Words: Elissa Friday
Wife, mother, radio host and exercise freak. Paula Kontelj tells ELISSA FRIDAY why she just can’t keep still.
Tell us about your childhood.
I grew up in Geelong. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a butcher. It was very humble working-class beginnings and a tight family unit.
I was very close to my grandparents. I have fond memories of family times with them. My grandfather headed up the Chilwell police station, which was on the corner of Pakington Street.
Great stories from my grandfather including when he picked up a kangaroo, nursed it back to health and released it back to the wild right there at the police station. He had a love of animals and so do I.
How did you and husband Stretch meet?
My best friend at the time said, ‘I know someone that would be perfect for you’. It was about 1989 that my friend finally got us together.
When Stretch and I met we hit it off straight away, so our friends were right.
Tell us about your first date.
We had lunch at the Mecure hotel, which is now Rydges.
Stretch kept leaving the room to use the phone. In those days there were no mobiles, so he was using a landline. Later on I found out he was cancelling his following work legal appointments for the day in order to spend more time with me.
When and where did you get married?
We got married in 1993 in Geelong at the Holy Family Church on Separation Street, Bell Park.
Tell us about your family. You have three children?
I’ve got three children and two grandchildren: Georgia, who’s married with two children; Paris, who’s working at Cotton On’s head office; and David, who’s starting his third year of a double degree in commerce/law at Deakin University, which are subjects just like his dad studied.
How long have you worked in local radio?
I did 25 years of mostly breakfast radio but in the last couple of years I’ve done drive in the afternoons.
I began back in 1988 on 3GL. After winning an aerobic championship they got me involved in discussing aerobics on the radio.
I did more and more. They saw I had the gift of the gab and then eventually after a few years I went on to doing breakfast radio.
I also dabbled in infomercials on the TV show Mornings with Kerri Anne.
Who was good to interview?
The best interview and one that most exited me was interviewing Olivia Newton John. I interviewed her with Laurie Atlas, whom I worked with on the radio for 12 years.
She was so friendly and welcoming. She spent over an hour with us at her hotel in Melbourne. I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Olivia.
What made you laugh and what made you cry?
I used to laugh every day, which was the best part of my job. We’d often be in stitches over the smallest things. The more tired you are the funnier the situations seem.
September 11 made me cry. I had to come into work that morning and we were covering the whole incident as best as we could from Geelong and watching the footage unfold.
We were crossing live to New York that morning. People’s raw emotion was really moving.
Both Laurie and I were shaken and very upset on air that day.
What were the best and worst parts of your job?
The worst bits were getting up early. I was perpetually tired.
The best bits were getting access to the microphone to express your view, which you hoped would reflect and challenge the views of others.
I’m still grateful that I had that opportunity for so many years. I’m in talks with radio stations to do some presenting over on the Channel Islands. The last time they had an Australian on air there she was reading the news and some of the locals put a petition together to get her off because they didn’t like her accent, so I’ve got a bit of a challenge ahead of me.
Any tricks of the radio-trade to share with us?
The key is just be yourself. You’ve got to be who you are and be true to yourself because if you try to fake it in any way sooner or later you’ll be exposed or come undone.
Why do you spend part of the year across in the UK’s Guernsey?
Stretch was appointed global legal director of Specsavers over there.
We love it there. The summers are mild and the views are beautiful.
Connecting within the community is our challenge and we’re starting to do that. I raised money for a local charity and I’m planning to do that again – it was well-received.
Had you been to the UK prior?
I’d been there a few times but that’s very different to living there.
The proximity is great. We can go to Italy or Spain for the weekend at very little expense.
It’s effortless in Europe to go to another country for the weekend, which a lot of people do. They catch a flight in the same way we in Australia would catch a bus. .
Endured a chilly British winter yet?
No but Stretch has. I’m living the endless summer.
He came back to Geelong at Christmas time.
We’ve found the key to a happy marriage: six months together and six months apart, ha ha.
Bet you haven’t worn down a pair of thongs since the UK summer’s so brief.
No not quite. I don’t wear those.
What you can’t wear in the UK are stilettos here on the cobbled streets.
Tell us about your fitness class you’re conducting,
Strong. Sounds like a heck of a workout.
Well, I’ve been teaching fitness classes since 1981 since I was at high school. I never thought I’d teach them all these years later. It’s has kept me sane and healthy.
In 2017 I did the Strong training. Strong by Zumba has done the music but the moves have been done by the devil himself.
It’s a high-intensity, interval training class, otherwise known as HIIT class. I’d describe the Strong class as body attack meets body combat but slowed down.
It includes burpees, planking, push-ups and star-jumps, all perfectly synced to the music.
How long have you been teaching it?
About a year. It’s the latest fitness trend across the globe.
It’s becoming very popular in Europe and the United States. Geelong’s Gym is the first in our region to conduct these classes.
I teach there on Tuesday nights and Wednesdays mornings. I’ve recently started teaching classes on Monday at Fernwood Waurn Ponds.
What made you choose Strong over other classes?
I just did the training out of curiosity. I’ve taught every format, including body pump, body balance, step, Zumba, spin, Pilates and this is the most effective, the most thorough and the most exciting class structure I’ve ever taught.
I really love it. It truly does make you strong.
There’s a lot of body weight exercises involved in strong class you spend as much time crawling around on all fours, as you do jumping about on your feet. I absolutely became stronger because of this class.
How important is fitness to you in your life?
It’s a very high priority. To me exercise is as important as brushing your teeth.
I did jazz and ballet when I was younger, so I suppose it stems from that. I find it very hard to sit still when I hear a good song playing.
I’d like women and men who are middle-aged or feeling like their best years are behind them to realise that may not be the case. I feel like I’m as fit as I was when I was 35 since doing this strong class and now I’m 55.
People need to recognise that we’re going to live a lot longer than previous generations, so if we put in the effort and if your body is strong and functional you’ll feel happier and healthier and more motivated.
But you’ve got to put the effort in. You can’t just buy a membership and expect it all to happen, you have to turn up to three or four times a week to achieve the results.
You don’t have to look like a supermodel but so long as you feel fit, strong and healthy, then you’ll feel happier and more positive about yourself. Eighty per cent of success is simply turning up.
What would surprise our readers to know about you?
I became a marriage celebrant about six years ago. I do the occasional wedding here in Geelong but it’s hard to do more as I’m not based here twelve months of the year.