This story originally appeared in issue 18 of Pop Magazine and was written by Emilia Terzon.
Photography: Jason Henley, www.jasonhenleyonline.com
Fashion Editor: Jana Bartolo @ Lizard Management
Makeup & Hair: Felicia Yong @ Network Agency using MAC
Special Thanks to: Adina Apartment Hotels www.adina.eu
Erin McNaught got to spend some time shredding in Japan over the last winter for MTV’s Japan Jam – but she’s no beginner. A couple of season at Mt. Baker and a fearless attitude has left her, in the words of Mitch Tomlinson, “like a female action figure doll.” She doesn’t just snowboard well, she is super passionate about it too. And was apparently not afraid of the throttle when they went sledding either...
Erin McNaught is insisting to me that her recent photoshoot with Pop Magazine “was nothing too out of the ordinary”. She says that it was just another day at the office: albeit a workplace fit out with crisp white sheets, wardrobe styling and a photographer. Tousled sun-kissed locks and lashings of toned brown limbs were merely a given. “It’s simply what I’m used to doing,” she laughs.
I’m admittedly not surprised to hear this assertion from the lips of a professional model. McNaught is after all a former Miss Australia, glossy editorial regular and underwear ambassador. It’s her job to look like she’s been doing this forever. Surprisingly, however, she wasn’t born practically posing in front of a camera’s lens. The reality is something actually intriguingly different.
Rewind ten years or so and you’d have found the heeled goddess before you more comfortable on a mud-smeared mountain bike. Don’t even let that knowledge draw blatantly cliché images to your mind of Erin side-saddling a frame befitted in a helmet, leather lingerie, and… not much else. It’s tempting, but you’d end up sheepishly admitting pre-judgement to yourself, just like I am right now as McNaught continues to tell me about her childhood. She’s actually nothing like these cheesy connotations: this one can actually rough it with the boys.
“Having two brothers does help,” she admits. It runs in the family. In fact, there was once a period back in the late 90s where every single McNaught held Australian Cyclist of the Year titles in their division at the same time. Yes, that’s Erin, her father, two brothers, and mother. “My mother and I actually started mountain-bike riding the same year together,” she says of her adolescence, “because we got sick of watching the others from the sidelines!”
It’s this same Brisbane-based family which let McNaught spend two seasons shredding Washington State’s slopes, including Mt Baker, at the tender age of fourteen. “I had an awesome childhood with very supportive parents of everything I wanted to do,” she tells me happily. “Being the youngest meant I was constantly trying to keep up with the others.”
All this is bit of a foreign concept to an only-child who grew up with Barbie over BMX. I’m getting jealous, goddammit, because all this talk is making me realise Erin’s pretty much every Aussie bloke’s dream woman. I ask her what it was like growing up a bit of a tomboy and she replies with an (appropriately feminine) laugh that it’s made her “a bit competitive”.
Fast-forward to 2011 and it’s also bred something else: a blossoming career VJing with snowboarding’s finest on some of the industry’s best powder. Alongside having her present shows such as the Hot 30 Countdown, MTV also recently had McNaught saying konnichiwa to the camera for the music channel’s snowboarding and music tour, Japan Jam. It’s obviously a sweet gig given her childhood’s winters. “It’s been a bit of luck that I’m getting paid to do what I actually really love doing,” she says.
The slopes are still fresh in her mind. “From a snowboarder’s point of view,” she says, “Japan is just so amazing. You can go top to bottom without having to divert your course or worry about hitting people.” The Japanese are also an orderly bunch that has a precisely organised system for everything: “from the gondolas, to your valet and even where you put your snow boots,” Erin remarks.
Unfortunately as we’re speaking the news is dominated by reports concerning this “beautiful country”: a devastating earthquake and consequent tsunami has just claimed an estimated 20,000 lives. “There’s no word for it,” pauses McNaught. “It’s just horrific and heart-breaking.” A matter of a week or two could have seen her in the midst of it. The disaster’s also pushed the air-date of the tour later due to network sensitivity. “I’m excited about the footage,” she says. She also hopes the show will bring “extra humanitarian awareness to the disaster when it does air.”
McNaught also hopes the disaster “won’t turn people off visiting in the future. We had such an amazing time when we were there.” Highlights included “super competitive” races between McNaught and her two co-presenters: Darren McMullen and snowboard guru Mitch Tomlinson, who she’d known previously from the Falls Creek circuit. “Mitch and I had always bumped in to each-other over the years,” she says, “so it was great to end up working with him.”
“In fact,” she adds, “all of us on the MTV Japan Jam just got along so well together.” She particularly respects boarders like Johnny Lyall and Kale Stephens who joined them on tour. “Kale especially looks like everything is effortless. He glides and is the smoothest rider I’ve ever seen.” It wasn’t all snow, however. One shoot involving the onsen hot springs was exactly the opposite.
“Mitch and Daz ended up in the hot springs naked along with the whole camera crew and sound guy,” she laughs. McNaught now has the ultimate blackmail material due to this: photos of the duo with strategically placed handtowels and not much else. On behalf of our male readership I pry to ask: are there are perhaps some similar onsen shots of her floating around? The response is unfortunately but necessarily negatory.
You’ll have to instead settle for those vintage Zoo Weekly cowboy-hat shots that had the model dubbed Erin ‘McNaughty’ back in 2006 during her Miss Australia reign. This is a bit petty and overblown to look back on now given how far her public persona has progressed, but it does draw us back to conversation of her rise to fame. She tells me those fresh-faced earlier years witnessed some cheeseball fans. “The worst pick-up line after Miss Australia was from men asking me if they could be Mr Australia,” she groans laughingly. Zero points for originality, boys…
Now a bit wiser, McNaught has transitioned to more conventional modelling work with labels such as Antz Pantz. They’ve just resigned the infamously vivacious talent as their spokesperson for a third year running. It’s a bit far from mountain bikes and snowsuits, and I question if she’s always been in to fashion. “It’s funny you ask,” she laughs, “because if you asked my Mother she’d say I was always the worst dresser in the world…but it’s definitely something I’m in to.”
Shoes can be an issue. Whilst he may have snagged himself an enviable girlfriend, rest assured that model Nathan Jolliffe still deals with a time-old problem. “My boyfriend is always begging me to cut down my shoe collection,” admits McNaught. They luckily have lots of space for excess pairs in their large apartment overlooking Bondi. McNaught loves the beach despite never particularly taking to surfing. She’s (uncharacteristically) “a bit scared of waves”.
Outside of catwalks, Erin’s worked her way through an impressive range of other genres in the quest for more presenter-based TV roles. Her resume kind of reads like an endearing case of dissociative personality disorder, with past hosting gigs such as the Asia Pacific Poker Tour. “I thought I was a bit of a card shark for a while there,” she says of this phase, “but now I don’t have the patience for it. I get the shits!”
Other gigs included a long-term stint for gadget show Cybershack. It ended up being more high-risk than gambling: McNaught famously had her index finger reattached in late 2009 after almost severing it in an electric dirt bike stunt for the show gone wrong. Her ongoing gig as an MTV VJ is less gory and lets her chat to some of the industry’s biggest. Pharrell Williams, Armand Van Helden and Mike Posner have so-far been her biggest highlights. She says she “really enjoys interviewing everybody”.
She’s known for her bubbly screen presence but I get an extended half-groan, half-laugh when I ask if this is easy to give to the screen. “It’s actually always something I have felt uncomfortable doing but it’s my job and I try to see it as that,” she admits. Interviewing the industry’s biggest names is hard but “gets easier once you get over the initial deer in the headlight’s look and pretend the camera isn’t there.” Her modesty is sweet, but I’m sure the tens of thousands who tune in to watch her present would describe her as anything but a helpless doe.
The heart-warming admissions continue when I next ask her which word she’d use to describe her rise to fame. The response is: “bumpy”. She admits that moving to Sydney by herself as a young woman was full of teary phone-calls home and worrying where the next paid gig was at. “It’s not come easily by any stretch of the imagination,” she adds.
Easy or not, we wrap up the laughter-filled conversation with Erin telling me that her many music, fashion and extreme-sport industry jobs have all just recontracted her. She says she’s needed to attack her career’s transition – from sporty tomboy, to model, to all-star television presenter – with unrelenting determination. Of course, for a woman who grew up challenging pro-riders who said she couldn’t tackle “crazy mountain runs”, the notion of persistence doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem. “That persistence has really started to pay off,” she finishes.
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