THE day that journalist Amber Sherlock’s world up-ended began like any other. She cleaned up the aftermath of her two-year-old’s breakfast. She changed nappies, tripped over toys, and cajoled little arms into little T-shirts.
Then she kissed two little foreheads and went to work. As she monitored stories and read scripts, a colleague came over and said, “Hey, I have just seen this pop up.”
“This” was a video on media site Mumbrella showing Sherlock having a terse off-air exchange with reporter Julie Snook, in which she commanded a defensive Snook to fetch a jacket because they were both wearing white.
As Sherlock watched it for the first time, her heart in her mouth, the leaked footage was already going viral.
The 41-year-old arrived at work an afternoon news presenter, and left an internet sensation. “It was quite phenomenal, it really was the eye of the media storm,” she tells Stellar.
For five days, Jacket-Gate, as it was dubbed, was the talk of Australia. It crossed borders and date lines, even bobbing up on comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late night chat show in the US, which is watched by around 2.4 million people.
Columns were devoted to raking over the nuances of Sherlock’s behaviour. Trolls swarmed. Talkback callers put in their two cents. Sherlock had joined a small and unenviable club: she had become a viral villain.
“One moment I am just doing my job, and the next I am in every newspaper, on every social outlet,” says Sherlock, who has not spoken about the incident until now. “It felt almost surreal.
“At first I thought, how silly. But when it really escalated, and I was trolled on social media, it really started to get nasty. I was absolutely mortified, and, of course, hurt. I think I’m a kind, generous person. I am a mum, I have a family. And I was devastated. I am only human at the end of the day, and I think people forget that.”
Wednesday, January 11 was an insufferably hot day in Sherlock’s hometown of Sydney. The mum of two took her kids to the beach that morning, but admits it was a bad idea.
“The heat was getting to us, we were all hot and bothered,” she says. They went home, and Sherlock left her children Piper, six, and Zac, two, with her parents when she went to work, which, for the past nine years, has been as a journalist for the Nine Network.
She gets to work at 11.30am, fronts Nine News Now at 3pm, then presents the weather on Sydney’s Nine News bulletin at 6pm. Sherlock loves spending the mornings with her kids, but they don’t always run smoothly.
“Like any mum, I am sometimes tired or have a bad day, but I try to leave it behind,” she says. “We did the show that day, the incident happened, and then I went on and did my weather that night and went home.”
The “incident”, captured in the now-famous leaked video, was sparked by an unhappy coincidence; Sherlock, Snook and guest psychologist Sandy Rea all fronted a three-woman panel dressed in what appeared to be white.
Off-air, but on-camera, Sherlock told Snook to get a jacket. Snook said she’d been too busy, and suggested that rather than fetch one, she should not appear on the panel at all. There was a terse stand-off before the cameras went live and all three women slapped on a smile.
Viewer consensus was the video showed Sherlock in a bad light. “Someone who works behind the camera at Ch 9 hates Amber Sherlock,” wrote a Twitter user. “Producers of #ImACelebrityau, you can’t, you mustn’t, go past Amber Sherlock … She mean,” wrote another.
In hindsight, Sherlock admits she could have handled the situation better. “I am the first to put up my hand and say that for whatever reason — I was stressed, I was tired, I possibly overreacted, there are better ways to deal with it.”
“It was a live-TV environment. Things aren’t always perfect. You don’t have time to have a cup of tea and talk something through, you just don’t have that luxury. What’s done is done.
Julie was fine with it, I was fine with it. Everyone has their opinions, but if you look at the tape, I feel everyone massively overreacted. It was two female colleagues talking in an abrupt way because we were on deadlines.
“There was no hidden agenda, there was no backstory, it was what it was.”
Sherlock says she and Snook put the incident behind them straight away. Neither had any inkling of the storm to come. Even when her colleague alerted her to it online, Sherlock didn’t think it was a big deal.
“People love water-cooler stuff,” she says. “[I thought] ‘Someone has posted it on there for a laugh.’ Honestly, I thought that was it. Julie thought that was it. We had a laugh about it.”
A few hours later, it wasn’t so funny. Journalists began calling Sherlock, asking for comment. Her name was trending on Twitter. The Nine Network’s publicity department stepped in, and Sherlock called her husband, Chris, who was at the hardware shop.
“I said, ‘I think we could be in for an interesting few days,’” she says. “He will never forget that.”
Chris Sherlock was worried for his wife. “When you look back on it now, no one really knew where it was going to go,” he tells Stellar.
“It was one of those things that evolves as the hours go by. What I kept trying to say is, like any news story, it will pass. The thing for me was to make sure I was there to talk her through.
As horrible as it was, there were two young kids running to the front door when Amber got home — we had to try to keep it real.”
“For me, being a mum put it into perspective more than if I hadn’t been,” Sherlock says. “Before you are a mum you are working, and your career is everything.
“When you have children, [you realise] it is very important, it gives you a lot of satisfaction in life … but it isn’t everything.”
But even as Sherlock continued to go to work each day, the story was kicked along by opinion writers dissecting its broader meaning — and it refused to die.
“Just stop with the misogyny onslaught that is #Jacketgate,” implored one. “Amber Sherlock’s all-white controversy says more about TV than women,” declared another.
Some argued it was a case study in how not to talk to colleagues. Others said Snook should have just grabbed a jacket.
The story ran for five days, from Thursday until early the following week. It was a rollercoaster for the Sherlock family, who occasionally felt buoyed by a supportive column, or calls from friends.
There were lighter moments, too, such as when the video aired on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “It was quite funny the way they clipped it up,” Sherlock says. “That was one of the things I wasn’t offended by — I have a sense of humour.”
The darkest moment came when Sherlock took the children to a weekend birthday party. The family were forced to dodge paparazzi as they walked to their car. “My daughter knew that something wasn’t right,” she says.
“She said, ‘Mummy, why do they want to take photos of us?’ I said, ‘They want to put us in the paper or a magazine.’ She said she would quite like to be in a magazine. I told her we might do it one day, just not today.
“I was so grateful that my children were young enough that they didn’t understand. It gave me the tiniest insight into what a celebrity must have to go through every day. And I don’t envy them one little bit.”
Twenty two years ago, Sherlock faced a fork in the road. One path led to a ski instructor’s job in Canada. The second involved taking a punt on a bloke she’d met at a bar in North Sydney. She took the offer and she and Chris have been together ever since.
Chris, who works in advertising, remembers the night that he and a 19-year-old journalism student found themselves at the same table. “Amber was very outgoing,” he says.
“I guess she had a sparkle in her eye, she was talking about great adventures, she was very enthusiastic. I could tell she was going to be great fun to be around.”
They lived together in Canberra and London, then settled in Sydney. Sherlock, who was originally a finance journalist, began working on Nine’s business desk in 2007.
Six years ago, she was 34 weeks pregnant and reading the news on Weekend Today when her waters broke mid-bulletin. “I didn’t tell anyone, all my crew were men that day,” she says.
“I had this amazing amount of calm. I did my last bulletin, I stood up, and I told my senior news producer that I had to go to hospital. I turned up with a face full of make-up, complete with false eyelashes.”
Piper, now six, is a sensitive little thing. “She is just like my husband,” Sherlock says. “Wise beyond her years. Piper picks up on a lot, in contrast with my son, who is crazy and energetic and bounces off the walls. He tests me, but he has a twinkle in his eye.”
When Jacket-Gate first erupted, Sherlock had support from her family, her friends and her bosses at the Nine Network, but it was her husband who cleaned up social-media accounts so she didn’t see the comments, and “put things back in context when my mind went to dark places”.
“We are best friends,” Sherlock says. “We have been through a lot together. He kept reminding me that we have two amazing children, we have a great family, we have a great life and, at the end of the day, that’s what counts.”
Chris says he is proud of the way his wife handled herself during the fallout. “Amber is a very strong person,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there who might judge, but it’s hard unless you know who she is.
“I imagine a lot of people would have fallen in a heap. But Amber had the strength to go, ‘I need to go to work tomorrow. This is what I do for a living, they expect me to be at work, this is what I will do.’”
Two months after the video went viral, other scandals involving other people have arisen, yet the story continues to bob up, most recently in a false magazine report that Sherlock is suing her employers.
A Nine spokeswoman says the person who leaked the footage has been dealt with internally. At the time of going to press, that person’s identity had not been publicly revealed.
Sherlock tells Stellar she doesn’t know who it is, and doesn’t want to. “I don’t think anyone did it maliciously. I just hope that for whoever did do it, it was a bit of fun and harmless. I have to think that, because you want to have faith in the people you work with.”
She agrees with those who argue that the wider reaction to the video contained an element of sexism; if they had been three men, it wouldn’t have attracted so much attention, and if viewers were not so preoccupied with what women wear on television, perhaps three white tops would not have mattered.
“I do think there is a double standard,” Sherlock says. “I think there is an element of sexism that’s entrenched in society for it to be perceived like that. I can only hope that in 10 years when my daughter is finishing school it will be a very different environment.”
Jacket-Gate transformed Sherlock from a familiar face into a household name, but only time will tell whether that was for better or worse.
“I have worked very hard in my career for 20 years, and I will be mortified to think this is what people might remember me for,” she says.
“I have given up so much — I’ve done shift work, I’ve missed Christmases, I studied so hard. [So] I hope it’s not — I hope my body of work is what I am remembered for.”
Photography: Tim Hunter
Styling: Marina Afonina
Hair: Anthony Nader
Make-up: Charlie Kielty
For more stories from Stellar, click here.
Originally published as ‘I was mortified’: the woman in white speaks out