Podcast hosts Zara McDonald and Michelle Andrews exclusively chat about how rejection drove them to start a business, launch a podcast and end up heralded as the very honest voice of their generation.
You’re close friends as well as business partners who co-host the successful pop-culture podcast Shameless. Has that ever caused any drama between you?
Zara McDonald: We’ve had to create this relationship where we can be brutally honest and have no personal attachments to our disagreements. It’s a unique bond that you have to really nurture and be very respectful about. It’s a pretty difficult thing to do; I don’t know many people who would be able to do it. And I don’t have any other relationship like it in my life.
Michelle Andrews: We talk all day, every day. We love talking and we have since we met. We’re genuinely great friends. I think our friendship is the heart of the show. We adore each other’s company.
You both live in Melbourne – how has that been with the lockdowns over the past 15 months?
MA: It’s been really tough! We launched our book The Space Between in stage-four lockdown last year and did all of the press and book tour from separate rooms. We’re also classic extroverts; we crave the company of other people, and feel the most “ourselves” in a busy room, so to be relegated to the confines of our apartments has been tough on our minds.
ZM: I agree with that. You try not to dwell, because if you did, it would be hard to get up every day and keep working and moving. That said, we’ve been very, very, very lucky to be able to work from home and keep the business rolling. We’re incredibly grateful for that.
For your new podcast, The Books That Changed My Life, you interview influential people about stories that inspire them.
ZM: The concept sounds far more highbrow than it is. People can get intimidated when thinking about what books changed their life. But it doesn’t have to be really smart; it can be any story. We’ve got books from Twilight to books I’ve never heard of before.
Do you have a favourite memory or anecdote from interviewing a high-profile guest?
ZM: We interviewed Julia Gillard remotely while in lockdown last year, and despite the internet cutting out no less than four times and losing the first 12 minutes of audio, it ended up being the most delightful chat. She was a delight.
MA: And as crappy as that lockdown was, it helped us get remarkable people. People had nothing better to do than chat to two 20-somethings on their pop-culture podcast; we were lucky enough to sit down with not just Julia, but also Bollywood and Hollywood actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, which was a big pinch-me moment.
You pitched the idea of the podcast to the media outlet you were working for at the time, but they knocked you back.
ZM: We knew it was a good idea, but not a unique enough idea for no-one else to take it. We pursued the podcast outside of work hours and within two or three months, we realised that in order to take it seriously, we needed to leave our jobs. So we did. And we’ve never looked back.
I felt like in Australia there weren’t many people or outlets that were taking women seriously. There wasn’t anything for young women like us, and we wanted to create it.
MA: The rejection [was] the best thing to ever happen to our careers because it meant we could decide how the podcast sounded from the first episode. I look back on that rejection, and as much as it hurt at the time, it was the best possible thing that could have happened to us.
Given your success since that rejection, do you feel vindicated?
MA: Lots of young women are told they shouldn’t [pursue something] or are given the impression their ideas aren’t worthy. That’s been vindicating on a personal level: following our gut and doing it anyway.
It’s not about what other companies go out and do, it’s the fact that our podcast worked. I’d hope that all young women who have an idea they believe is good and are told “no” will go out and try.
Zara McDonald and Michelle Andrews’ new podcast The Books That Changed My Life is available on the LiSTNR app.