Robert Irwin Is A Man On A Mission

Robert Irwin is a man on a mission

The new host of ‘I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here’, on the power of purpose, growing up in a zoo and benching 8-foot crocs

IT’S A LATE afternoon in early March and I’m in a nondescript meeting room at work when Robert Irwin bursts into my life.

“Benno,” he booms down the phone, never having met me, but instantly establishing a rapport, lighting up my hitherto dull afternoon with enough energy, positivity and charisma to power a city block.

Irwin is in a car somewhere in Sydney, doing press for his new show, I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here and he’s been doing interviews all day.

Not that you’d know it from the enthusiasm and curiosity that practically blasts out of my phone. “We’re heading southbound on the motorway,” he says. “Sounds like we’re in a police chase, but we’re not. I can guarantee there are no choppers above us.”

Before I can ask about his day, Irwin wants to know about mine. I tell him I’ve been writing about a footballer. He wants to know which one. The curiosity, the precociousness, the authenticity is almost overpowering. Immediately, you’re left with the impression that Robert Irwin is his father’s son – his father, in case you somehow missed it, being Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, who died from a heart attack after his chest was pierced by a stingray barb when Irwin was just two. I’ve been speaking to Irwin for all of five minutes and I can already sense that same larger than life presence. A kid who was born to entertain, in other words.

And yet entertaining us might be but one of Irwin’s dreams. Irwin grew up in a zoo, two of them actually. The first, Australia Zoo, a 700-acre wildlife sanctuary on the Sunshine Coast and the second comprising the invisible bars of the celebrity spotlight that come with being the son of a global superstar.


Instagram I @robertirwinphotography


But it might just be his unique upbringing, surrounded by crocs and capybaras and the passion and purpose that’s instilled in Irwin, that offers him respite and sanctuary, helping save him from the intrusions and scrutiny of the lion’s den of public exposure. You see at 20, Irwin has already found his calling in life: wildlife conservation.

“It definitely has its challenges,” he says of growing up in the spotlight. “But more often than not, I find it a really great opportunity because I have my passion, my true north, the message that is so near and dear to my heart. And I have a platform to spread that. And so I’ve always really seen the positives of that.”

It helps that he doesn’t have what he calls a “Bieber lifestyle”. “People aren’t coming up to me going, ‘I want a selfie’,” and then leaving again. Most of the time, people come up and say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate what you’re doing for the environment’, or ‘Wow, I really admired your dad. This is how he influenced my life’.”

So, what was it like growing up in a zoo, anyway?

“Mate, absolutely incredible,” Irwin says. “Never a dull moment. Have you ever been to Australia Zoo, mate?”

Again, the questions, the curiosity. I profess that I haven’t. “Well, mate, you have to come up and experience it. It’s hard to even really refer to it as a zoo. It’s a beautiful sanctuary for wildlife and it’s really completely and wholly, solely focused around conservation.”

That environment, along with his father’s legacy, imprinted on Irwin a sense of responsibility to do his part in preserving natural habitats and promoting awareness about the plight of endangered species. “Growing up around animals, around the natural world, getting to travel so much and experience firsthand some of the real issues that are facing our planet and the role that we all play to protect our planet Earth, has been a real privilege for me and I love what I get to do,” he says. “Plus we get to feed crocodiles. I mean, that’s pretty cool. Come on.”

Every day in the zoo is different, Irwin adds. “I’m still waiting for a typical day,” he says. “I could be going to Africa. I could be catching crocs for research at the University of Queensland. I might be in there wrangling snakes. I’m very lucky to get up and really not know where the day is going to take me.”

Of course, it’s a lifestyle that’s not without its hairy moments. Irwin tells me about the day, back in February 2022, when he had to make an emergency escape from a crocodile enclosure after a near 4m-metre-long, 350-kilogram croc named Casper sized him up for its brekkie. “That was an interesting one. We’d just moved Casper, who was a crocodile my dad originally rescued actually. And we had to move him from one side of Australia Zoo to the other. And we were just getting him to feed in a new billabong. You never know how a croc is going to react when it’s in a new territory. But he was extremely territorial. He was very like, Okay, this is my new space. This is my billabong. I’m going to give you a good run for your money. It’s actually really good to see that.”


Instagram I @robertirwinphotography


The experience reinforced to Irwin that when you’re dealing with large reptiles it’s best to know your place. “It’s a great lesson as to why you never have an ego,” he says. “The second you have an ego is the second stuff will go wrong. It’s completely their turf. And you have to have the utmost respect for that, for this prehistoric dinosaur of an animal.”

I tell him that I thought I detected a sizeable bulge struggling to burst out of his safari shirt sleeves on Instagram. What does Irwin bench, I wonder.

“I reckon I could bench an eight-foot croc,” he laughs. “Catching crocodiles definitely builds strength in the arms, mate. I highly recommend it. So you know what the biggest arm workout is for me is?” I shake my head, sensing it’s going to be something epic. “Death rolling. When crocodiles death roll and you’re in there with them, because we let our crocs use all of their natural instincts. It means my life is very, very active.”

As demanding as his work is, Irwin does make time to hit the gym, knowing that as well as help him fill out the snazzy suits he’s wearing on I’m A Celebrity promos, it also benefits him mentally. “If I am at a point where I know I’m going to be a little bit more sedentary, I’m traveling a lot, then I always make sure that physical activity is part of my routine, whether that’s weight training, running, swimming,” he says. “It plays a very important role in my life because I think mental health and physical health go hand in hand. And also the nature of the job, you’ve got to be able to lift stuff. So I definitely prioritise it.”

Irwin’s passion for wildlife conservation finds creative expression in photography. He was runner-up in the junior category of the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of The Year competition in 2016 and contributes photos to Australia Zoo’s Crikey magazine. “I absolutely love photography and it’s become a way to push an important conservation message through imagery because naturally I get to be on the front line of a lot of environmental disasters,” he says. On the flip side, he says, he gets to visit some of the most pristine, last truly wild locations in the world and capture images of animals flourishing in them. “I hope to really create a message and a story of the importance of conserving the natural world through imagery,” he says.


Instagram I @robertirwinphotography


I mention that a recent report put him and sister Bindi at number 27 and 28 in Australia’s most influential Instagrammers. The siblings have over 11m followers between them. So, what’s his take on social media? Not surprisingly Irwin manages to find the positives in an often maligned medium. “It’s a weird world, don’t you reckon? Social media is odd and it can be damaging if you’re listening to negative comments and there’s all the trolling and whatnot. But if used correctly and if used for good and for positivity, I think it’s a great tool to spread a message. And I feel very lucky, both Bindi and myself use the platform we have to spread important messages, a bit of positivity. I didn’t know that we’re placed so closely.”

Is there any rivalry between the two, then? “No, I think for both of us, we’re all on the same team,” he says. “I always say, because everyone goes, ‘Oh, do you ever argue with your sister or your family?’ I always say it’s interesting because our lives are quite dramatic. We’re saving wildlife, we’re jumping on crocs, we’re going here, we’re doing this, we’re doing that. But the family unit of the Irwins, our family dynamics are perfectly unexciting. It’s actually really boring. We never really argue. We just get along, but it’s nice. Bindi and I are both very, very proud that we get to be the next generation to run up this mission.”

While Irwin has done his fair share of TV presenting on wildlife shows both here and overseas, I’m a Celebrity marks his first prime-time gig. He sounds like he can barely contain his eagerness to start shooting, though you suspect that’s his attitude to almost any challenge he takes on – he recently lit up the catwalk at Melbourne Fashion Festival, for example.

“It’s my first time, full-time hosting a live Australian program,” he says. “I’m really excited because I feel like it’s the spice of life when you get to take on something that’s different. In a way, it fits so well because it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, but it’s a completely new audience.”

The show shapes as a launching pad for Irwin – you could easily see the Aussie public falling in love with him, in an Australia’s beloved grandson kind of way. It could lead to more presenting roles, more documentaries, even movies. Irwin wants to do it all, but as he says, anything he does will be anchored around his passion for wildlife conservation.

“The interesting thing is that at a young age, I think you have to have your true north,” he says. “You have to have your purpose, your drive, that makes you feel fulfilled. But you don’t need to know exactly how you’re going to do that. You’ve just got to know what direction you’re going in. I’m in a rare position where I was born knowing exactly what I want to do. Literally, it’s never been a question. But I’ve found so many different ways to get there, whether that’s through photography, through working in front of the camera and behind the lens. All the different projects that I can take on. I know that I have a message of conservation, of appreciating our wildlife, and also a passion for positivity, for authenticity. And for really helping people to realise what’s important in this life, which is to have a bit of fun, really keep good people around you and just be kind to every living being that you come into contact with. There are a lot of ways that I’m going to be able to run up dad’s mission and create my own legacy, but I can tell you where I want to get and how I get there is going to be one crazy adventure.”

It certainly will be. I put down the phone and look around my empty meeting room a little dazed and somewhat uplifted by the boundless positivity I’ve just been privy to. I’ll call it now: Robert Irwin has all the makings of a superstar… if he wants to be one.


Chris Hemsworth is the king of Instagram

By Ben Jhoty

Ben Jhoty, Men’s Health’s Head of Content, attempts to honour the brand’s health-conscious, aspirational ethos on weekdays while living marginally larger on weekends. A new father, when he’s not rocking an infant to sleep, he tries to get to the gym, shoot hoops and binge on streaming shows.

More From