Lifestyle

Tatura’s Jess Eva has unlikely leap into stardom

By Ed McLeish

NOT many people are beyond compare.

But Jess Eva certainly is.

Because a global search would fail to find anyone with her track record.

Try this for starters (not forgetting we are in the 21st century, in Australia — a first-world country). Living in Tatura she grew up without electricity.

So late 20th century upbringing. But yes, in Australia. And no, no electricity.

But wait, there’s more.

Tatura's Jess Eva and partner Norm Hogan appeared on the Gatwick Hotel season of The Block. Photo: Nine Network.

While most girls of similar age in little country towns would be members of the local netball team, Jess played lawns bowls — in the green and gold no less.

Then, when grown up, it was a logical (dare it be suggested, inevitable) step to get engaged and married.

In the Maldives (as a very suspect snorkel guide) Jess found herself blissfully engaged to a local who, it turned out, had a secret. In reality, four secrets.

Which turned out to be four wives. Not one after the other, but all together.

He thought Jess would be flattered to be asked to be number five.

She thought he must be nuts.

So her flight from the island saw her wash up in the Indian subcontinent where she had the misfortune to be bitten by a monkey, suffering a debilitating illness.

Tatura's Jess Eva and partner Norm Hogan appeared on the Gatwick Hotel season of The Block. Photo: Nine Network.

Battered and bruised, emotionally as well as physically, Jess went home to Australia and accidentally became something of a TV celebrity.

Sounds like a Monty Python skit; but all that (and probably a lot more) really is on the resumé of Sydney’s Triple M breakfast host Jess Eva, late of Tatura.

Now 35, she works on radio with comedian Lawrence Mooney. A long and circuitous journey from her shifts at Tatura Hot Bread and the Ross St Café.

“I got fired from Ross St because I left the Magnums out overnight — but that boss is probably dead now,” she said.

Jess grew up on an 8 ha property on Rushworth Rd in Tat, just beyond the caravan park.

Her house didn’t have town electricity — only a windmill and a small generator out the back of the property, with a tiny black-and-white television.

Jess had to choose whether they could have lights on at night for an hour or watch TV.

So, when she was at Tatura Primary School and the teachers asked who her favourite Power Ranger was, she innocently answered: “The grey one”.

And while Jess was growing up, her family members were Tatura’s TV stars — her mother Wendy Roberts and father John Eva performed a musical item on an episode of variety show Hey, Hey, it’s Saturday. Wendy was a national gumleaf-playing champion and John was a largophonist (playing an instrument otherwise known as the ‘money stick’).

After finishing at Tatura Primary, Jess went to Mooroopna Secondary College and finished her VCE at McGuire College in Shepparton.

In her schooling days, Jess’s late grandmother, Betty Roberts — who lived in the same house in Tat — noticed Jess one afternoon riding a bike with her friends, and thought she was in a bike gang.

Betty then pulled Jess from her friendship group and forced her to become one of Australia’s rising stars of the green (the gold would come later) and certainly one of the best to ever graduate from Tatura Lawn Bowls Club.

At the age of 21, Jess was in the national squad and on the reserve side at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

She didn’t make the final team, but lawn bowls would, in a strange way, lead to where she is now.

“I just fell into this career — I did a fair few radio interviews with bowls,” Jess said.

“There hadn’t been a female lawn bowler in the team and there wasn’t a huge amount of money in it; you didn’t know the longevity of your career.”

So Jess moved from lawn bowls into selling advertising at Power FM in the Hunter Valley, and eventually got her own program during the day, promoting the songs of yesteryear.

“After eight months at Power FM, I bulls***ted my way into Bendigo’s breakfast program for a year or two — I was so new to breakfast radio,” she said.

“I had to block out the negative people at that stage of my career and really prove them wrong. But proving yourself right is far more self-pleasing than proving someone else wrong.”

Jess’s fast rise to stardom continued, as she got promoted to breakfast radio in Townsville, in Queensland.

That lasted only four months, because she got offered a job as a snorkel guide in the Maldives, as you do.

“I quit radio a few times,” Jess conceded.

The general manager at a Maldives Resort also wanted Jess’s services for Resort Radio, but he was innovative and asked her to try guiding tourists through the reefs and schools of fish for which the Maldives are famed, as a snorkel guide.

“None of the staff could really speak English at the resort, but that’s OK, I didn’t know anything about fish,” Jess laughed.

“When the rich people came over, they would ask ‘what’s that fish (pointing to a black and white one)’ and I would say it’s a zebra fish. If it was an orange one, I would say it’s a giraffe fish.

“If they questioned me, I would say it’s breeding season and the fish will bite you, so let’s move on.”

While in the Maldives, she fell in love with and got engaged to a Muslim man with four wives.

Jess was in line to be his fifth — but was not happy when she found out.

“I just left — when I confronted him about it, he said I should just be happy because he’s only allowed five — he chose me as his final one,” she said.

“I got out of the country — and threw his passport in the ocean in case he tried to follow me.”

Jess eventually arrived and lived in Sri Lanka and India, volunteering at orphanages for almost a year.

“I was going to live there, too, but I got bitten by a monkey in India and I got really sick,” she said.

“I wanted to work with disabled kids as they didn’t have any specialist care and were seen as dirty (by other Indians) because of their disabilities — but I had the most beautiful time.

“But I had to come home, as I was getting scabs on my skin.”

Coming back to Australia, Jess and her now-fiancé, Norm Hogan, made their television debut on popular home renovation program The Block.

“I only learned DIY skills while I was there on the show — Norm is the builder,” she said.

“We were up until 3 am doing painting and taping, it was hard work.

“People think the show is staged, but we dead set had so much drama when it came to the house falling apart.

“We just thought we’d be these annoying bogans and when people started to like us, it was a surreal feeling compared to what we’d expected.”

After working on the 2018 Block season, Jess was still contemplating her options.

“I was thinking of opening a cleaning business,” she said.

Photo: Nine Network.

Then The Block’s publicist told Jess and Norm that talent agency RGM Artists (who manage stars including Chris Lilley and Cate Blanchett) wanted to meet with them.

“We were naïve and didn’t really know what was going on, but our naivety would prove our greatest asset,” Jess said.

“They asked us if we wanted to try Triple M in Sydney, so I thought, why not?

“Norm’s mates fell off their chairs when we told them I would be doing breakfast with Lawrence Mooney.”

Today Jess wakes up at 3:45 am and takes 15 minutes to get to work.

“I absolutely love it and I love doing the show,” she said.

So Jess’s undeniably unconventional lifestyle has ensured she has already lived a life where truth truly is stranger than fiction; protected by her naivety and sense of humour.

Now she is a star in the biggest market of all — and we aren’t talking the Tatura community market.

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