Lunch with Adam Boland

All things Boland were on the table when Mark Dapin spoke to Ten’s morning TV director.

I haven’t asked a single question of Channel Ten’s new director of morning television, Adam Boland, but he has already told me he is gay, bipolar and he would not eat his cat.

Boland arrives a few minutes late for our lunch at Balla, Steve Manfredi’s elegant Milanese-style restaurant in the Star casino complex. He is fresh-faced, friendly, thin and slightly dishevelled.

He says he prides himself in taking no pride in his appearance, unlike his former partner, Michael Pell, the executive producer of Channel Seven’s Sunrise. “I love him,” Boland says, “don’t get me wrong. But he would spend an hour in hair and make-up each morning.”

Was he on screen?

“No!” Boland says. “Never!”

I’d ordered antipasti plates of soft cheese and salumi, but it turns out Boland is a recently converted vegetarian. Sort of.

“In November last year my cat jumped on my bed,” he says, “and I remember looking at him, thinking, ‘I would never eat you.’ The extension to that was, if I didn’t eat the cat, why would I eat anything else with legs? And from that day on – with the exception of crabs – if they walk, I won’t eat them.”

But has anyone ever suggested he eat his cat?

“Well, I have a Chinese partner and he has looked at him from time to time. That’s why I had the thoughts. My cat’s been with me longer than any partner: that’s the one common thing in my life. But Julian [Wong] is the kind of boy who does believe in experimenting with food, and it does worry me. By the way, that’s also made life very hard now, as he likes to eat – as many Chinese people do – and we live in the middle of Chinatown, surrounded by ducks hanging from every second window.”

Boland left Seven for Ten in March after 13 years, during which he created the phenomenally popular breakfast TV show Sunrise. As executive producer he was the evil genius behind the on-screen partnership of David Koch and Melissa Doyle, which he refers to as Kochie-Mel.

I think he just told me he used to be in a relationship with the man who is now his major competitor.

Before I have a chance to ask, he explains that Pell “has a problem separating professional from personal, so he’s taken my defection to Ten quite personally because I am now, essentially, taking him on. And I put him into my old job at Seven, and that was a problem when we worked together, a huge problem. We were together for almost four years and we’d take our work home.

“He takes his show very seriously – which is a great thing, and he’s a very good producer – but he’s taken the fact that I am now setting up a show essentially to compete against him, and my own show, very seriously. But I take the view I’ve got the chance to do something new. Sunrise and the Today show have essentially become a bit of a duopoly. They are the two guys competing in the one space but doing it in the same way. It’s like going into the supermarket and seeing only one product. The notion of being able to revamp the format again is too good to refuse, and I’m a breakfast TV producer – where else can I go?

“I played every card I could there, and now I’ve got to play a new deck, and Michael will get his head around that one day.”

I see. At the end of June, Doyle resigned from Sunrise on air, with tears in her eyes. The feeling was the network was clearing the way for a younger face to compete with whatever Boland and his crew were preparing to produce for Ten.

“They could’ve packaged that a lot better,” Boland says. “They could’ve almost had a celebration of everything that Mel’s done over the past 10 years. Instead, they’ve had this mystery surrounding her: was she pushed or did she jump?

“I’d hire her tomorrow. If she’s available, she should call me.”

The waiter keeps refilling our glasses of water and looming. Boland chooses ravioli filled with gorgonzola served with pumpkin puree and walnuts, and I make a last-minute decision to try the Cobia kingfish fillet with celeriac puree and wintery radicchio salad.

“There is a bit of chaos in breakfast TV right now,” Boland says. “Now, I’ve just poached quite a few people out of Sunrise – which hasn’t helped my relationship with Michael, by the way – but the reason I was able to get them so easily is these are talented people with creative ideas and they’re not getting them up.”

Boland is excellent company. I do not think I have ever spent time with anyone who speaks so quickly, so much and with such candour. It leaves me time to look out of the window over trees to the harbour, and chew on the delicious bresaola from the sadly neglected salumi plate.

Boland says he is happy at Ten. “I enjoy going to work each day, and it’s no secret that in my last two years at Seven, I didn’t enjoy going to work. I was there because of a court case. I was told to stay, so I did.”

A couple of years ago, he says, he felt he was tired and could not do Sunrise any more, and it was in Seven’s interest to find someone with new ideas. He was, at that stage, only a consultant to the network and felt that, contractually, he could leave.

“Seven had other ideas,” he says. “We settled and I agreed to re-sign.”

By the time Seven let him go, he had decided to go and visit his mother in Vanuatu, after which he and Wong, an architect, would build new careers in Asia.

The day before he boarded the plane to Port Vila, he was approached by Ten to run its revitalised morning programming. He will create two new formats, a breakfast show called Wake Up and a morning show, Studio Ten. At Boland’s instigation, Wake Up will be broadcast from a shack on Manly Beach. Transmission will not begin until November, because Ten needs to dig a trench from its Pyrmont headquarters to Manly, to bring out eight cameras on separate lines.

Boland was born in a housing commission home in Sydney’s western suburbs. His mum was 17. His dad was a “hippie”. Boland was conceived at the Dundas drive-in. His mother’s Catholic father insisted the couple get married. They did but his mother threw her husband out after six weeks.

“And he spent his entire life going from farm to farm,” Boland says, “picking fruit, living as a backpacker, until he died of liver cancer a couple of years ago. I took care of him in his last six months – or, more specifically, my partner Julian took care of him really well in his last six months – because he had come to live with us. The last thing he ever said to me was, ‘Don’t let me die.”‘

His mother, meanwhile, took a course in marketing and travelled around managing supermarkets and nightclubs. Boland attended many different schools (today he says 13; in the past he has remembered 11) and always knew he wanted to go into TV. He was sending in programming ideas to local stations when he was 12 years old. He got his start in radio, joined Sky News in the channel’s earliest days, moved on to Ten, whence he was fired for getting drunk and kicking a competitor’s car, then joined Seven. He has a psychiatrist and a psychologist and has probably always had bipolar disorder.

“Before Michael, I was in a relationship with a girl called Yoko Shimizu,” he says, “my supervising producer at Sunrise, who remains my best friend. When we broke up she left Australia because she struggled to come to terms with seeing me with a guy, but also someone at work. Because we almost got married. I loved her, adored her, still do. Now she’s Asia-Pacific editor for al-Jazeera. It was the best career move that ever happened.”

They had lived together for four years but he left Shimizu at 30 “to be gay”. It took him a while to fully realise his sexual orientation.

“The fact that I was still able to maintain a relationship with a girl meant there was still some question mark over it,” he says, “and I enjoyed sex with her. We did not separate because we fell out of love, we separated because I was gay.”

Our lunch arrives. Boland’s pieces of ravioli are very large. They look like a cross between giant mushrooms and ears.

“I know this seems like a really conservative thing to order,” he says, “but I do tend to make really safe lunch choices because many of my dinners are anything but safe.

“When I come to a place like this, I order something like the pumpkin ravioli because it’s not going to cause unrest to my tummy – because I have irritable bowel syndrome – so I need to be somewhat careful, particularly when you’ve got back-to-back meetings all afternoon and you just don’t get toilet breaks.”

And that, really, is as much as anyone needs to learn about another person over lunch.