But this week “Scotty” Cam’s public persona all but unravelled after his unfortunate defence when questioned about the details of his controversial $350,000 gig with the Morrison government to become a “careers ambassador”.
He did himself no favours when he told Sky News host Annelise Nielsen that his taxpayer-funded salary was “none of your business”, following questions about whether we’re really getting a good return on “our” investment in Cam.
The “none of your business” comment was soon regurgitated across the media and went down like a tonne of bricks, especially on social media, where the humble “chippy from Bondi” was cast as the profiteering pariah.
Such a mantle is hard to shake, especially if other celebrity experiences such as the spectacular demise of former Masterchef judge George Calombaris are any indication. I approached Cam to see if he wanted to reflect on recent events. He declined.
It was revealed during a Senate estimates hearing that Cam had already pocketed some $145,000 in return for shooting three short videos, making four posts on Instagram and Facebook as well as posting on an engagement hub national careers website.
That’s the sort of money the likes of Kim Kardashian are making out of social media, rather than “just a chippy from Bondi” – as Cam described himself when he won the Gold Logie in 2014.
Indeed, first year carpentry apprentices make between $15 and $22 an hour.
Cam has another 12 school visits scheduled for the remainder of his 15-month contract, which kicked off last October.
He was particularly defensive when quizzed about whether his contract represented “good value”.
“That is the value of the brand and the profile the government sees fit to pay me,” he told Sky News on Tuesday. “I have a high profile and the government wanted to utilise that.”
Cam appears well-versed in his own brand value, as do those who have paid him the big bucks to flog their wares.
When he was hired for the Mitre 10 gig in 2011, the advertising executive responsible for the deal, Creative Oasis managing director David Stretch, said: “With his pedigree in the field and his warm and down-to-earth persona, Scott Cam was the perfect choice.”
And yet the working class hero to millions of Australians is anything but in reality, just as his luxury home on Chapel Road in swanky Vaucluse is anything but Struggle Street.
Cam has cultivated his knockabout image over many years, constantly referring to himself as the humble tradie who simply lucked out when “a fellow named Stuie Clark came to me in the pub” and turned his life around by putting him on TV.
“I’ve never lost sight of where I’ve come from though. Every day I’m grateful for the opportunities that have come my way,” Cam reflected after winning the Gold Logie. “I still like to get busy on the tools.”
Cam’s associates say he signed on to the taxpayer-funded careers ambassador gig simply because he was “a passionate advocate” for people to do trades rather than simply go to university.
“He doesn’t need the money,” as one of them put it to me this week. “He did it because he believes in the initiative and getting people into apprenticeships.”
Skills Minister Michaelia Cash made a valiant but ultimately clumsy attempt to defend Cam’s appointment, though her argument that Cam is a role model seems irrelevant to the vast majority of tradies who will never get to the Logies, let alone have a gig on television.
“[We are] utilising his profile, and in particular his story, what happened when he left school, what he did with his apprenticeship, how he has gone on to have different careers, run a small business, employ people and become the successful household name that he is,” Cash said.
“It is actually the influence that then had of drawing people in and raising awareness.”
There are plenty of celebrities who believe in worthy causes and raising awareness, and many of them are only too happy to support such initiatives without charging.
As one commentator on Twitter wrote: “Imagine if Angelina Jolie took a cheque from the United Nations to become its ‘goodwill ambassador?'”
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.