Radio star reveals bitter fight with himself
SOMETHING had to give.
And for Luke Bradnam, it started with a jawbreaker.
Two years ago, the man who makes a living by talking discovered what he thought was an extra tooth growing from the bottom of his mouth - but instead it was a physical warning cry from a body burning out.
"There was a bone growing out of my jaw and the specialist literally said it was happening because I was so run down," says the co-host of Gold FM's The Rush Hour.
"For five years, I worked every single day. Even if I had time off, it was to go climb a mountain. I didn't know how to take a break, if I stopped for five minutes I felt guilty and lazy.
"It wasn't just my body breaking down, it was my relationship with my partner and my relationship with myself. I had to break down to rebuild myself."
Sitting in the sunshine on a glorious Gold Coast winter's day, it's obvious that Luke is still soaking in the positive changes of his transformation.
While it came too late to save his relationship with high school sweetheart Cathy Hallam - his partner of 25 years and mother of their daughter Coralie - he has found new love with Lauren Fitch.
He "only" works two full-time jobs - hosting the city's No. 1 drive show with Margaux Parker as well as presenting weather, beach and surf reports for Channel 9 - and now even has Sundays off.
But most of all, he's savouring the relief of no longer hating himself.
Known for his open and authentic attitude on-air, it's still bracing to hear him articulate the inner-monologue that drove him for so long.
"So often I've been criticised as being arrogant and I'm just like - what? I hate myself. I've been filled with self-loathing forever. I've felt so resentful of so many things and always just that I was a failure. That I should be doing more and succeeding more and it was eating me up on the inside.
"It poisoned my relationships. I feel guilty still that Cathy had the worst of me. The man I have become over the last two years is someone completely different.
"I started therapy when our relationship started to break down and it is the last thing I would ever give up. It has been hard and it has been painful but I have come out the other side a better person. I'm learning to reprogram myself, to live in the moment, to be content with what I have, to go easier on myself. It's a cliche but when you treat yourself right, you treat others right.
"I'm starting to feel like I can be proud of some of the things I've done - and even proud of who I am as a person as well. It's a very foreign feeling, I can tell you."
Luke says while splitting up from Cathy was incredibly difficult, they are still on good terms and focused on co-parenting Coralie, 13, the light of Luke's life.
He says his own parents divorced when he was 17 and he's learned from their example that separation can be the best path forward for a family.
"It was so hard to call it a day with Cathy, but we were just leading separate lives. We weren't happy anymore. She was my first girlfriend and she's the mother of my daughter.
"Our focus was always and will always be on Coralie and we will always be in each other's lives.
"When my parents divorced it was horrible, but it was actually the best thing to ever happen in our family. Not only did they both become the best versions of themselves but they also introduced fantastic new partners into our lives."
As Luke speaks of girlfriend Lauren, a sales executive for Nine, it's clear he still can't believe his good luck.
While he says there is no professional competition between himself and twin brother Ash, breakfast host on Brisbane's Nova 106.9 - who celebrated four years sober this week after a long battle with alcoholism - Luke says he long envied his brother's relationship with wife Jodie, a clinical psychologist on the Gold Coast.
"Being a twin is amazing. I am so lucky that my brother is my best friend. Ash and I are so incredibly close, we talk every single day for at least 30 minutes. We talk psychology, therapy, radio, everything.
"But Ash once said to me: 'You know how lucky you and I feel about being twins? That's how I feel about being married to Jodie. She's my best friend, my other half, my soulmate'.
"Cathy and I loved each other but we just didn't have that connection.
"But I've got it now. I'm so in love. I just feel so unbelievably grateful and lucky. I genuinely didn't know a girl like her existed, let alone for me.
"When I met her, she said she was heading off on holidays and I asked where she was going. And she said 'I'm going to Everest base camp'. I just said: 'Bullshit. So am I'.
"I couldn't believe a girl like this existed. I get to go and do all these things with her - we've run a marathon together, we train together, it's like we were made for each other."
In fact, the pair have just enjoyed a week's holiday in Bali together - a first for Luke.
Not because of the destination, but because he had no plans but to relax.
"Yeah, it's ironic but I have to work on relaxing. It's a skill," he says.
"I used to see those people sitting and just looking at the ocean and I could not understand it. But I'm trying to be more like them. My therapist said, we're human beings - sometimes we just have to be.
"I'll go for a surf but no major physical feats on this trip."
Not that Luke will be giving up on his love for endurance sport any time soon. After completing 21 marathons, two ironmans and climbing both Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest base camp, he's not done yet.
In fact, he credits his physical fitness with helping him through times of emotional turmoil.
"What endurance sport has taught me is that I am way tougher than I thought I was. When I think I have to stop, I don't. When I think I have to quit, I don't. I know that if I keep moving forward, I will eventually get there. And you don't remember the pain.
"When you're in a shitfight, keep going. I've been in a lot more pain in my life than the physical pain of a marathon, and when I'm in that moment I know I'll get out of it if I keep moving forward.
"I learned that in my 30s, and I wish I learned it earlier. It's something so important for me to teach younger people, especially Coralie. It's such a metaphor for life."
Not only has he taught Coralie a love for endurance sport - in 2016 she became the youngest Australian to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and last year attempted to make it to Everest base camp - he's also passed on his passion for social change.
Having grown up with an indigenous best friend and brother named Barry, Coralie has joined Luke in his fight to respect Australia's first culture.
"Our climb to Everest base camp, which unfortunately was aborted for Coralie because she had altitude sickness, was all about raising awareness of changing the name of Fraser Island back to its indigenous name, K'gari Island.
"Coralie started a change.org petition about it as well, I'm so proud of who she is.
"Ash and I grew up with an indigenous brother, Barry. He was our best mate but then he lived with us for awhile, we're family. Having that relationship just really takes the mask off when you see how we treat our indigenous citizens."
Despite his pride in Coralie's achievements and his outspoken love for his daughter, Luke is still plagued by doubts of whether he is a "good" father.
You can almost see the old Luke coming into play, beating himself up over feelings of guilt.
"Coralie is the single most important thing in my life. But I look back on all the hours I've worked and wonder whether I've been good enough.
"When we climbed Kilimanjaro together, so many people criticised me for putting her in 'danger'. I was so angry because I knew of all my failings, that was not one of them. But I reacted out of that guilt and resentment. These days, I would just let it go. Otherwise it's just like that saying - holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
"All I can do is be the best dad I can for Coralie. She's such a funny kid, she's got a real flair for comedy and she just cracks me up."
Looking on the bright side has become a new talent for Luke, who weathered the blow of having his Triple M show cancelled late last year, before being picked up again by Gold FM.
He says while it was devastating at the time, he's now the happiest he's been in his professional life.
"Originally it was me, Ben Dobbin (Dobbo) and Libby Trickett, and then Libby left and Margaux came in. We were on Triple M in Brisbane and Gold on the Gold Coast.
"When we started we were last in the ratings. By the time the last ratings were released, which was after the cancellation was announced, we were on top.
"It was heartbreaking. Thank God that happened after all the therapy. You just have to pick up and keep going and I'm so happy to be on Gold FM now.
"Margaux and I didn't know each other before she joined the show but I can honestly say that she is a true friend now. And not just that, but of all the partners I could pick for radio - she is the one I would choose.
"I'd still love to do a show with Ash but we're never sure how that would work out. It would either be the funniest thing you've ever heard in your life or a complete disaster.
"Margaux and I just are who we are. I refuse to laugh at something if it's not funny, I refuse to do the scripted stuff that you hear on 95 per cent of radio. I don't know how the listeners handle it, it drives me crazy. But I let it go and just do the best show that we can every day.
"You can't be angry about what someone else is doing. I really wish I'd figured all this stuff out when I was in my 20s - but I'm grateful that I've changed now in my 40s."
After 23 years on air, something had to give … but instead someone did. Luke Bradnam gave himself a break.
The voice may be the same, but make no mistake … this is a new, improved man.