The Project said goodbye to its sole remaining original host on Wednesday night, with Carrie Bickmore bidding an emotional farewell to the show that, over the past 13 years, has turned her into a Gold Logie-winning household name.
And Bickmore was in a partying mood, greeting viewers with a glass of champagne already in hand at the newsdesk – and wearing a glam red feathered frock.
But with a revolving cast of Project faces joining the desk to pay tribute, things soon turned emotional for Bickmore’s final hour on Ten (she’s leaving not just the show, but the network).
The final minutes of the episode were left to Bickmore to say her goodbyes – and she covered off just about everyone involved with the making of the show, from hair and make-up to security, in a detailed 10-minute speech.
In contrast to colleague Lisa Wilkinson’s recent parting shots at “toxic” media coverage in her leaving speech, Bickmore also thanked “the journos who’ve covered our show – even those who’ve challenged us, thank you. It’s all part of the business.”
But Bickmore broke down as she ended with a story of visiting a children’s hospital and speaking to a young girl who felt sad each night when her mum went home, so would tune into The Project to “feel happier and less alone.”
“I am glad I could keep her company. I hope I have kept many of you company over the years. This has been the greatest job in the world. Thank you,” she said.
As confetti cannons shot out, Bickmore had one final quip: “Is it too late to change my mind?”
Bickmore’s final speech came after glowing tributes from her two core fellow panellists, Peter Helliar and Waleed Aly.
Aly praised Bickmore for all her work behind the scenes making the show “20 times better,” telling her: “You’re just always right with those things.”
Helliar, who leaves The Project next Wednesday, told his colleague: “ You radiate generosity and warmth, and it bounces back to us from the amazing audience. It all starts with you. I cannot wait to see what you do next.”
How the episode played out
Earlier in the show, the first tear-jerking moment came after a package looking back at Bickmore’s incredible efforts raising money to fight brain cancer, following the death of her husband Greg in 2010.
Bickmore struggled to contain her emotions as the cameras returned to the desk.
“I will forever be thankful to The Project but also to our viewers at home for your support and for making our foundation what it is today. We have now raised over $20 million and that would not have happened if it weren‘t for this place, if it weren’t for Greg and it weren’t for you watching at home – so thank you very, very much,” she said.
“It‘s not the end of that project by any means, it is only to beginning,” she promised. And she meant it – going on to reveal the charity was now selling a new limited edition baseball cap to help drive fundraising.
Longtime panellist (and noted Project weeper) Rachel Corbett came next, and the heavily pregnant star couldn’t stop sobbing as she sat by Bickmore on the desk.
“I‘m so sad you‘re going because I have loved sitting next to you for the last six years,” she said, as Bickmore hugged her tightly.
“You are so generous, so kind, such a good performer, so smart and people love you at home because you are the perfect mix of professionalism and realness and you have given so much of yourself to this show,” she continued.
Kate Langbroek then brought some welcome brevity in her tribute – congratulating Bickmore for “summing up the fashions” of the past 13 years, “just with your eyebrows.”
Then it was time for more tears – this time, from the usually curmudgeonly Steve Price.
“You‘re the most impressive person I have ever worked with,” he said, Bickmore giving him a cuddle as he welled up.
“I mean that. You’re incredible – you know that,” he continued.
Fifi Box was another emotional drop-in, revealing that she and Bickmore’s early years as co-panellists had turned into a deep, lasting friendship that extended to the rest of their families.
Later on, Bickmore’s original co-hosts Charlie Pickering and Dave Hughes joined the panel – and Pickering dropped a fascinating insight about the show’s origins.
“You and I were never meant to be hosts on the show,” he reminded Bickmore.
“Hughesy was signed up early, a big star. We were nobody. We were helping with the auditions.”
Pickering said he was going to be a writer and Bickmore a newsreader, when they were asked to do a screen test together at the end of the auditions – and the rest was history.
Bickmore’s departure comes amid a “mass exodus” of The Project’s on-air talent, with fellow host Lisa Wilkinson abruptly quitting the show after five years earlier this month.
In contrast to Bickmore, who gave viewers seven weeks’ warning of her intention to leave the show, Wilkinson announced in the closing minutes of The Sunday Project’s November 20 episode that she’d be quitting – effective immediately.
She blamed “relentless, targeted toxicity” from some sections of the media for her decision to step back from the role.
And another of the show’s longest-running panellists, Peter Helliar, will depart after more than a decade next week. He’ll finish up on Wednesday December 7, and plans to devote more time to other career opportunities.
Amid all that churn, at least one new appointment has been announced for The Project’s 2023 season: Longtime Studio 10 host Sarah Harris will make the move to evenings, joining Waleed Aly on hosting duties on the desk.