Justin Langer: Cherie Gardiner, the woman in the background who guided some of WA’s best

Justin Langer
The Nightly
7 Min Read
Cherie Gardiner with some of the awards 6PR won under her reign.
Cherie Gardiner with some of the awards 6PR won under her reign. Credit: Supplied/supplied

Friends, mentors, partners and associates come in all shapes and sizes.

Without them we wouldn’t have a story to tell.

Ultimately, these people can change our lives, for better or worse. And they all play a role in our life story.

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Because of my life’s journey where a lot of it has been in the public eye, I often talk about people who are well known.

But let me throw a few other names at you. Bob Meuleman, Noddy Holder, Rod O’Meara, Br Cleary, Jero and Lee Andrews, Vincent Seet, David Joske, Tom Hill, Wayne and Barbara Adams, Vic Smith, Cherie Gardiner, Steve Smith.

Have you heard of them? I didn’t think so.

These names may mean little to you, but they mean the world to me.

They have influenced my life in so many positive ways. As coaches, doctors, psychologists, mentors, friends, philanthropists. All great people and all part of the jigsaw of my life.

I am sure you also have those people in your life — the ones in the background who have made a huge difference.

And if something happens to one of them, it hurts.

This week I took a phone call that will live with me forever.

“Hi Justin, I am not sure how to tell you this, but Cherie has passed away.”

Stunned, I stood speechless. I still feel shocked, and certainly very sad.

Cherie Gardiner at work at 6PR.
Cherie Gardiner at work at 6PR. Credit: supplied/supplied

Cherie was Cherie Gardiner, an amazing woman, who has acted as my speaking agent, friend, confidante, business guide and mentor, for the past 25 years. We had a unique relationship. I often described her as being like Charlie from the American television series Charlie’s Angels.

In that series, and subsequent movie, the unseen Charlie Townsend, directed the crime-fighting operations of the “Angels” over a speakerphone or, in more modern times, a telephone.

The reason I referred to Cherie as Charlie, was that in the 25 years we have known each other, going through long periods of speaking or emailing every single day, we were only face-to-face three or four times in our lives.

Considering she lived in East Perth, and we live in City Beach, this always fascinated me. Tyranny of distance obviously wasn’t the problem; it is just how we operated. We were like pen pals from the old days, the only difference was that our means of communication was the phone or email.

And it wasn’t just me who this incredible woman looked after, but some of the biggest names in Perth. Go to her business website and scroll through the personalities who put their professional lives in her trusty hands: John Worsfold, Karl O’Callaghan, Narelda Jacobs, Adam Gilchrist, Susannah Carr, Tom Moody, and cave-diving hero Craig Challen.

As the former general manager of radio station 6PR she had the experience to know how to cut a deal, and the personal qualities that earned respect from all who dealt with her.

Over the years, Cheri organised hundreds of speaking presentations for me. In a sense we were business partners in that area of my life. When I left the Australian coaching role, Cherie would cheerily tell me not to worry as she could have me talking every day if I wanted to.

“You’ll never be short of work”, she would re-assure me, and she was true to her word.

In the last 18 months, I have done more than 80 presentations thanks to the diligence, professionalism and connections of my trusted work partner. And, just as importantly, Cherie had a knack of saying no to people in the nicest of ways.

One of my weaknesses in life is saying ‘no’. I am a people-pleaser and, because of this, I would lean on Cherie to be my buffer and protector. She was happy, and willing, to be the bad guy for me, but in the most polite and humble of ways. She represented me with dignity and integrity and for this I will always be grateful.

Cherie knew when to push hard and when to accept invitations for charity, school or personal presentations. She had this understanding of what was right and wrong and what I should and shouldn’t do, according to how busy my life was at the time.

It was through Cherie that I was able to pursue the art of public speaking. On the one hand she provided the opportunities, on the other she guided me in ways she would never have credited herself for. It was through Cherie that I was introduced to my speaking mentor and teacher Earl Reeve. Her vision was a stroke of genius.

Former 6PR general manger Cherie Gardiner with Bob Hawke, radio broadcaster Bob Maumill and Brian Burke.
Former 6PR general manger Cherie Gardiner with Bob Hawke, radio broadcaster Bob Maumill and Brian Burke. Credit: supplied/supplied

Leading into every presentation she would make my job so easy, by having every detail so perfect that I only had to prepare and execute the speech.

She would send me a full briefing for the client, organise a personal briefing between the client and I, then message me the day before every meeting to ensure everything was in place and ready to go. We worked like clockwork.

Before every engagement, including two this week, my preparation is a ritual. I sit at my desk, study my topic, choose my stories, and follow the same routine in my speaking journal every time. Cherie wouldn’t have known this, but i virtually hand wrote, in my own words, exactly what she had typed in an email for me.

If I don’t follow the script, I feel I am not completing my preparation as I know I should. I am cheating myself and the client, and I know, that’s not we are about.

Every time I prepare in this way, I smile at the consistency and attention to detail of the routine, and silently thank Cherie for having taught me such a formal preparation style, without her even knowing she had been my teacher.

By the time I walk out of the door to my required venue, I feel like I am ready for action.

Like my batting coach in a past life, Cherie would get me prepared, settle my nerves, and encourage me to overcome all my fears by trusting my preparation and talking from my heart.

The thing I will miss most about our partnership will be my post presentation routine. Wherever I was in the world, I would send Cherie a simple note saying, “nailed it”. On those occasions when I thought my performance was below my best, I would simply write, “not my best, not my worst”.

With the words “nailed it”, Cherie would get so excited for me, and you could tell she couldn’t wait to get in touch with the client to check how I went.

On those other times, she would re-assure me with, “you are your toughest judge, I am sure it was great”. Cherie knew what to say, in the gentlest and kindest of ways.

As with my batting, a good day was always met with lots of smiles and backslapping from my friends around me. That was a nice feeling. Equally, on the bad days, those who really counted would show me the compassion and empathy to do better next time.

Their encouragement never changed. That was Cherie.

EOIN CAMERON, CHERI GARDINER, PAUL MURRAY AND SHANE HEALY AT LAMONT'S FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT PAUL MURRAY IS TO TAKE OVER FROM HOWARD SATTLER AT 6PR. Jeff Atkinson
EOIN CAMERON, CHERI GARDINER, PAUL MURRAY AND SHANE HEALY AT LAMONT'S FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT PAUL MURRAY IS TO TAKE OVER FROM HOWARD SATTLER AT 6PR. Jeff Atkinson Credit: Jeff Atkinson/WA News

Silly as it may sound, I have found public speaking to be one of the only things that’s replaced my batting. In both arts, I get well prepared before the event. Before every presentation I get very nervous in the moments leading up to walking on stage. That happens ever time. Just like it did before I batted.

On stage, or on the cricket field, I get off the mark with a run or an icebreaker. Done well, this always eases the nerves.

Then comes the performance. I go to work, and it is not until I finish, that I know whether to pat myself on the back or think of what I could have done better.

Regardless of the outcome or applause, I always take a deep breath and enjoy the pressure valve that’s released after every presentation or innings.

As a batsman, my opening partner was Matty Hayden. He was tall, fit, athletic. We complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We loved playing together and became great friends along the way.

As a speaker, my partner was Cherie Gardiner. She was intensely private, fiercely loyal, elegant, professional and diminutive in stature. Like Matty Hayden, I loved working with Cherie in the corporate world, and we became great friends along the way.

The outpouring of love within her private circles this week has been beautiful, but unsurprising. She would be embarrassed by all the fuss but in my view, no one deserves it more.

As a former radio boss and agent to so many talented presenters and performers, Cherie Gardiner will be terribly missed.

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