Exclusive: They're four little words that don't tend to evoke feelings of joy: "we need to talk."

Especially not at the start of an eight-hour road trip.

But that's what Toni Pearen said to husband Will Osmond as they headed to his parents' property in Moree.

Much to his initial relief it wasn't a relationship issue, rather to let him know she'd been approached to be on 10's reality show, I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here.

"The funniest thing is Will and all my family's reactions were immediately 'Oh, is Julia Morris not hosting this year?'," Pearen recalls, with a laugh.

"I had to clarify 'yes, she is hosting and they want me to be a contestant'."

Osmond slammed on the brakes and pulled the car over exclaiming "what?"

And so began days of to-ing and fro-ing for the mum-of-two who had never spent more than three days away from son, Lucky 11, and daughter Ever, eight.

The former E-Street star and Australia's Funniest Videos host had largely retired from the public eye when she had her children.

"I barely slept all week," she tells The BINGE Guide.

"The minute my head hit the pillow, my brain would be filled with spiders and snakes," Pearen admits, deciding initially she just couldn't take on the challenge.

She composed a gracious 'thanks but no thanks' email when she got back home to Sydney, but went to bed before hitting send.

The next morning her agent phoned saying the quarantine requirements meant less time away from her family.

 

Toni Pearen is a contestant on 2021 season of 10's I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Picture: Supplied
Toni Pearen is a contestant on 2021 season of 10's I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Picture: Supplied

 

"I had to go to Will and say … 'I've changed my mind'," Pearen says. "There must have been something in the back of my mind that I wanted this kind of challenge. Obviously there was something that was burning inside of me."

Unlike the previous six seasons, this year's episodes has been pre-recorded, with filming wrapping up last month.

It's also not in the jungles of South Africa, rather the tropics of Northern New South Wales, just a stone's throw from Byron Bay.

It's where the Brits have tortured their celebs for years, and the close-ish proximity to her home was another factor that assuaged Pearen's worries.

But there were still plenty of other concerns.

"We don't have family close by, so Will was solo parenting. I wondered whether the kids would eat something green during the entire period of me being away," Pearen laughs. "You know, would their school uniforms be washed?"

Turns out the entire community banded together - including a cook at a nearby hamburger joint sending out broccoli as a side to their burgers.

Pearen set-up a tab at the neighbourhood organic store so the kids could have an apple if they needed one, and she asked the school teachers to give them extra hugs.

"But Will was actually quite happy for the challenge too," Pearen says. "I've been doing a lot of the full-time mumming while he's at work and he was really happy to spend that quality time with the kids."

 

Pictured at home is Toni Pearen. Picture: Tim Hunter.
Pictured at home is Toni Pearen. Picture: Tim Hunter.

 

But more than fears for her family, Pearen hates creepy-crawlies and snakes and is terrified of heights, chickening out of skydiving and bungee jumping if an opportunity ever came up in the past.

"I had major fears even about who was going to be in the camp," she says. "I started Googling I'm A Celebrity Australia and I would go into the rabbit hole. I had a copy of the Miguel (Maestre) Rhonda Birchmore season and I watched maybe an hour and then I didn't sleep the night. It's seriously the most terrifying job I've ever stepped into."

While the 47-year-old obviously can't divulge who her camp mates are ahead of the premiere tonight, clues have included a soap star, blonde bombshell, radio star, singer, comedian, reality TV star, Brownlow medallist, renowned chef and opinionated twosome.

Names thrown into the mix include Dustin Fletcher, Goggleboxers Lee and Keith, Abbie Chatfield, Guy Sebastian and Colin Fassnidge.

Julia Morris says this season has gone next level, and not just for the celebs.

"We have laughed so hard through what can only be described as arduous times," she reveals.

"We've been doing it one way for six years and then changing the way that happened is hard core. We did come into a lovely crew who knew exactly what they were doing, but we'd never met them before. They almost had to get used to [her co-host] Chris [Brown] and I.

It was fun but it's easily one of the most brutal shoots I've ever done."

For Pearen, it's been 30 years since she stepped into the shoes of Toni Windsor on E Street and even she can't quite believe it's been that long.

Toni Pearen at the Logie Awards at Crown Casino in Melbourne in 2003. Picture: Wayne Ludbey
Toni Pearen at the Logie Awards at Crown Casino in Melbourne in 2003. Picture: Wayne Ludbey

"People still talk to me about it like it was yesterday," she says. "I guess the older you get, the more grateful you are, especially knowing you had such a huge impact on people. Now that I'm older and have kids of my own, I realise it's so important that I should always be proud of myself for making historical TV like that."

She's not sure what she hopes will eventuate from her jungle adventure, but is happy juggling the occasional guest spot on Studio 10 and running her acting school, The Talent Co, with fellow E Street alum Raelee Hill since having her children.

"Of course I've been wanting to work in the capacity that works with my family, but I've never been able to visualise exactly what that is," Pearen muses.

"I love to work, I love being on set. I love the call for action and the call to stop. They're all the things I've missed while raising kids."

She becomes introspective when she reveals she's never had time away on her own before, not even a girls' trip.

After 11 years, it was almost a shock to the system to have a week in quarantine isolation ahead of the jungle.

Toni Pearen, who has been on and off our TV screens as an actor and television presenter.
Toni Pearen, who has been on and off our TV screens as an actor and television presenter.

"I took my guitar and I think it was day three, I started writing songs," says Pearen, who reinvented herself as a popstar in the late '90s, releasing the album Intimate, with its top 10 singles, In Your Room and I Want You.

"I just haven't quite had the head space to consider what it is I actually want to do. This was all part of it … to try and figure out what my life looks like working and being a mum.

When we chat, Pearen was in the thick of the Northern Beaches lockdown, forcing the family to cancel their traditional trip to the in-laws in Moree.

Her children were worried that Santa wouldn't know where to leave their presents, as they always spend Christmas at Gran's house.

"I've only just been saying that I've basically been in lockdown for the past few months and now I'm in lockdown again," Pearen says.

"And the way we're seeing out the end of 2020 … it means that 2021 is going to be awesome."

While COVID has clarified what's truly important for many of us, Pearen says she learnt that years ago and that's why she gave up her successful career to be with her family.

"I guess with what's happened this year, it's a case of if an opportunity comes, just say yes because you don't know what's around the corner," she says.

"I asked my old friend Rhonda Burchmore about the jungle and she said 'it's a hell of a lot better than being in quarantine in Victoria for the last six months' and that was definitely a defining moment where I thought 'it's been such a hard year for everyone and this could be just the antidote I need to finish the year.'"

"Now that I've done it, I'm so glad I did it … it's really just been a gift, I've got to say. A gift from the jungle."

* I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here, 7.30pm Sunday, January 03 on 10.

Originally published as Aussie 90s TV star joins I'm A Celebrity cast


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