Triumph over towering odds
His grandmother reckoned Ian “Lofty” Fulton should have just stayed at home and be locked away from the world.
But for better and worse Fulton, the Australian-based voice-over artist who was born with achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism) had other ideas. Despite suffering from a condition that results in the shortening of the arms and legs and enlargement of the skull, Fulton has flourished. And he grew to be taller than expected, reaching 142cm.
Born in Launceston, Tasmania, on April 7, 1964, to a nervous mother and a father who was a gambler with a drinking problem, Fulton had a difficult childhood, but he put all that behind him.
In recent years he has been narrator of MasterChef Australia and millions of viewers in 180 other countries have regularly heard his beguilingly deep voice. But chances are most have no idea of the story behind those dulcet tones.
Written with the assistance of Fulton’s friend Nicole Partridge, this illuminating memoir canvasses how his grandmother was ashamed of him and how, at school, he was bullied and belittled. This left Fulton feeling he never could be good enough as a person, particularly as a man, let alone achieve professional and personal success and a meaningful life of love and work.
When he had told his mother he was regularly abused as “Pumpkin Head”, she unhelpfully recited the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Really? “Just ask anyone who has been on the receiving end of excessive name-calling and bullying, and they’ll tell you it’s rubbish,” Fulton writes. “It hurts like hell.”
But in other respects his mother was very helpful, especially in encouraging him to try to work in radio. Thus, despite having the odds seemingly stacked against him, at 17, shortly after his voice broke, Fulton had the chance to work in radio — first at 7LA in Launceston, then at 7BU in the port city of Burnie. As Fulton puts it: “Landing (that) job was a validation of my self-worth.”
Although he suffered from periodic episodes of depression and anxiety, his growing success, especially as a voiceover specialist in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, enabled him at 28 to move to freelancing. As well as working for some of our biggest names in advertising, including McDonald’s and Toyota, he has been the promotional voice for many TV and radio stations including Sydney 2GB’s station and branding voice since 2002.
Fulton explains that if ever there were a medium where he could shine — not as a circus act but as somebody who’s appreciated for their talent — it’s radio.
He puts it thus: “In my soundproof studio behind the microphone and out of sight, there were no height restrictions, no judgment about my appearance. I never felt like a freak.”
The front cover of his autobiography is very cluttered, but fortunately this is not indicative of the book as a whole. In fact, this fascinating tale of vulnerability, struggle, personal redemption and high achievement is simply written and carefully crafted. It’s a poignant and heartwarming story.
Actually, as well as humorously referring to his height, Fulton chose as the title for this book ‘Lofty: My Life in Short’ precisely because each of the 36 short stories that comprise it are threads woven together to form a rich tapestry.
It’s particularly revealing reading about his continuing battles with the demons of mental illness and his ultimately successful struggles with addiction, in particular his problems with compulsive gambling.
In regards to the latter, the role in his recovery of St Vincent’s Hospital’s gambling treatment program, plus Gamblers Anonymous and other 12-step groups, is hugely significant. But at the same time, Fulton says, he sometimes still suffers from clinical depression, suicidal thoughts and general anxiety disorder, which he usefully describes as “a beast unto itself, and an unwelcome intruder for someone in the prime of life”.
Fulton says his partner, Helen, is the love of his life, followed closely by their delightful cats and dogs. Indeed he pays tribute to the unconditional love of animals as something to treasure and nurture, and as a bulwark against the sometimes stormy seas of life.
Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 40 books, including a memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’.
The Weekend Australian, June 1-2, 2019, review, Books, p 23.