He danced into our lives in Strictly Ballroom (1992), and now the Peninsula’s Paul Mercurio has been appointed a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia for his service to the performing arts, particularly dance. After being notified in December of his award, the distinguished dancer, choreographer, actor, TV presenter, and cook kept the news close to his chest until the official announcement on Australia Day.
“It’s a funny thing,” he says. “Winning an award is lovely. I’m grateful and so honoured to have ‘AM’ at the end of my name. It’s really humbling and fulfilling. When I looked back, I realised that I stepped on stage 47 years ago. So, in a way, I kind of see it as an acknowledgement of my work over the past 47 years.”
It was at age nine that Paul’s passion for dance began after being inspired by Saturday afternoon movies on TV, many of which were classic musicals. “I just remember loving those movies. From then I knew that I wanted to do it too – to get up on stage to sing, dance and ultimately entertain. My sister was doing ballet so I joined her.”
Paul has choreographed more than 30 dance works, contributed choreography to five feature films, appeared in 15 feature films and danced around the world with the Sydney Dance Company. He says he’ll never forget opening night in New York or working alongside Sir Ben Kingsley. In fact, it was while standing beside Sir Ben that he thought to himself he was “now a real actor”. Another highlight was attending the Cannes Film Festival for Strictly Ballroom.
“I’ve been very blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had, but I’ve worked very hard to get them. People often say, ‘Jeez, you’re lucky’, but I’ve worked out that luck means you work your ass off to be at the right place at the right time. As an actor, this accolade really means a lot because often you’d only have success once every 10 auditions.”
It was while working part-time at Red Rooster while studying dance that Paul discovered his love of food. He learnt that if he cheekily put extra food on before closing time, he’d be sent home with enough leftovers to feed his friends, who would be eagerly waiting. He’s had his cookbooks released in eight languages, travelled to 60 countries for cooking, and most recently launched a range of spice rubs for meat.
“I find food creative. I’m a storyteller. I cook. I dance. I act. I choreograph. I’m always creating and in a creative environment. I enjoy bringing things to life. And I feel that food tells stories, so it was a natural direction for me to follow.”
What Paul takes away from this award is the acknowledgment of all the work he has undertaken. If he didn’t need to pay the bills, he says he would happily do it for free. Ultimately, this award is a thank you for putting smiles on people’s faces as well as putting a smile on his own face. Paul’s recent appearance on Neighbours has landed him on our screens again, with more episodes on the way, which is a delight for his fans as well as for him. His cooking show – Mercurio’s Menu – is currently screening on SBS.
“I’m very lucky that a lot of the areas that I work in is following a passion. I’m multi-talented. I’m the jack of all trades but the master of none.”