Grounded but ready to launch
She’s ridden a horse across African streams bareback, knowing too loose a grip on her mount’s mane could see her spill into crocodile-infested waters. She’s skydived, paraglided and pulled g’s on a fighter jet. Rafted in violent rapids in Uganda and trekked for mountain gorillas. Signing up to anything that will “make her feel alive”.
But nothing could have prepared Sophie Falkiner for the terror she felt earlier this year, while on location in North America for the show she’s long been the face of – Luxury Escapes.
“I was flying from San Francisco airport to Canada, it was a Sunday morning not a cloud in the sky, but I had a really bad feeling as I walked down the gangplank,” she tells Peninsula Living.
“Right after we took off, an ear-splitting alarm went off inside the cabin. We started smelling smoke, and then smoke started filling up the cabin.
“The air hostesses were looking out over the wings thinking that the engines were on fire. The plane took a sudden drop, so we turned around and touched down to a screeching halt.
“But then they were scared that the plane could blow, so they’re screaming at us over and over to evacuate and drop our bags.
“I was up the front half of the plane, but the bottom half had to jump off the wing, which was an eight-foot drop onto concrete – the slides didn’t come out.
“There were people having panic attacks, there were broken bones, there were ambulances and fire engines littering the runway. It was pretty traumatic.”
By the time Sophie had white-knuckled her way back to Sydney via three more flights, and then bear-hugged her two kids, a part of her was relieved to hear COVID-19 was grounding international flights.
Of course, the flipside to that was she couldn’t travel any longer for her show. Like so many connected with the travel industry, her future became unclear.
Inspiring Aussies to get out and see the world, or just more of their own backyard, has been Sophie’s wheelhouse for many years now, with stints on Sydney Weekender, The Great Outdoors and most recently Luxury Escapes.
She also hosted entertainment news program Confidential and has been a favourite fill-in anchor and guest option for a raft of shows including Sunrise, The Morning Show, Kerri-Anne and Mornings.
Arguably, still her most recognisable role, mostly because it made her the nation’s pin-up TV beauty, was being the glamorous letter-turner on Wheel of Fortune.
“There were about 40 girls, who’d flown in from all over Australia,” she recalls, of her Wheel of Fortune audition.
“A lot of them have worked on other game shows like Sale of the Century and Family Feud, and I recognised them all, while I was just a nobody studying journalism, being a nerd, living in the library for the last three years.
“Anyway, I remember being in the green room and watching all the girls on the monitor, trying out, and all of them were missing the letters and I was thinking, ‘It must be harder than it looks’.
“So, I thought, ‘What can I do so I don't miss any?’, and every single time a letter came up you heard a ‘ding’. So, I told myself not to walk to the other side until I heard the ding – if there’s four letters, make sure there are four dings. I didn’t miss one letter in the end, and I think that’s why I got the gig,” she laughs.
But back to the present, and as we chat at a Mona Vale café, Sophie – laptop in tow – explains she’s been working on several projects since the show’s COVID-forced suspension. She’s been able to take stock during her time at home in Bayview, and pursue some her “true passions”.
She’s co-founded a company with a girlfriend called Jumpstart Media, which will teach essential TV skills, like public speaking and presenting on camera, building clients’ confidence in the process.
She’s also looking into releasing her own range of supplements, with evidence-based ingredients, specifically for women.
And last but certainly not least, Sophie’s returning to the world of modelling, linking up with mature modelling agency Silverfox Management Group.
“Their only specification is that you have to be over 30! Which is refreshing,” she says.
“Diversity is key for them, which I adore. All the men and women come in different ages, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities, so it’s a very good representation of what you actually see when you walk out your front door.
“More and more people want to see women in their forties and fifties modelling face cream rather than wrinkle-free schoolgirls. They’re sick of the ‘BS’ and they want real. They want to see themselves represented.”
Just as it was in the 90s, we’re sure women of all ages would love to see themselves as Sophie Falkiner.