‘It bothered me that people cared so much about what I weighed’

11 min read
Ricki Lee on the July 12 cover of Body+Soul. Photography: Damian Bennett; Styling: Gemma Keil; Hair: Rory Rice; Make-up: Kristyan Low.

Ricki-Lee Coulter talks to Body+Soul about getting out of iso and back in the studio, being tired of tabloid headlines and why dance empowers her to feel confident, sexy and sensual.

It’s a risky game asking someone to parade around in a leotard after they’ve spent several months in isolation treating themselves to extra servings of pasta and ice-cream. But Ricki-Lee Coulter likes to take risks. In fact, when Body+Soul approached her with the notion of a Flashdance-inspired photo shoot, she came prepared.

“I had my Beyoncé dance tights on,” the musician laughs. “It was just so nice to go into a dance-studio space… it’s a little bit like home to me.” Not even the colour palette – “I mean, white. That’s just cruel!” – daunted the 34-year-old, who is opting to ooze positivity these days.

But Coulter has always been a bubbly personality.

Her Instagram feed alone reveals a host of positive affirmations and lighthearted memes, and then there is her latest single, ‘Last Night’, which she says is “about my husband [manager Richard Harrison] and how he’s my favourite person in the whole entire world – and I love him. My music is always a reflection of where I am with my life. I’m never going to put a song out that doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s harder to write happy, positive, feel-good, uplifting songs… but that is where I’m at.”

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The Australia’s Got Talent host puts her positive attitude down to finally finding that elusive state of balance. “It’s in all areas of my life,” she tells Body+Soul. “It’s balance in every way. It’s not ‘all or nothing’. It’s not like I work so much that I don’t see my friends or I exercise so much that I don’t indulge.”

And after years in the spotlight (she rocketed to fame at 18 on Australian Idol and despite – or because of – her shocking early elimination, garnered a solid fan base and a parade of hits), Coulter has stopped worrying so much about being tabloid fodder. Ten years ago, she underwent a dramatic lifestyle overhaul that saw her lose more than 30kg and go from a size 14 to a size 8. The attention-grabbing transformation, the result of daily gym sessions and cutting out takeaways, angered some who thought she had abandoned her proudly body-positive stance.

“I’ve always been a confident woman,” she explains. “I grew up with women who were like that, who embraced their bodies, loved who they were and loved what they looked like. That’s the example I grew up with, so that’s who I became. I’m still the same person if I wear different clothes or have a different hair colour, or my jeans are a different size. It bothered me that people cared so much about what I weighed or what size I was.”

Years later, her approach to dieting has softened, even more so during isolation. “I love food so much and that’s why it’s important for me to be consistent with my workouts because I like feeling good about myself. I like feeling fit,” she says. And she maintains she has never wavered on her feelings about body positivity – if anything, the stance has only grown stronger. And she was aiming to convey it when she recently teamed up with choreographer Marko Panzic to make YouTube dance tutorials for her 2007 hit ‘Can’t Touch It’, which famously featured in the film Sex And The City 2.

“Dancing makes you feel like you’ve got some weird superpower,” Coulter says. “I think dance helped me be a lot more comfortable in my skin… being able to move my body, and look – and be – sexy and sensual. There are so many fitness programs out there and for some people it’s really daunting. I thought one thing that’s awesome for fitness, but you don’t feel like you’re working out, is dancing. Anyone – any age, any size, any fitness level – can do it.”

And given more than 20 million people have viewed the videos, it seems she’s on to something. “I think people just needed something fun,” she says. Which is good news for her, considering she’s about to release an album of dance-floor bangers to go along with ‘Last Night’.

“That’s where this next phase of music is at for me. I want to make people feel good with my music.”

Coulter has been dancing since she was a child, but only started seeing it in fitness terms when she released her 2012 album Fear & Freedom.

“You’re moving your body in ways that show muscles you don’t even know exist. I mean, I exercise, I work out, I go to the gym, I do weights, I run… I do all these things. But then I go into the dance studio for a few hours and the next day it feels like I’ve never exercised – ever.”

‘Last Night’ by Ricki-Lee Coulter is available to download and stream now.

A running start

Coulter’s approach to diets is simple – food is meant to be enjoyed, but consistency is key. “I will never say no to a cheese platter, a good meal, a good burger,” she says. “I work out and I eat consistently, but I have times where I go, ‘I’m going to have fun this weekend.’ But I don’t do that every weekend.”

As well as crediting dance for transforming her body and mind, she’s also a runner. But despite pounding the pavement for about a decade, Coulter tells Body+Soul she dreads the thought of going for a run. “For me, running is hell. It’s not fun. Even after all these years, I’m not good at it. I struggle. I’m not a natural runner, but I do it because, at the end of it, I feel amazing and I get great results from running,” she says. “Of course, I would rather sit on the couch… but I do enjoy that feeling.”

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