Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director Julia Zemiro. Picture: Diana Melfi
Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director Julia Zemiro. Picture: Diana Melfi

Zemiro’s plea to Aussie TV fans

It's a whole new world, TV presenter, comedian, singer, writer Julia Zemiro sings down the line from her Bowral home, as we chat about the strange times we all find ourselves in.

As artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Zemiro was all set to launch her second and final program when the world changed. It must have been shattering to make the call to cancel it.

"I think heartbreaking is the word that you're after," she shares.

"You do so much work in the first year so the second year is the reward year. We had an absolutely amazing program.

"I realise there are terribly worse things happening in the universe right now. But you sit there going what was all that for if it couldn't happen? I don't like not finishing things properly," she said.


Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director Julia Zemiro. Picture: Diana Melfi
Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director Julia Zemiro. Picture: Diana Melfi


From Philippines superstar Lea Salonga, Alfie Boe and an international cast in Do You Hear The People Sing? RocKwiz Salutes New York, French chanteuse Caroline Nin, Minnesota jazz-blues band Davina and the Vagabonds to the opening 20th Anniversary Gala, it was a jam-packed program. Now artists have rallied to create an alternative event online.

"There's no way we can replicate or save what we had," Zemiro says. "But we are just going to mark it in a way. We just have to be philosophical about that."

The 53-year-old is quite philosophical when she chats to Hibernation. Despite the devastating cancellation of her final festival, she is enjoying the slower pace and time to contemplate striking a better balance between work and play.

She's been baking bread, not the ubiquitous sourdough, but a much quicker - and still delicious - version that means a fresh loaf for lunch most days. Zemiro confesses, that like many of us, she's gained some weight in isolation, but isn't at all fazed, laughing as she says: "I don't have to show up for anything."

But she acknowledges she's one of the fortunate ones.

"So many people are losing work, not just me, but I don't have a mortgage, I have a lovely partner, lovely space and a garden for instance, so I cannot worry about my immediate future too much," Zemiro says.

"I feel terrible for so many others and then I go big picture and not just think about the arts.

"I'm thinking about how we are going to recover from it all. I really worry about people's mental health."


Julia Zemiro and her partner Carsten Prien. Zemiro says she has been lucky to have a “lovely partner” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: Eugene Hyland
Julia Zemiro and her partner Carsten Prien. Zemiro says she has been lucky to have a “lovely partner” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: Eugene Hyland


Zemiro has just returned to our screens in the eighth season of the ABC's beloved series Home Delivery, traversing the country to meet her guests. The engaging host walks, well, rather drives vintage cars of all shapes and sizes, taking notable people through their earlier lives, and helps uncover the people, places and events that shaped them into who they are today.

The roll call this time includes Australia's favourite boffin Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, maverick Senator Jacqui Lambie, comedian and social media queen Celeste Barber, actor and activist Yael Stone, comedian Craig Reucassel, legendary film director Gillian Armstrong, billionaire software entrepreneur Scott Farquhar and singer-songwriter Casey Donovan.

In a nice synergy, there are only eight episodes this season, instead of the usual 10 - COVID-19 forcing an early end to filming.

"It's a wonderful show to do - we were asking questions about the future and did they feel hopeful for the future - this was way before COVID," Zemiro says.

"It will be interesting to reflect on that."

It's also interesting watching through the prism of social distancing.

Zemiro's a hugger and admits that she's not sure how Home Delivery could play out under corona conditions. There's the car issue - "I'd have to chauffeur them with them in the back if we tried to shoot now."

Her own story would start in the backstreets of Bondi. Probably first to the primary school where she completed her education in French. Yes, a little French school in the picturesque Sydney beachside suburb. They'd then head a short distance down the road to the restaurant her father ran, above which Julia and her family lived.

And while we'd love to get to know the playful, delightful and always entertaining Julia that bit better, fingers crossed this episode isn't any time soon, with Zemiro saying she'll only do it if her popular series comes to an end.

"I would find it very difficult, I tell you that right now," she says. "I've threatened I'll only do it if the show ends. I really just think I'd bawl my eyes out the whole show."

But Zemiro knows exactly who she'd want to host that last show. Popular documentary maker Louis Theroux.


Julia Zemiro with Louis Theroux. Picture: Supplied
Julia Zemiro with Louis Theroux. Picture: Supplied


"We had him on Home Delivery and I've toured with him around Australia," she says immediately.

"He knows how to look at the whole prism of someone's life and he comes in very left-field with the questions. He's very good at holding silence and I would have to keep filling in the silence. Plus he's just excellent company."

Narrowing down her dream interview is similarly easy. It's Bjork - the quirky Icelandic singer of It's Oh So Quiet, and famous for donning a swan dress to 2001 Academy Awards.

"Firstly to go to Iceland, but secondly fitting in with Home Delivery's ethos of discovering how home shapes someone," Zemiro says.

"The geography of Iceland is such a part of her music and her make-up. I really fantasise - and I don't think she'd be an easy interview - but I think it would be fantastic talking about the windy, crazy, rocky, craggy landscape and talking about how this space made her. And going back to her childhood haunts and school - saying you stood on that stage and sang. I would love that."


Philippines singer Lea Salonga. Picture: Supplied by Adelaide Festival Centre
Philippines singer Lea Salonga. Picture: Supplied by Adelaide Festival Centre


What Zemiro also passionately loves is the arts industry - from the stage to the screen - and she wants people to rally behind the nigh-on decimated industry, writing to their MPs to plead for action.

"I would also like people to do this - I want them to sit down and just think about their favourite show and try and imagine what that person's life is like," she says.

"And you know what they probably can't. They think it's like being Nicole Kidman.

"Sometimes they don't have a spare $5000. I wish that some actors would go 'I find life a bit of a struggle'. So that people realise that the norm isn't all exciting and glamorous. And think about where your art comes from and listen to some podcasts with actors and musicians where they talk about their life, not just the top 3 per cent

"I think we have a job as well to open up for fans and voters about how we struggle too. I want more talk like that."

Zemiro also wants people to remember this period of time.

"It's up to us make that happen - I'll be reminding people," she says. "I'll be gently going 'remember how s--t that time was before?'."

She's looking forward to the day when she can walk the streets and feel physically free. Despite living in Bowral, where there were few corona cases, Zemiro feels anxious heading to the supermarket.

"I don't want to feel that tension in my body - you know, can I touch this?," she shares.

"I look forward to getting back to work, but maybe in not such a crazy way.

"I'm looking forward to how society will play out and what we are going to want to keep.

"All of a sudden if it's possible to find JobKeeper for so many people, maybe it's possible to put homeless people in hotels that people aren't using anymore. We're discovering that lots of things are possible - why should so many have so much and others not. Maybe capitalism doesn't have to be the religion we've always worshipped."

Wouldn't that be a whole new world?

Adelaide Cabaret Festival: Bite-Sized & Home Delivered, Facebook, June 5-20.

Home Delivery, Wednesdays, 8pm, ABC and iview




Originally published as Zemiro's plea to Aussie TV fans