Willoughby local and well-known television presenter John Aiken may front Australia’s top rating TV show, but at home he’s first and foremost a devoted dad. And as a trained relationship expert he’s now turning his attention to helping other father figures create deep and meaningful relationships with their children. We chat to John about fatherhood, home renovations and his surprising path to TV stardom.
1. You’re a relationship expert – tell us about your background in this field.
I did all my training at Victoria University in Wellington, NZ and while I studied many areas of human behaviour, for whatever reason I found myself loving the field of relationships. Since then, I have been working with singles and couples for over 20 years, mostly in private practice, and I still find it immensely compelling. I love the intensity of couples in crisis sitting in front of me, and being challenged to control the room and not to take sides, but instead provide a safe space for issues to be addressed. I’m a really practical person, so the area of relationships was also a great fit for me, because the strategies I teach are very easy to use, they make sense and they can bring about large-scale change.
2. You now advise couples on Australia’s top rating show, Married at First Sight. How did you make the leap from private practice to TV?
I was in the right place at the right time, and took the chance when it presented itself. I had been working as a relationship specialist for around 20 years both in NZ and Australia, and I remember being ready to do something different. At that time, I had written several books, done some radio and had hosted the ABC documentary Making Couples Happy, but nothing to the level of Married At First Sight. Then I received an email in 2014 from a production house asking me to audition for a show that married up complete strangers!
It was a daunting prospect, because it was a strange concept with a lot of noise around it, and it had been a polarising show all around the world. With any media opportunity, you can never be sure whether it will hurt you or help you. However I wanted a new challenge, so I took a deep breath and turned up and auditioned with other experts all around Australia, and got it. At the time, there were a lot of cooking, singing, dancing and renovation shows, but no relationship shows – so it was very different. After completing the first season of MAFS, I never thought it would carry on and continue past the initial series – but I was so wrong – and it has since completely changed my life!
3. We imagine working on that particular show, you’ve seen it all… tell us some of your memorable moments from working on MAFS.
When I look back at the last seven series – there are certainly some standout moments. From Series One – Alex and Zoe were our first couple that stayed together after the show and had a baby together. Even though things haven’t worked out for them as a couple, it was great to see these two create a family. I also loved Cam and Jules from Series Six who actually got legally married after the show and took their relationship to the next level. For pure drama – Martha pouring wine over Cyrell’s head in Series Six was pretty surprising, Lizzy coming back in Series Seven and getting love for a second time was uplifting, and the Dean, Davina and Tracey love triangle from Series Five was gripping. The fact is, every season of MAFS is memorable because it’s unpredictable and at its core – everyone wants to see if the fairytale can exist.
4. Something people may not know about you is that you’re a former first class cricketer – tell us about that.
From the age of 18-30, I spent most of my time playing first class cricket in NZ. Growing up, I played in NZ Youth teams and then made my debut for Wellington in 1989 as an opening batsman. From then on, I essentially juggled playing cricket with completing my University degree throughout my early 20’s and loved every minute of it. I got to travel around NZ, Australia and the UK, and I played against some of the top touring teams like the West Indies, Sri Lanka and South Africa. While I managed to get selected for several NZ ‘A’ teams, my form wasn’t quite consistent enough to get to the top level, but i had an amazing time along the way. Now, I put these skills to good use as the cricket coach of the Gordon U10 Silver team!
5. You’ve lived on the North Shore now for several years – what do you love about our local area?
Our family love being a part of Willoughby. Kelly and I came back to Australia in 2008, and we lived in various parts of Sydney like Paddington, Coogee, Waterloo, and Northbridge, before settling in the 2068! There are so many things to love about it – the leafy streets, the great cafes and restaurants, the gorgeous houses and parks, it’s great for our dog, and we love Willoughby Public School and everyone involved. The effort people go to on Halloween and with the Christmas lights down the Avenues is unbelievable, it’s only ten minutes from the city, and to top it all off – it’s the home of Channel Nine!!! We love it.
6. You and wife Kelly recently purchased one of the area’s oldest historic homes. How are the renovations going?
I’ve never lived in a heritage home before, and I have to say I was initially pretty scared when I first looked through it, because I thought it needed a lot of TLC. It’s such a grand old home drenched in history and I wasn’t sure how to live in it and what needed to be done. But one thing I love about Kelly is that she moves quickly and is very intuitive, and being a designer and landscaper she could see the potential, so we went for it. There’s various things we’ve had to do to the home over the past three months, but we’re now in the final stages, and I can’t wait to sit down in front of one of the four fire places and enjoy this amazing house with a glass of Pinot.
7. Your latest passion is The Fathering Project, aimed at inspiring and equipping fathers and father figures with tools to positively engage with the kids in their lives. How did you come to be involved and what sort of initiatives will be carried out?
The Fathering Project is a not for profit organisation that approached me to be their relationship expert. It’s a one stop shop for Dads who are looking to improve their bond with the kids and their intimate partner, and to create a better overall family environment. The Project provides webinars, podcasts, tips, chat forums and videos for Fathers wanting more knowledge and support, particularly during these difficult times. It’s practical, and it’s a great resource for motivated Dads.
Images: John Aiken Instagram
8. You’ve got two kids of your own – what do you love most about being a Dad?
Being there for them when they’ve had a rough day or something has set them back. Kids can take things so personally at times, so it feels great to be able to sit with Aston or Piper and support them through disappointments, so they can see things more objectively and feel better about their world. Just to see the smile on their faces when I can talk something through with them, and they know that I’m in their corner, is gold!