'He was a producer’s nightmare and a colleague’s dream' - a tribute to Damien Lovelock


Presenter and journalist Tracey Holmes shares a personal tribute to her colleague and friend Damien Lovelock, a beloved member of the SBS football family.

Damien Lovelock.

Even the name sounds like a rock star.

Other rock stars change their names to sound like a super star.

Not Damien Lovelock.

Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight.

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones.

Ok, Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson but Damien Lovelock didn’t have to shorten, lengthen or change his name at all.

And that sums him up.

What you got was what he was.

Full-blown Damien Lovelock.

He may not have had the global recognition of some of the other stars I mentioned but I challenge you to tell me whether Prince, Bowie or Elton had also gained relative fame as a yoga teacher, author, chef, surfer and football commentator.

Damien Lovelock was all of those things and more.

When people die there is a temptation to say there was nobody quite like them but I can guarantee you there has never been anybody anything quite like Damien.

He would step on a stage with his back straight, feet apart, lips pursed, shirt crushed and hair bedraggled like he’d either just stepped out of the surf or bed – probably both - and the crowd already loved him, without even uttering a single note.

Even those who didn’t like his particular brand of music knew that Damien rocked, whether it was in the heyday of the Celibate Rifles or in later years with his musical friends and their tribute concerts reviving Woodstock and the Rolling Stones.

His yoga classes were like no other. He could stretch, hold a pose, deep breathe, and tell fart jokes all at once. There were no airs and graces with Damien.

His love of the round ball game was legendary. He wrote about it, spoke about it, but mostly spent many long nights at home consuming it.

I still have messages on my phone from during SBS’s recent coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup as he commented on the Matildas, the opposition, the Americans and Foz’s analysis.

How appropriate that when news of Damien’s passing was announced on Saturday that one of the videos to go viral was the 8th birthday of his pug, Rocket, who sat on set with his owner and the man who first introduced him to football audiences, Mr Football himself, Les Murray.

There was a friendship to celebrate. Damien and Les not only shared their love of football but their love of music, their knowledge of the history of both, and their common humanity.

Les had Damien on his TV shows, Damien had Les sing at his concerts. And together, couldn’t they laugh? I wish someone would bottle those laughs.

Damien had a million stories. He’d travelled widely, seen a lot, and experienced even more.

He told me the story of the Celibate Rifles touring in the US and they made a pit stop in Harlem where he walked into an all-black diner to grab a coffee.

He was already getting plenty of stares, being the only white man around.

When the waitress asked him what he wanted, he replied, ‘a flat white’.

She looked at him oddly. Summed him up then turned to her husband in the kitchen.

‘Hey, Joe…these people even got their own coffee now!’

The funniest story was his trip to Hawaii with his then girlfriend, who went on to become world surfing champion.

While she was surfing the reef Damien decided he’d take his boogey board out for a ride.

The only problem was he only had a pair of hot pink speedos found in a car park in Sydney.

Neither hot pink, nor speedos, are the done thing on Hawaii’s North Shore.

Damien misjudged the size of the surf and the danger of the reef.

His first wave was a wipeout that smashed onto the rocks below the cliff face where the heavy-set local Hawaiians were all looking on.

As he emerged, bleeding on his face and his chest, he walked past the locals as though he’d meant it all along…"G’day," he said as he cruised past afraid to reveal the pain he was in.

If he was expecting sympathy from his girlfriend he had another thing coming.

Through extreme shame she came out of the water, walked straight past him, as though she’d never seen him before.

No matter what happened, Damien always found a way to laugh.

His life was not easy: a broken home, boarding school, a mum who died early and an addiction to drugs that took many of his friends in their 20s.

Damien told me once how he started doing the maths. There were fewer and fewer of his friends around and that meant his number, too, would soon be up unless he did something about it.

He kicked the habit with that headstrong will of his and stayed free of the curse for decades.

In his late 20s he studied journalism, and as someone shared with me on Facebook this weekend, Damien’s often much younger classmates were in awe – here was a rock God in their midst who was nothing like the clichéd lifestyle they imagined he had.

They say the worst thing that passed his lips was the occasional bottle of coke.

He loved the ocean too. A daily body surf cleared his head and set him on track for his day: a yoga class, teaching a boxing class, media appointments, lunch at the health food store in Narrabeen, planning his next gig.

He could be seen cruising the streets from one appointment to the next in his red coupe with Rocket on his lap, front paws hanging over the door.

That image, like many others, is burned in my head.

Whenever you saw Damien you couldn’t help but smile and have a laugh.

It still makes me smile and chuckle, even though the idea I’ll never see him again is still not quite settled in my head.

Like Les, I had the absolute thrill of working with Damien on sports programs at the ABC.

Like Les, I would be in stitches as Damien managed to mix world war analogies with football games and roll them into a work of broadcast-art that constantly had producers on the edge of their seats wondering what was going to come out of his mouth next.

He was a producer’s nightmare and a colleague’s dream. There was never dead air or a dull moment with Damien, either in the studio or out.

I remember once he came around to our place to watch the State of Origin. We heard him coming, he blew in, ate most of our family pizza, Rocket weed on the carpet, final whistle went and Damien was gone.

I still can’t tell you who won that game because no matter what was happening the real show was always Damien.

He was my colleague, my yoga teacher, my favourite rock band. Mostly, he was my friend.

Damien Lovelock is survived by his son Luke, his two pugs Zoki and Alvis and countless others like me who crossed one of Damien’s many paths and will forever remember being entertained by a most unique character.