I have spent the last week with the Wood family entourage. I was there every step over the weekend, so I know what was said, and the reasons behind the actions they took. This is an honest account of what happened - not colourful spin from a bunch of advisors, sitting behind a computer, a thousand kilometres away.
On Friday the Herald Sun printed an article mentioning there would be police presence at the pageant. The issue had also gained the attention of the Child Protection Commissioner, who declared he would go along to keep watch over events. I’m not sure what good that was going to do. For the best part of a week Mickie Wood - Eden Wood’s mother - had declared this Australian Pageant would not be held in the ‘glitzy style’ seen on Toddlers and Tiaras. It would be a fun, family event.
Mickie and her manager Heather Ryan had received a death threat prior to coming to Australia. I can assure you, they were very concerned about that threat. It was a constant point of worry, and when I was in Texas with the family, we discussed many times whether the tour should be cancelled.When the Victorian Police said they would go to the event, and the Victorian Premier called for angry parents to be sensible, Mickie and Heather decided Eden would sit out the meet-and-greet on the Friday. It wasn't the pageant, which would still go ahead the following day. They didn’t see Eden's absence as being a problem, as the safety of their client and child would always come first. No parent, spin-doctor, or producer could argue with that.
In plans made before Saturday, we had organised a shop across the road from the pageant where Eden could rehearse and get her make-up done for the event. She was never going to compete in the pageant. Eden was there to perform, and as an additional drawcard for the Pageant organisers to get media coverage. And that’s where the threads started to come loose for Channel Nine, who had signed up and backed the Pageant organiser, Annette Hill.
The entry fee was $395 per child. If you wanted a photo signed with Eden, that was an extra $50. This is an entry fee decided by the pageant, and not the Wood family. Although the Wood family was the only reason the pageant made headlines in the first place, they have told Today Tonight they haven’t actually seen any money from the event. Not a dime.The issue became a very murky one for A Current Affair when Annette promised a swag of things to paying customers that she couldn’t deliver. As a result, you have a whole bunch of disappointed kids, mums and dads, because they didn’t get what they paid for. Not a good look for the Pageant, and hard to gloss over for Channel Nine.
I’m told the event was chaotic and highly unprofessional. Names were spelt wrong on trophies, lucrative prizes promised prior to the event, like laptops, never eventuated. It’s the kind of scam you'd expect to see A Current Affair report on, not be associated with.The other problem for A Current Affair is that the organiser has already left the country. We at Today Tonight are getting emails from angry parents and professionals - like makeup artists who worked for the Pageant, yet haven’t been paid for their time. Massive problem for Channel Nine - they're endorsing an event that doesn’t pay its way. How do they defend this?
Now back to the dramas of Saturday: Heather and Mickie wanted to do a survey of the event to ensure security was in place at the venue. What they faced when they arrived was an abrupt organiser who was left red-faced from the night before, because of the Woods’ ‘no-show’. She made it clear the manager was not welcome to the event.
Something you should know about Heather is that as Eden's manager, she travels everywhere with the family. She films and sells Eden's performances for a fee, and that’s how she earns a very modest living. There isn't a lot of money in pageants. This had been agreed to by the pageant organiser in America, but due to her Channel Nine $20,000 pay cheque - she reneged on the deal.When it became known Heather would not be welcome, Mickie and Heather decided Eden would not appear. Heather told me at the time she could not guarantee the welfare of her client. A fair point, considering the death threat and hype. There’s nothing controversial about that, and you might even call it sensible.
We thought we’d go back to the shop across the road, to let the situation calm down, but the media got wind of where we were, and wouldn’t leave the family alone. And now comes the grubby part.
Eden was disappointed she couldn't meet her fans. At the same time, Channel Nine were so desperate to get a shot of Eden for their story, it was decided by their former bureau chief that he would send his very own wife, with their two young kids in tow, to try and sneak a few shots a of Eden. The plan was they would act as Eden fans, but the plan had a major problem.
If the kids liked Eden, wanted to be there, and were excited, the set-up would have gone smoothly. From where we stood, however, they were stunned - and I don’t mean not star-struck stunned. They simply had no idea what was going on. I’ve seen hundreds of Eden’s fans in American and Australia - these poor kids just didn’t have the slightest idea who Eden Wood even was.
I feel sorry for the wife, she was shaking like a leaf, and clearly very uncomfortable at being thrown in to do the dirty work for A Current Affair. Feeling sorry for her, I told the cameraman not to film the greet. Later I read somewhere that the show’s producer said we wanted the kids badly, to make it look like we were at the event. To that I say: Rubbish, and not filming it proves that.I didn’t want it on tape because it was embarrassing for the family. Afterwards, when the Channel Nine producer smugly told our staff she was his wife, it put a really grubby and desperate slant on the event.
Fancy using your own kids as pawns to get a couple of shots. It just ain’t worth it, and you'd expect better direction from A Current Affair's executive producer, who has a young family himself. I'm still shocked by the grubbiness of it, and I’m not the only one.Ten News, Nine News, The Herald Sun and The Age all respected the Wood Family the entire weekend. Sure, they were disappointed they didn't get Eden when they wanted her, but at least they didn’t stoop to the depths of desperation of A Current Affair, the kind of behaviour that gives us all a bad name.
The upshot, in all of this, is that Eden has had the time of her life. She got to kiss a koala, pat a kangaroo, sing to a live audience twice, and meet many of her fans.
The Sunday free show was a chance for the people let down by the pageant fiasco to get a photo, watch Eden perform, and talk to the pageant princess. I say ‘free’ because that’s the difference between the Channel Seven event, and the A Current Affair-sponsored Pageant. Unlike the Channel Nine-backed Universal Royalty Pageant, where parents were expected to hand over $50 for a photo with Eden, the Today Tonight concert on Sunday was a 100 per cent free event. Fans could mingle, chat to Eden, and have a photograph with her at no cost.It must be said that at no point did anyone from Today Tonight or Seven tell the Wood family Eden couldn't perform or attend the pageant.
To Eden, it’s all a fairytale and to her mum’s credit, Mickie, she's kept her away from any of the controversy. At no point did Mickie allow Eden to hear conversations concerning safety threats, or any of the pageant dramas.
And Mickie, as she left the country today, wanted the Australian parents who feel duped about paying a fortune for something they never got, to understand that she herself hasn't received a cent for the Pageant. My guess is that this is a sad story, which will be echoed by a lot of people involved in the event in Melbourne. More headaches for A Current Affair, and much more work for the spin-doctors.
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