I’ve finally learnt how to balance my career and relationships

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Wogs out of Work’s Nick Giannopoulos, 54, in a relationship.

My mother, Petroula, migrated to Australia from Greece in 1961, at age 19. She was the youngest in her family, boarding a liner, the Patris, and sailing to Fremantle before docking at Melbourne. 

Mum worked as a machinist in the Flinders Lane sweatshops, slaving away on sewing machines with hundreds of other women. She worked 18 hours a day and saved enough money to bring out her five brothers and four sisters.

I remember asking Mum when I was around six to buy me a football jumper. We were living in Richmond at the time and my parents ran a milk bar on Lennox Street. I told her I wanted a black and yellow jumper for the Tigers. She didn’t know what I was talking about. When I got home she said she’d bought me a red and black one. I’ve been an Essendon supporter ever since. I wore the jumper to school and got bashed for it – and all for the sake of saving a dollar.

When I started high school in 1975 I really wanted a pair of Levi’s jeans – they were popular at the time. Mum insisted she could make me a pair. She found an old Levi’s label and put it on the back of a pair of my trousers. They looked like parachute pants and the girl I really liked at school, Gina, never talked to me again. 

My celebrity crush was Suzi Quatro. I bought her first album and loved her as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. She wore leather and was hot. 

My family travelled to Greece in 1979. It was Mum’s first time back to her mountain village after 18 years. I remember seeing old Greek women coming out of their tiny homes and whispering “Petroula”. They all recognised my mum and started screaming. It was very emotional for everyone, especially Mum seeing her mother after all that time. My grandmother, Ourania, looked at me and said, “Come in, I’ll make you some food.”

I have one sister, who is named after my grandmother. She is a lot younger than me. We bonded more as adults as by the time she was a teenager I had moved out of home. 

My mum and sister have amazing instincts. They are aware of things days before my father or I notice. The women in my family can read people well. They are more observant of people’s emotional state, too.

My family moved north to suburban Fawkner when I was starting primary school. Dad had a job at Ford, so to be closer to his work we left the inner city.

I noticed a blonde, blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon girl for the first time at that new school. Until then, every woman I knew had dark hair. The girl I liked called me a wog and I didn’t even know what that was. I asked my teacher, who was not happy about it. The girl got into trouble and hated me even more after that.

Around 1970, my parents bought a milk bar in Fitzroy. My first kiss was behind the shelter shed at Abbotsford Primary School with a cute Italian girl. She gave me a peck on the mouth – I was petrified – then ran away. I was like, “What was that?” My mates asked what happened. I said I didn’t know. The boys teased me for having girl germs. 

I was always the guy in the school yard who’d make everyone laugh. If you were funny, girls would pay attention. I didn’t know how to break out of being the joker and become serious, though. 

I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was 17. She was Australian and two years older than me. The best thing is she had her own car. Being driven around by this gorgeous girl felt like the coolest thing ever. 

I spent 15 years on the road between 1987 and 2002, focusing on my career. I didn’t stop. My relationships suffered as a result. I’m in a much better place now.

I got close to marriage a few times, but again the touring came first. Do I have regrets about some of those relationships? Sure, but if I didn’t put my work first I wouldn’t have succeeded. It took me seven years and 40 drafts of The Wog Boy movie script before it was shot in 1999. It’s not an overnight thing.

Mary Coustas and I dated for five years in our 20s. We played cousins on my TV show, Acropolis Now, and it was a bit awkward. We were incredibly close and are still very good friends, but it was five intense years of doing everything together. The best thing was meeting her and supporting each other through those formative years of our careers. She was such an inspiration and I feel blessed to have met such a strong woman.

I met my partner, Natalie [Neville, aka DJ Femme], at a party in St Kilda. We’ve been together for 18 months. She reckons I can charm the pants off anyone. 

She didn’t have a clue who I was when I met her. It was great because it allowed me to be myself. She has copped a lot of flak being a female DJ, but I’m proud of her: she’s tough and can stand up to the sexism. I like that about her. She’s warm, understanding and a good human being. 

Wogs at Work is on at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, from August 31 to September 23, and at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney, from September 28 to October 8. 

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