Philippa Mathews, the Philhellene: ‘You can’t take Greece out of the girl’

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By Mary Sinanidis

When top model Philippa Mathews’ career was at its zenith, she could be spotted at Super Paradise in Mykonos, Greece living life to the fullest. These days, she’s back in Australia and more likely to be spotted at Mermaid Beach, 17 minutes away from Surfers Paradise in Queensland, speaking Greek to her fox terrier, Daisy.

“She’s bilingual,” Philippa jokes to The Greek Herald.

“When I wake up in the morning, I don’t think in English but in Greek. I think I should have been born a Greek.”

She moved to the Gold Coast in 1997, following the suggestion of her ex-husband, Greek businessman Alexis Theodoridis. She baptised her two sons at St Anna’s Greek Orthodox Church in Bundall and still finds solace as a member of the parish despite her Anglican upbringing.

“Greek Australians are different to most Greeks in Greece, and are more Australian in their outlook,” she says. “Some don’t even speak the language, especially if they don’t have a yiayia.”

Philippa, who speaks fluent Greek as well as French and Italian, tried to teach her own sons the language and would argue at their schools about the importance of teaching foreign languages.

“Life changes,” she says. “Some of us have kids and others don’t, but your thoughts and desires change as you grow.”

She admits that it was easier adapting to the Greek way of life than it had been moving from Greece to the Gold Coast.

“But I adjusted to life here when I became a mum and got into the school routine and made friends with other school mums,” she says. “I went from moda to mana.”

She is happy to have given her sons a charmed life.

“It’s a demanding system in Greece,” she says. “My sons had a beautiful childhood at Mermaid Beach. They spent their life fishing, water skiing and kayaking, though they never were into surfing that much. I tried hard to teach them some Greek.”

Speaking to friends in Greece, she knows how hard it is to raise children.

“Dimitra [Kostaki’s] son plays basketball, and they have to take him to training at 11 at night through to 12.30am, because that’s the only time they have a spare court,” she says.

Her eldest son, Chris Theo, models but also develops apps amongst other business ventures. Philippa still models too.

“There’s no such thing as super models these days,” Philippa says. “For example, since Instagram, the industry has changed. Standards have changed. Now, my height would be a hindrance for a lot of the work though, back then, taller was better.”

Fashion’s heyday:

She remembers the 90s in Greece as “the best era ever.”

A chat with Philippa is like a holiday to the Greece of her heyday when she graced the front covers of iconic magazines and appeared on the world’s fashion runways side by side with other chiselled supermodels.

Despite her Aussie nationality, Greeks cheered her on, claiming her as their own during the 10 years she lived in swanky Kolonaki Square, Athens. In those days, she appeared on Greek talk shows speaking flawless Greek.

The move to Greece came just as her career was taking off in the late 80s when she was convinced by a flatmate to visit Mykonos for six days in 1987.

“I said ‘no, I’m in New York’, but she kept calling,” Philippa explains. “I had to go to Milano and thought I’d pass by Mykonos on my way back to New York. I intended to stay for six days, but I stayed for three months, and then went to Athens to live for 10 years. I was young and crazy, and I stayed and I stayed and I stayed.”

She said she “fell in love with the country, the people, everything.”

“I had a relationship and thought I’d leave when it ended but I didn’t,” she says. “I went to the Greek Hellenic Union and slowly started to speak Greek. I got two different teachers who used to come for private lessons.”

Greek friends helped also. She remembers the crazy capers of her youth with fondness, such as the time fellow model Vicky Koulianou parked on a footpath on Ermou Street.

“I told her not to, but she seemed sure we could, however as we walked away, we saw a traffic inspector writing up fines and rushed back to the car. I thought we’d get a fine, but Vicky told me to pull down my sunnies as he walked over. Instead of giving us a fine, he asked for our autographs to give to his daughter,” Philippa remembers, laughing.

She regularly chats with her cronies and gets very nostalgic.

“You can take the girl out of Greece, but you can’t take Greece out of the girl,” she says.

“Philippa, come back,” they say.

She’s tempted, though she would avoid Mykonos as that is a part of her life that is done and dusted.

“I’d do simple things, like go to a taverna and listen to music or go to Crete to join a guy who is there saving the strays and other animals,” she says. “How can Greeks be so open-minded and kind and still not take care of the strays?”

She admits to missing Greece so much.

“It’s a love-hate relationship with Greece and a love-hate relationship with Australia. My dream would be to be here for six months and six months there,” she concludes.

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