It wasn’t just the guy that Matilda Rice got when she went on NZ’s first season of The Bachelor, she also got a new career out of it. It’s no small feat – here’s how she did it.
Celebrity culture in New Zealand is a funny beast. In other countries, being a moneyed socialite, dating an A-lister or having Kris Jenner as a mother is a shortcut to mass adulation, but in little old Aotearoa, unless you’re good at rugby or have reached the dizzy heights of international fame, superstardom is, at best, fleeting.
So how has a 20-something girl next door, who shot to fame on a television dating show, managed to make a career out of, essentially, being famous for being famous?
Three years after winning the heart of The Bachelor‘s Art Green, Matilda Rice has carved a niche for herself as a social-media darling, an advertiser’s dream and a woman who has a veritable army of fans hanging on her every word. If the size of your Instagram following is an indication of likeability, she’s more popular than Rachel Hunter and All Blacks captain Kieran Read.
Yet few people can pinpoint what her job is, to the point even Matilda admits it’s not an easy question to answer.
“If people ask, I say I run my social media and blog full-time,” says the former advertising account manager, adding that her response usually elicits scepticism. “I can always see the look on their faces. It’s like ‘Oh, okay, so not a real job then…’ I don’t think even my family fully understands it.”
The 27-year-old is becoming something of a poster girl for the ‘slashie’ generation of people working multiple roles on their own terms while embracing the latest resources at their fingertips. A list of some of her income streams reads almost like a line-up of prizes for a reality-TV show.
Matilda has become known as the ‘face’ of several major brands, including Maybelline and Ford; has published a book; gets asked to appear at glitzy events and travel to exotic locations. And for something a little more ‘regular’, in January she and Art launched Plate Up – a meal-delivery service targeted at devotees of the paleo diet.
So far, so glamorous, but is it as charmed as all those picture-perfect images of the blonde bombshell and her handsome fiancé frolicking on beaches and quaffing champagne would have us believe?
Arriving at the home Matilda and Art rent and work from in the coastal Auckland suburb of Kohimarama, there’s nothing to suggest they’re living a life of particular privilege.
Several pairs of bashed up trainers are strewn across the doorway of the modest three-bedroom house, and the only hint that the residents aren’t your average young couple comes when NEXT pulls up at the same time as a CourierPost van. The driver hops out, brandishing bulging gift bags filled with wine and beauty products, and confides as she passes, “They get sent a lot of these.”
Inside, the home is stylish without being ostentatious, a slightly vanilla backdrop that’s the perfect foil for Matilda’s natural exuberance. Barefoot and sun-kissed, she certainly looks the part. But it’s when she opens her mouth that you start to see the charm that has won over a nation of people who usually relish embracing tall-poppy syndrome.
Warm, engaging and with none of the reserve that often comes with a high profile, she’s also refreshingly genuine, with a habit of earnestly describing every hurdle as “interesting” or “a learning curve”.
Happy to discuss everything from her naïve approach to appearing on The Bachelor (“I thought I’d be able to control everything”), to stripping off for underwear brand Jockey (“Just the word ‘model’ sounds serious and quite thin)”, no topic is out of bounds.
So it’s quite easy to believe her when she admits that although her life reads like a fairytale – from singleton in a regular job to jet-setting glamour puss swept off her feet by doting hunk – it does come with its challenges.
Her friendships have suffered, as many of her old pals struggle to even discuss her new life, making once easy relationships “a little bit weird and uncomfortable”. Even those apparently happy for her battle when it comes to hanging out with her in public.
“I remember going to an expo with Art and a friend of mine, and she just ended up taking pictures. It was awful – there was a weird dynamic, but I didn’t know what to do about it,” says the former Epsom Girls Grammar student.
As a public figure, Matilda has opened herself up to judgement from strangers, and been reduced to tears by attacks targeting everything from her relationship with Art to her weight. Touching on this topic, Matilda drops her usual breezy demeanour.
“It just makes me sick – some of it is just disgusting,” she says of comments made by online haters. “And it’s not kids doing it, it’s people who are middle-aged. How would they feel if that was their child? They should absolutely know better.”
That peaked in June, when she was inundated with negative messages online during the controversial premiere of Heartbreak Island. She later responded with an emotional Instagram story, telling her followers that the “absolute barrage of hate I got on social media last night and today was like, awful. I felt like absolute sh*t”.
It was one of the first times the golden girl had experienced such a backlash, but Matilda says she has no regrets.
“The social backlash from the launch episode immediately stopped after I addressed it via Instagram, and I was overwhelmed with positive messages. I think after people watched more of the show, they realised they were a little quick to judge.”
But, says Matilda, it hasn’t affected her future plans. “I will continue to make my own career decisions based on what I think is right for me, not what the general public think is right for me.”
Touching on the topic of public attacks before the series had screened, Such people had undoubtedly been waiting for the golden girl of reality TV to trip up, something Matilda admits has happened many times as she has found her feet in the unknown territory of making money out of her own profile.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes – both Art and I have,” she says candidly. “At first I thought all my Christmases had come at once – someone wants to pay me X amount just to post on Instagram, how good is that? But I’ve realised I need to take it seriously. If I’m in a position where people trust me and like what I do, I owe it to them to keep my personal life real.”
Being an ‘influencer’, a term she shudders at (“It comes across as a bit wanky”), does weigh heavily on the girl who dropped out of high school to work as a receptionist at TV company Mediaworks.
“At the start, I had the mindset that I didn’t ask people to follow me; and who says just because you’ve got a lot of followers on Instagram, you have to be a perfect role model?” says Matilda, who never coveted fame as a kid.
“But I’ve realised there are so many young women watching – and they’re impressionable and they take everything as gospel on social media.”
You might not expect someone who went on television to compete with 24 other women for the affections of a complete stranger to have a feminist streak.
But with a zeal inherited from her mum, Di, who has long been vocal on women’s rights, Matilda argues that in taking part in The Bachelor, she was exercising her right to make her own choices.
“I think the epitome of anti-feminism is telling a woman what she should and shouldn’t do,” she says.
Matilda and Art are undoubtedly a power couple, but she’s very focused on building her own identity.
“After The Bachelor, it was really important to show I’m not just somebody’s girlfriend – I’ve got my own interests, my own life,” she says, clearly still uncomfortable with how the contestants on the show were portrayed as “desperate, gawky women screaming over this man”.
Behind closed doors, that determination to be her own woman is evident. Take her decision to have a joint bank account with Art, for example. “I said to him, ‘I’m happy to do it, but I’m not asking your approval for anything. I earn my money and you earn yours. If I want to buy something, I’m going to buy it.'”
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Money is perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of brand Matilda. A year ago, she swapped a salaried job in advertising sales with TVNZ to essentially become an advertising account manager for herself. And although that initially came with a drop in income, she says she now makes more than when she was employed by someone else. Incidentally, it’s still not enough to enable her to purchase a house in Auckland.
“We were thinking about buying last year, but we couldn’t afford anything,” admits the Sydney-born beauty, who estimates she works roughly 60 hours a week, and is often still on her laptop at 10pm.
Of course there are perks, as all those idyllic snaps she has posted for her 145,000 Instagram followers to see attest. Few would turn up their noses at an all-expenses paid jaunt overseas, but such trips do come with strings attached.
“About 90% have been work holidays – which is great, but it does mean it’s on somebody’s else’s terms,” says Matilda. “But we’re pretty good at negotiating a balance.”
That little word ‘negotiating’ reveals the key to her success. Yes, Matilda is charming and she clearly works hard, but she’s also very astute.
“I don’t want to post on social media for the rest of my life”, she says.
She hopes to move into TV presenting, and won’t shut the door on any opportunities. She also hopes to have children in the next few years. The suggestion that starting a family might be a natural time to focus on less personal forms of promotion is met with the observation, “I’m not sure, because the whole market of mummy blogging is massive – it’s this whole new thing.”
Although fans might feel they’ve been with Matilda every step of the way over the past three years, she’s insists she keeps 95% of what goes on in her world to herself. “I’d say about five per cent of my life is on social media – it’s really low,” she says, adding that her wedding early next year will be a fairly private event.
Is the Matootles fairytale just that – fiction? “It does paint a picture of a perfect life, which is so far from the truth,” she says. “But it’s not as if I really want 145,000 people to know if I’m upset. I think that’s natural – people only really want to share the happy and good times.”
She’s certainly not short of those. Matilda is a woman who has found herself in a unique position, and she’s determined not to squander it. She’s seizing the moment and thinking big.
“Really the only limits I have are the ones I put on myself,” she says.
Who doesn’t want to buy into a piece of that?
Words: Cath Bennett
This article was published in Next Magazine.