AFL superstar Lance “Buddy” Franklin is back in fashion
AFL superstar Lance “Buddy” Franklin is back, not just doing what he does best – playing football – but also back in the spotlight as a fashion model, looking fit and chic for Aussie menswear label Politix.
This is the third season Buddy has worked with the brand, and the new autumn/winter campaign marks his return to the public gaze after he walked away from football just before last year’s AFL finals series in order to seek help for mental health issues and a mild form of epilepsy.
Today he seems in good form. He has just finished shooting the new-season campaign for Politix the previous day and is enjoying being back training and playing with the Swans.
He won’t go into detail about the mental health issues that sidelined him last September, but he’s happy to talk about getting healthy, training with his team and his home-body lifestyle – a far cry from his party-boy image that invited the wrong kind of media attention in the mid-2000s.
When we chat it’s just a week before the AFL 2016 season kicks off and he’s eager to talk about taking on Collingwood at the SCG in Round 1 on Easter Saturday. (Buddy would kick four goals in the match, helping the Swans to an 80 point victory.)
At 29, he says he’s mentally fit and ready to play the game that stole his heart as a young man in rural Western Australia.
“I am ready for the season ahead, would love to win a premiership but that’s a way off – I really think the best is yet to come,” he says.
Re-emerging as a fashion poster boy for Politix has helped the AFL’s highest-paid, and arguably highest-profile, player ease his way back into public life.
“Doing this campaign has been fun and it’s gotten me away from football for a minute. But footy and Jess are my number ones,” he says. Jess, of course, is his fiance, former Miss Universe (Australia) and now David Jones ambassador Jesinta Campbell.
After the media maelstrom that followed his shock decision to step away from footy last September, it was Jess who bore the brunt of media questions before the couple managed to escape overseas for a five-week break together. “It was nice to get away with Jesinta and get some sunshine,” he says.
He has also recently started to engage with social media again, posting photos of himself and Jesinta together. He says he loves nothing more than spending time with her in the kitchen.
“Jess loves cooking and I try to help out when I can,” he says. “My football training and diet have been the main focus over the past five months and she’s really into healthy eating, so it works for both of us.”
He spent his formative years kicking the footy on the farm against a tin shed before he was offered a sports scholarship to Wesley College in Perth at the age of 15.
He played just one senior game for the Perth Football Club in 2004 before he was recruited by Hawthorn as a 17-year-old in 2005 and moved to Melbourne.
Over the next nine years he emerged as one of the giants of the game, a seemingly indestructible forward and linchpin of the Hawks’ winning streak, kicking more than 500 goals (only the second indigenous player to reach that career milestone)
When the Swans lured him to Sydney after the 2013 season – with an unprecedented $10 million nine-year contract – the deal caused shockwaves at Hawthorn and in Sydney.
By that time he had also gone public with his relationship with Jesinta, after the pair appeared together in the Emirates marquee at the 2013 Spring Racing Carnival.
They quickly became one of Sydney’s most glamorous and most photographed couples, our own Posh and Becks, hounded by the paparazzi from the beach to the Brownlows.
The following year, when he revealed his struggles with mental health issues, Jesinta indicated that the intense media scrutiny on the couple had been a contributing factor, telling one reporter:
“This is something that has required a lot of privacy and, unfortunately, we haven’t really been granted that. I think, looking back on it, yes, it has hindered his recovery and his well-being, and my well-being too, and it’s just really sad that we weren’t given the respect that was needed for it.”
These days the couple are firmly ensconced in Sydney, in their Rose Bay mansion, but Buddy returns to Melbourne frequently to see family and friends. “I was down a few weekends ago, I love it,” he says.
He describes himself as a Melbourne laneways and restaurant guy more than beach-goer, but the big attraction here is family.
When he first moved to Melbourne 11 years ago, his family [father Lance snr and mother Ursula] came with him and they still live here. He has four sisters – the eldest is Bianca Giteau, a professional netballer.
Over the summer and AFL pre-season there was talk that Buddy might not return to football. But he says quitting was never on the cards.
“I have plenty of goals I want to tick off this year,” he says. “The most exciting things are yet to come. I am just focused on one game at a time and being the best I can be.”
For now his main focus is on keeping healthy – mentally and physically. He trains with the Swans five days a week and meets with the team every day.
“I’m keeping focused and it’s really been one day at a time,” he says. “I’ve been eating well, feeling well and being with those I love.”
Crucially, he has shed the party-boy image of yesteryear for a quieter life. “I do a lot of bike riding and weights at the gym. It’s really important for me to focus on this as it’s been key in strengthening me mentally as well.”
He watches what he eats – mostly fish, meat, salad or vegetables. “Diet is very important to me. I have to work out what works and what’s right. I tend to stick with lighter meals and while I love my carbohydrates and pasta, I don’t overdo them,” he says.
“I’ve put myself out there again and I love being involved with a fashion brand like Politix,” he says. “I have another term with them and we’ll see where it goes but they’re a great company and our working relationship comes from a mutual plac
e of respect.”
Buddy first appeared in a Politix campaign in 2014, alongside soccer star Harry Kewell. This latest shoot took six hours, with as many outfit changes to perfect the label’s images for the season. “I really had to try and get that Blue Steel face on, which wasn’t easy,” he says with a laugh.
At 197 centimetres tall, he cuts a striking figure regardless of what he’s wearing but he says nothing makes him feel more confident than wearing a beautifully tailored suit.
“I am bigger than the average bloke so I make sure the fit works for my body shape and I definitely have to feel comfortable in what I am wearing.”
His guard goes up when I ask what advice he would offer to others struggling with mental health issues. But there’s a sense he’s also keenly aware of the expectations on him, as a public figure, to address what is too often a taboo subject.
“I think for me it’s about keeping positive and having people there you are able to talk to,” he says.
“The last six months I wasn’t really able to talk to people because I found it really tough, but it’s about having a great support network around you and letting people know about your circumstances and what you need to get through it.
“At this point I am just trying to keep myself on track and to remain in a good place. Maybe down the track I will be able to talk about it but for now I would prefer to focus on football.”
Buddy Franklin is ambassador for Politix and was photographed for the autumn/winter 2016 campaign
When it comes to modelling, he admits having a model fiance helps – but he won’t say whether she has offered him any camera tipsWhen Buddy crashed Jesinta’s Jeep into four parked cars in Rose Bay in April 2014, the tabloids went crazy.
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