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The last time Natalie Gruzlewski hosted Farmer Wants A Wife, most dating apps were just a twinkle in a software developer’s eye. It was 2012, and Tinder would only launch later that year; Bumble came along two years later. Even then, for a bloke stuck on a farm in rural Australia, hours from anywhere, swiping and messaging was never going to solve the age-old conundrum of finding love.
Which is why, eight years since last fronting the feelgood dating show that has produced nine marriages and 20 children since its noise-making launch in 2007, the former television favourite has decided it’s time to reintroduce the country to her matchmaking skills.
Since she last popped on jeans and an Akubra, she herself has found lasting love and had a child, having married property developer Jack Ray in 2012 and welcomed daughter Olivia the next year. So this time, she’s bringing a lot more experience to her role as a small-screen Cupid.
“We can all relate to those early days of first meeting when the sparks are flying and there’s instant chemistry,” Gruzlewski tells Stellar. “I love seeing people fall in love. There’s plenty of romance on the farms this year, so I’m really looking forward to a wedding invitation or two.”
In an era when reality-TV dating shows only seem to grow more controversial and salacious, Farmer Wants A Wife remains as wholesome as fresh milk, chequered shirts and baby lambs.
But Gruzlewski is quick to point out the changes in dating culture have filtered into the show’s latest reboot, which has taken it from the Nine Network to the Seven Network in the hope it will reclaim its status as a ratings winner.
While technology has transformed the dating landscape by offering potential suitors an expanded plethora of possibilities, remote living still makes the quest for love as trying as it ever was. As Gruzlewski points out, “A lot of single city women out there will tell you it can be difficult to find a man who is genuinely interested in finding love and settling down. And our farmers face their own set of challenges when it comes to meeting single women.
“They may come from opposite worlds and live in different environments, but they still share that same sense of isolation when looking for love. At the end of the day, they still want to find that good old-fashioned romance with someone special.”
Fortunately, the 43-year-old host had no such obstacles when it came to making her own match. In fact, her love story with 35-year-old Ray was as textbook as they come. They both live on the Gold Coast, met through friends, went for dinner, fell in love, threw a surprise wedding and welcomed Olivia three months later. Ray recently completed the picture-book family by surprising his wife with a pet dog.
“I’m not into big romantic gestures,” she tells Stellar. “The everyday little things mean more to me. I love surprises, so on my birthday last year Jack brought home a dog, a Cavoodle we named Sunny. There had been no discussion about getting a dog, but we were pretty excited when Sunny joined the family. Olivia has fallen in love with him and he has pretty much taken over the entire house. I always joke that Jack loves the dog more than he loves me.”
With her golden hair and beach-girl vibe, Gruzlewski was once one of the most versatile and popular hosts on Australian TV. After working as a weather presenter, she became famous for her role as Lady Luck on NRL’s The Footy Show before becoming a full-time presenter on Getaway. As well as hosting Farmer, she filled in on Nine’s Weekend Today before resigning from the network in 2014.
In the past six years, she’s enjoyed some travel ambassador roles but, for very personal reasons, has focused on being a mum. Both she and Ray have experienced great loss: Gruzlewski’s mother died of cancer in 2007 and Ray’s parents Brian and Kathy died in a 2005 plane crash.
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“Losing my mum made me realise that life is short and time is precious, so I was happy to slow down and focus on family,” she tells Stellar. “I absolutely love being a mum, and that has been my main priority. I’m trying to make the most of every stage because they grow up so quickly.”
Stepping back from work also allowed her to focus on her own health. “As you get older you do need to look after yourself and put your health and fitness first,” she says.
“Losing my mum made me realise that life is short and time is precious, so I was happy to slow down and focus on family.” (Picture: Supplied)
But it’s her enduring affection for the show she made her own that lured her back to help a new group of farmers find love. “It’s the original dating show – it’s heart-warming and genuine. We get to celebrate our farmers. And who doesn’t love a good love story? It’s exciting witnessing that obvious chemistry and trying to predict who will be the next couple sending me an invitation to their wedding,” she enthuses.
She won’t divulge whether we can expect another wedding from this season’s contestants but does admit to maintaining contact with some of the show’s success stories. Gruzlewski doesn’t have a choice – even though she has had no connection to the show for eight years, she is still regularly stopped in the supermarket by fans. “I find myself at the checkout in deep conversation about the farmers’ love lives.”
As for her matchmaking skills, she’s keeping them sharpened practising on friends. “I love playing Cupid, though I don’t know what possesses me to do it,” Gruzlewski says. “If my friends are single and I think they’re well-suited, I organise a no-pressure set-up and away they go. I’ve had a pretty good success rate so far. Many of the couples are still together and some have had children, so I should probably quit while I’m ahead.”
When it comes to her own family, she enjoyed the time spent together in lockdown. But there’s no chance she’ll give up matchmaking for one job in particular. “Even though we had online learning, I did help out and the biggest challenge was getting Olivia to take me seriously as her teacher,” she laughs. “We managed, but Year 2 maths wasn’t my strong point. Some days she was teaching me! Needless to say, she’s really excited to be back at school.”
Farmer Wants A Wife is coming soon to the Seven Network.
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