the first beach just south of Noosa. Getting up there would be good. I’ve worked a lot in the UK, in London, so I love going back there and catching up with friends. Maybe seeing a show or two, or seeing an international game of rugby.
Do you have any wisdom to impart with your younger self, if you could go back in time?
Look, I’ve never had any wisdom, so having it’s not a problem! I think if we look back on our lives from this end, there are always things that you could have done better. Exactly what those things are, I’m not too sure. But I’m sure there are things. Think of it this way, I have 74 years to think about and I don’t think I have enough time to do that now. So I guess the fact that I can’t think of anything off the top of my head means that they’re not wildly important!