Celebrity chef Matt Golinski has opened up on the devastating moment he was told his wife and three children had died in a house fire which left him with burns to his whole body and lying in a coma for two months.
On Christmas night in 2011, Matt’s wife Rachael and three daughters were tragically killed when their home was engulfed in flames in the early hours of the morning. Matt heroically attempted to rescue them, but sadly succumbed to the smoke and flames – barely surviving himself.
Now, speaking in a deeply emotional segment for ABC’s Australian Story – set to air tonight – the 46-year-old TV star has admitted he didn’t want to be alive after hearing the news – and only got through it with the support of Aussies right across the country.
He described his long road to recovery and how he finally moved on and fell in love again years later.
Matt didn’t discover his family had died until eight weeks later, when he woke from his coma in hospital. It was up to his dad Keith to break the news.
“I couldn’t speak… I had to use a board to [communicate] and I said ‘can you get me a mobile phone so I can call Rachael’? He [dad] had to straight out tell me ‘sorry mate, they’re all gone’,” Matt recalled.
“I’m not a suicidal sort of person, but I just sort of went ‘God you have spent eight weeks keeping me alive, why would you bother? What makes you think that I want to be alive still’?”
While the former Ready Steady Cook star said the physical pain he was going through with skin grafts and his stomach burning up was agonising, none of it came close to the emotional pain he endured.
“I probably spent four months crying and screaming and asking myself why and fighting it,” he went on.
Taking viewers right back to the start of his marriage, Matt gave an in depth account of his marriage, parenthood and a first-hand look at the last few hours he spent with his family.
He said he first met Rachael when he was 21 or so through mutual friends as they were both studying.
The couple quickly welcomed three children together, two of them twins – Sage and Willow – who were later diagnosed with de vivo disease, a rare metabolic disorder with symptoms similar to cerebral palsy. Meanwhile, he praised his late eldest daughter Starlia with playing the role of protective big sister.
Recalling the horrific night his life changed forever, Matt said: “We had all the family over for Christmas in 2011”.
“You don’t expect that in the next 18 to 24 hours the world is going to collapse,” his dad Keith said.
Matt added: “Everyone went home and we went to bed. That’s the last time I saw my family. That’s something you just can’t even imagine.”
While neighbours reported seeing Matt trying to open doors and reach his family, he was unable to do so and firefighters eventually found him collapsed on the side of the driveway.
Keith heard the news that a woman and three children had died in a house fire the next morning, but after trying to get through to both Matt and Rachael, he only got their answering machines.
Meanwhile, Rachael’s sister said the detectives reached them at around 10am to break the devastating news.
While Matt doesn’t have much recollection of the fire, he admitted: “There’s certainly flashbacks of that last few minutes that come back to me all the time. But I can’t put that into a cohesive sequence, so I don’t remember much of that at all to be honest.”
The family waited for Matt to wake up before discussing funeral plans for his wife and kids, so he could have a part in the planning. Keith ended up organising most of it and even played a gong that was special to the family at the ceremony.
“I didn’t even get to go to my girls’ funeral, and he [dad] had to deal with all that by himself,” Matt said. “All my family and all my friends were just incredible.”
While he was on the road to recovery, it was anything but smooth, and he said: “I did some stupid heavy drinking and all that stupid stuff you do when you just want to destroy yourself.”
Amazingly, Rachael’s mother gave Matt her blessing to move on and fall in love again when he visited her. So, he slowly began a long and difficult recovery with help from rehabilitation Assistant Erin Yarwood, who he later fell in love with.
“I never thought ‘I want another relationship’ it’s not something I was looking for at all, it hadn’t really crossed my mind. But I could see with her this genuine compassion for people,” Matt said.
He has since gone on to welcome his fourth child, and first with Erin, and said: “Anyone who knows me knows how much I loved being a dad, and for that to be taken away from me was quite possibly the cruelest thing that anybody could do.”
Their hopes of starting a family were initially slashed when Matt was told he would have issues every reproducing again following his multiple operations, but after consulting a surgeon, they managed to find enough sperm to try IVF – and they were successful first time, welcoming daughter Aluna together.
Matt said he battled not to be defined by the tragedy and explained: “You can yell and scream all you like, it’s not going to bring them back. There’s that period of anger and depression and resentment and then that only sensible thing to do is acceptance.”
His dad Keith admitted on the show: “One of the things people ask is ‘how do you get over something like the fire?’ But you never actually get over it, nobody gets over it, but you’ve got to get around it. So it’s always there, but you’ve gone past it.”
While the cause of the fire wasn’t confirmed, firefighters determined it was likely electrical and suggested it may have been the Christmas lights or the board they were plugged in to. There were working alarms in the house, but for some reason they didn’t work and the family weren’t alerted early enough to escape.
Australian Story airs tonight, Monday August 6, at 8pm on ABC and ABC iview