Waleed Aly reveals his "darkest period" on The Project
The Project host Waleed Aly should have been over the moon when he won the Gold Logie back in 2016, but for the star, it was a reminder of the pressure that was to come.
As Australia’s most prominent Muslim figure, Waleed is well aware of the controversy that comes with being in the spotlight.
Although he receives hate mail, abuse and even death threats, he usually doesn’t let it phase him. In an interview with GQ Australia that was done to mark the 10th anniversary of The Project, Aly reflected on just how far he’s come.
“I still definitely feel like an outsider in TV,” Waleed reflected. “I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ where I feel like I’m doing someone else’s job. I honestly feel my personality is wrong for this work. Law and academia still feel like more natural fits. What most excites me is getting to grips with life in those strange, quiet, thrilling moments where a new idea makes the world fall into place.”
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The Project’s executive producer Craig Campbell also spoke about the extra precautions they have to take with the more specific threats that Aly receives.
“When Waleed gets threats, we have extra security, 24-7 if necessary. We walk him to his car. Idle threats or not, we make sure he feels safe. This country is weird. The threats against him may be ridiculous. Police do get involved, security do get concerned. But I take my hat off to him. He doesn’t back off to protect his state of mind.”
However, Waleed is hyper-aware that it’s not “really about him” when he gets sent abuse.
“Everything I do in this job tests my resilience,” he admits. “Many are the moments where I know I have to stick my head in a place where someone’s going to kick it. We live in a culture of outrage. I’ve had certain incorrigible people in the media gunning for me now for close to 15 years. Death threats. Hate mail. It keeps on coming. But the abuse directed at me is really not about me, it’s about them.”
This doesn’t mean he’s not immune to the darkness that comes with his job in the spotlight, with Waleed admitting he’s “been to the edge a few times”.
“Not in the form of clinical depression but certainly I’ve felt pressure so extreme it weighs me down and leaves me unable to work,” he explained.
“The great irony in my case is that my lowest points personally coincide with what are supposedly my greatest professional successes.”
Aly, who gave an emotional tribute to those who died in the Christchurch massacre, a video viewed over 14 million times, was contacted by The New York Times, CNN and BBC for an interview.
But the journalist declined saying, "My instinct is always to remove myself from the story and commercial TV is the opposite – it makes the host the story."
He also shut down claims that say he uses The Project to promote his agenda. "I'm not interested in playing to the gallery or winning approval," he told GQ.
"Ratings are an important calculation in commercial television, sure, but I don't think of the show as a weapon for change, a vehicle for remaking the world or as a platform for imprinting my world-view on anything. It's a forum where issues can be agitated and i try to agitate them responsibly so we perform a service for our audience."