“I haven’t watched [it] yet, because I am just too frightened,” says Harris, who last year was named joint-Australian Of The Year, alongside friend and fellow Australian cave rescue expert Craig Challan, who was also instrumental in the successful execution of the rescue.
“It’s such a personal interview, and [Anh] is so beguiling, I was really frightened,” says Harris.
Understandable – Do has form. Over four previous series of his popular show, the comedian, author, and now nationally-acclaimed-painter, has managed to get his sitters to open up in ways they no doubt never dreamed they would. Yet they are happy – and willing – to divulge incredibly personal stories, all while he works his magic with a heavily laden palette knife.
“He is so amazing and so endearing, and he’s got that amazing smile that just makes you want to tell him absolutely everything – I actually have very little recollection of the whole interview, because it just went so fast and it was so relaxed!” Harris says.
“Now I’m horrified – what on earth did I say to him? What have I told him? I’m too scared to watch with my wife.”
He needn’t worry. What transpires over thirty gripping minutes is one of the most affecting moments of the series to date. Harris’ story is so raw, so emotional, so utterly, utterly unbelievable, it leaves Do in tears – and will likely do the same for audiences.
“I do still get emotional when I tell the story,” Harris admits. “Especially at the end, when all the kids are safe.
“Often when I’m doing talks, I’ll show pictures of one of the boys in particular. I can’t look at that kid and still not feel emotional about what happened… it brings home to me what was at stake in that rescue effort.”
It’s not overstating things to say the lives of each and every one of those boys lay squarely in Harris’ hands. The chances of the boys surviving the ordeal was infinitesimally small, something the doctor discusses with Anh.
“To me the idea of walking away from those boys, and leaving them to die this terrible and very slow death, was completely unacceptable,” Harris says. “For them to die under anaesthesia, asleep, seemed very black and white for me – that was a preferable option.
“The risk for me if I did that – at least morally and personally, not physically, but from the point of view of my mental health or my career, or my life from that point on – the risk to me was very high. But the risk for me to just walk away would have been higher, I think. So that made the decision easy, if you like.”
Harris is truly a hero – though the mantle sits uncomfortably with the married father of three.
“I am cynical enough to think it’s very easy to be a ‘hero’, and someone that people recognise when things have gone very well,” he says. “But with the same intent, the same courage, and the same skills, all those children still could have died and the media may have judged me as the ‘Doctor Death of Thailand’, or something similar…
“I think the real heroes of that whole event are those children. They were extraordinary. And they are the definition of courage and resilience, from my point of view.”
Anh’s Brush With Fame returns to ABC, Tuesday, August 4, 8pm.