Stevie Nicholson: Always Christmas
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - December 25, 2015 - 9:00am

When he was a four-year-old, Stevie Nicholson was shown on television while watching an Australian Open match at Rod Laver Arena, wearing a Pat Cash headband. The commentators proclaimed that, one day, the young player would himself be performing at the very same center court, bringing honor to his native Australia. That proved prophetic. Less than two decades later in 2007, Nicholson would indeed be front and center to a highly appreciative crowd, not as a tennis player, but as a cast member of the internationally famous Aussie children’s show “Hi-5”. It was his very first tour with the group, which he joined as an understudy when a motorcycle accident seriously injured one of the original cast members, instantly propelling him into the main cast on his first day on the job. Since then, he has become the show’s longest-staying cast member, seen in over 80 countries around the world.

But prior to all that, Nicholson was a sports writer, likewise traveling around the world to cover all the major tennis tournaments, and he was loving every minute of being around kings and queens of the sport he grew up with.

“I love tennis, and was playing four, five hours a day. With tennis, similar to basketball, it’s like there’s got to be a point you’re either all in or you’re not, and for me, I had this burning desire to perform,” said the former writer for Australian Tennis Magazine. “Journalism was an incredible opportunity to stay connected to tennis. You have to have that creative flair to be good at what you do. You have to be able to communicate, listen, and be articulate in how you present your ideas. It was a perfect way to combine the two. It was an opportunity to be articulate about what I was passionate about, and I understood what the players were going through. It was a surreal moment. That was a dream come true. I never thought I’d be doing Hi-5 10 years ago. I was 21 years old in the press room, interviewing Federer. I thought that was going to be the peak of my life.”

In an exclusive interview with The STAR the day after his last performance with Hi-5, Nicholson opened up about his passion for sports, performing for children, and travel, His reveals how his love for life openness to new opportunities has constantly led him from one incredible zenith to the next, such as in this instance 11 years ago.

“After Wimbledon finished, I stayed in London and studied Shakespeare at the RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London). And one of the girls I was studying with – I really didn’t know her – asked what I was doing after. I was planning on going to the US Open. She asked if I wanted to come to Italy.”

Unbeknownst to Nicholson, his classmate was an heiress to the Campari liquor fortune. After a surprising limousine ride to her three-story home in Milan, she invited him to the Venice Film Festival, where he got to rub elbows with another kind of royalty.

“I get tailored and next thing I know, I’m walking down the red carpet with George Clooney! I’m like, my God, it’s crazy. It just put me in the right frame of mind. Just say yes. Say yes to anything, ‘cause you’re going to end up doing weird and fun stuff. It was really cool.”

Skipping the US Open that year, Stevie went home to list down his goals for the next few years. He studied musical arts at Australia’s National Institute, then auditioned for Hi-5. Since then, it has been a nine-year whirlwind where he achieved his other goals, like appearing on television and recording an album. All the while, he has followed his old passion for tennis while developing a new love, basketball.

“I watch basketball every day,” he admitted. “Even in between meetings, I’m sneaking a peak at what’s going on (in the NBA). I’ve got my fantasy basketball going. And this time around in Manila, I got to watch a PBA game.”

On this, the last stop on his farewell tour for Hi-5, he commented on how wonderfully welcoming Filipinos are, so much so that his own parents want to live in the Philippines.

“We tour to a lot of crazy places, but here, everyone is nice, like there’s a very different mentality,” says the author of the new children’s book, “Super Dudes”. “I don’t know what it is, but everyone here sings. Having my family here, they felt the same. At first, it’s overwhelming. But then you’re like, no, it’s incredible. Everyone is so lovely. You see it everywhere. Everyone’s friendly.”

Nicholson recounted how he and his castmates were stuck in three hours of traffic just going from a show at Resorts World Manila to their homebase, Dusit Thani Hotel in the pouring rain. He marveled at the people standing in the rain lining up for public transportation for five hours still being able to smile, day in and day out.

“Just to have that inner fortitude, that everyone’s thankful for what they have, everyone works really hard, but they’re just happy. I don’t know what it is in the water here,” he laughs. “But to be able to say that a country is happy is quite a weird statement; I think it’s pretty true. You must feel it.”

Constantly being on the road has also taken Stevie away from his family, one of the reasons why he has finally decided to move his career in another direction. Besides, he has also felt blessed to have had a job where he got to do practically everything on the show: write, produce, sing, dance and act. And with all that performing, he has also racked up some serious miles on his body, almost as if he were still a full-time athlete.

 “I had problems with my feet earlier this year, and I had a full medical. They said ‘Your body is reflective of a 31-year old footballer: similar damage in your feet and your ankles, because of the jumping that we do. My personal trainer in Australia, he trains Lleyton Hewitt and all the tennis players, and he said my aerobic capacity – because we have to sing while dancing – is that of an elite tennis player. You just use it in different ways.”

One thing that will not change is Stevie Nicholson’s love of life. As generations of children around the world thank him for all the joy he has given them, he continues to face life as a celebration. Whatever else he ends up doing next, with Stevie Nicholson, it will always feel like Christmas.

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