An egg made Will Connolly world famous. He gives his first indepth interview to Greg Bruce
Countdown to an egging
Three hours after watching the Christchurch mosque shooting on Facebook, Will Connolly read then-Australian senator Fraser Anning's thoughts about it on Facebook - Anning blamed the massacre on "the immigration programme which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate". It provoked Connolly to post: "I'd like to be face to face with this muppet." His assumption was that he never would be - he lived in Melbourne; Anning lived in Queensland - but then someone posted that Anning would be speaking the next day in Moorabbin, just a short bike ride from Connolly's house, and an idea popped into his head.
That night, when his mate Damo picked him up to go to the gym, Connolly asked if he wanted to go egg Anning the next day. Damo said, "No mate. Are you serious?" So Connolly asked some other mates: "It seemed like the appropriate thing to do," he says now. None of them said yes.
The next day he was out when his mum phoned. He told her, "'I'm just going to go egg a politician'. She didn't believe him. He rode his bike to Woolworths, bought half a dozen eggs, hung them in a plastic bag from his handlebars and rode to Moorabbin.
When he arrived, police were breaking up an anti-Anning protest outside. Connolly's body is chiselled, even ripped, from daily weights workouts at his local gym, but he is small for his 17 years. In a rap battle at last year's school formal, his opponent rapped to great acclaim that Connolly looked like a character from Lord of the Rings - and this may have helped him slip in with nary a sideways glance from the cops.
Inside, Connolly listened to Anning speak for an hour. He was open to having his mind changed, he says. At one stage, he thought he wouldn't go through with it: "I felt upset for him," he says, "I felt like he was twisted and corrupt. I kind of felt bad for him."
But he says Anning then said Australia's parliament had too many Muslims and that Sudanese people needed to go back where they came from, and that was the moment Connolly made the decision that meant the abiding public memory of Fraser Anning's wretched political life would be the memification of his ritual humiliation at the hands of a child.
Q&A with Will Connolly:
Q: "What did it feel like - the feeling of the egg cracking on his head - did you feel satisfied?"
A: "Yeah, and then he hit me and I was like, 'Oh f***.' The satisfaction was cut off by the slapping."
His mum, Kim Parrington, says: "He's a boundary pusher. His biggest saying is, 'Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable'. That's how he likes to live his life, being in situations that push him to be uncomfortable." His Instagram profile reads "Do or do not, there is no try", which is a quote from Yoda.
Rick Wills, president of Connolly's baseball club, tells a story about how Connolly approached him at the beer tent at a recent club day and asked to buy a beer: "I said, 'You know I can't sell you a beer, Will.' And he goes, 'That's all right; I respect that' and he walked away. And I thought, 'Good on ya' ... he had the courage to come up and ask."
Asked if he thought Rick would sell him the beer, Connolly says: "No, but I thought I'd shoot my shot."
His mum says: "He's a boundary pusher but he's also got this massive sense of social justice in him."
One day, back when he was in kindergarten, someone brought in a stuffed wombat. The other kids were stroking its fur and playing with it, but Connolly left the classroom in tears. Later he asked the teacher, "Does the mum know where the wombat is?"
His mum says he always had "this deep sense of empathy and care and worry and those sorts of things happened all the time with him". She says she couldn't watch or listen to the news around him when he was a preschooler because he would become excessively concerned with issues that were not appropriate vehicles for a child's concern.
In his first year of primary school, he was kicked out of the religious education programme. His mum says: "I won't use the words 'kicked out' but it was recommended that he didn't attend religious education.
"William was questioning everything - everything - and the questions were so in-depth and also a little bit upsetting and confronting for 5-year-olds, about Jesus being on the cross and, 'I don't really understand if God made people then how come he can't fix them? People are dying with cancer.' And the teacher said to me, 'Look Kim, we are embracing what he's asking but I actually can't teach the class because William keeps going like this and they are concerns that the other little kids probably don't need to hear'.
"So it was very evident to me as a mother that from a very young age he was having ideas and worries and thoughts that were hard for him to cope with because he didn't have the life experience and years to match up with these thoughts."
But she says she's always embraced his curiosity and his willingness to speak up. "I always said to William: 'Speak your mind, ask your questions and tell the truth'."
Q&A with Will Connolly:
A: Yeah, I'm brutally honest. Like, don't ask me how old I think you are … I'm really honest, yeah, a bit too honest."
Q: "Do you ever think about toning that down?"
A: "No, I think it's so good. If I'm having a couple of drinks with my mates, I'm like, 'All right, everyone say one thing about everyone that you don't like and that you want them to change or improve'."
Q: "Is it funny or are you actually trying to improve?
A: Both. Like we'll take the piss out of each other but we'll also be serious. We do it to improve ourselves, I guess.
Q: What have they said about you in that situation?
A: I don't know. We haven't done it in ages.
Q: Could you text a friend and ask?
A: OK I'll text.
[He texts. A couple of minutes pass. A reply arrives]
A: "He said I'm too honest."
After his parents separated six years ago, Connolly's relationship with his dad became "toxic". His father's behaviour and values, he says, weren't his own. A couple of years ago, he stopped spending time at his dad's and spent months looking inward, thinking about who he was and what he wanted from life. What he wanted, he decided, was to help people. He decided his career goal was to become a counsellor.
He started meditating last year after seeing something about it on the internet: "It said it was beneficial and I watched this video to see and I said, 'Oh that's cool; I'll just try it' and I tried it and it works."
Now he meditates most days. One day at the beach last summer, his mum became worried about him after he went out on his paddleboard. Just as she was about to send someone out to rescue him, he came back in.
"What have you been doing?" she asked.
"Meditating," he said.
One of the most surprising things about the egging video is how calm Connolly is throughout. Even after Anning hits him, his face remains calm and focused on his phone. Even when he's in a chokehold on the ground, held down and sworn at by multiple extremists bigger and older than him, he doesn't look especially concerned.
Q&A with Will Connolly:
Q: "It's an extraordinary thing to have done and I don't know if you even see it that way."
A: "It seems normal."
Q: "You hadn't egged anybody before?"
Q: "Had it ever entered your head?"
A: "To egg anyone else? Not really."
Q: "What's the history of egging in your life?"
A: "I was called Eggboy at school because I had boiled eggs for protein for the gym. That's about it."
Q: "So did [the unidentified person who created the Eggboy meme] know you were already called Eggboy?"
Q: "Do you believe in fate - because how can eggs play such a big part in one person's life?"
The police wanted to take him home afterwards but he had planned to go have lunch with friends, so he did. "I kinda just wanted a hug, 'cause I thought my life was over 'cause I thought I was getting charged." When he sat down to lunch, a friend got out his phone and the whole thing was already blowing up on social: "It was like, 'Holy crap, what have I done?'"
From there, his mum picked him up and took him to hospital. His eye was swollen and he had a sore neck from being in a chokehold and he was still shaking. The nurse asked him what had happened and by that time his image was already on television in the treatment room.
This was about two hours after the egging. Multiple media crews were already outside his house. He and his mum stayed away until the media had left for the night, then they hunkered down at home, escaping occasionally over coming days to stay with family and in motels. Within 24 hours all the family's phones - his mum, stepfather, brother and two stepbrothers - had been hacked. Their personal photos started appearing online.
By the time he went to bed that night, he had 40,000 followers on Instagram. By the time he woke up, he had 660,000. "I get about 10 messages a day now" he says, "but at one stage it was like 10 a second."
On his first day back at school, there were news crews outside his house and at both entrances to his school. His parents were given permission to drive right into the school grounds before letting him out of the car. Everywhere he went, people stared. Kids came up to him at school to offer him money. At lunchtime, while he was playing footy with his mates, he says the whole school surrounded the field to watch. His mum later went to watch him play a game against another school and she says even the other team were yelling out, "Come on Eggboy!"
He lost his first-ever job, a job at a local fish and chip shop where he'd only done a couple of shifts. "My boss didn't speak good English and I told him I couldn't come to work because of the media following me, and he didn't understand. I said, 'Do you have Facebook?' and he was like, 'No', and I said 'Do you know about Eggboy?' - I had to say it - and he's like, 'No'".
Kids still sometimes point and yell "Eggboy!" His mum says: "The little ones think he's some kind of superhero." One of her best friends has a son in kindergarten who says to everyone he meets: "Do you know that my mum is best friends with Eggboy's mum?" On the boy's birthday, Connolly rang him to wish him happy birthday.
"His mum said it was his best birthday present ever."
Girls' attitudes to him have changed. One group of girls who had never before shown any interest in him were at a party with him after the egging: "They all came up to me and were trying to, like, get in pretty much, and I was just like: 'Go away. You weren't like this before.' I found it kind of disheartening, to be honest."
He was offered copious gifts and opportunities: cars, endless clothes, travel, tickets to gigs.
His mum says: "You very quickly realise he's a commodity. He worked it out very quickly. And that's hard for him because you think they're supporting you but they're just wanting exposure. But he's got his head around that and he understands that. He goes, 'It's just business, mum, isn't it? They're doing a job,' and I go, 'Yep, don't take it personally. Everyone does it'."
Q&A with Will Connolly:
A: I like talking to older people much better than kids my age.
Q: Why is that?
A: It just comes more naturally, to be honest. It just comes easier.
Q: Have you thought about why that might be?
A: I'm not sure. Maybe it's because we're skipping all the small talk and s***.
As he watched his social media numbers blow up, offers started flooding in from people wanting to cash in on his instant fame - endless free stuff, obviously, but also tempting vagaries: "become a rapper" / "become the next big meme." He's 17 and he was tempted. He briefly thought he could make a living from being an Instagram influencer, but he thought that would be an unfulfilling life.
Jules Lund, former host of Australian TV travel show Getaway and now an entrepreneur connecting brands with micro-influencers, got in touch and advised him not to do anything. Lund, who has become a mentor, later took Connolly to an event for disruptive leaders in Byron Bay where he met Colette Werden, who provides authentic personal branding for introverted visionaries, and who is now helping to manage him.
Werden says: "When I saw Will speak I was like, 'This kid, there is something to him', and I thought there are layers: He's intelligent, he did it with intention, he's got a really rich story, which drove this need to stick up for the underdog. I felt drawn to him."
She's not the only one. His mum says: "He gets a lot of beautiful private messages from people. [Actress] Magda Szubanski was one. She wants nothing out of him."
Two strangers started crowdfunding campaigns for Connolly, which collectively raised just over $100,000. He gave it to support victims of the Christchurch massacre. "It wasn't mine to keep," he wrote on Instagram.
He has access to people he otherwise wouldn't. Two weeks ago, he was a guest speaker at Australian music festival Splendour in the Grass, where he spoke with various high-profile Australian politicians. He was present at a Q&A where the Australian Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese said Fraser Anning didn't even believe his own words. Connolly says: "Whether he believed what he said or it was just for political gain - either way, he's still an arsehole."
Having now learned that counsellors can't form normal human relationships with their clients, he no longer wants to become one. Instead, he wants to use his platform to change the world, focusing specifically on the three issues he cares most about: mental health, fixing the education system and climate change.
He's not sure what he's going to do when he finishes high school at the end of this year, but thinks it will be developing a speech on one or more of those issues, and taking it around schools. He's hoping to earn enough from public speaking to travel so he can learn more about the world, then return and decide what he wants to do, "Which will probably be public speaking again".
Of the egging, he now says: "It definitely wasn't the right way to go about it but I wouldn't change anything I did because of all the good stuff that came out of it."
Q&A with Will Connolly's mum, Kim Parrington
Q: "Do you feel he's turned out as you hoped?"
A: "Oh yeah."
Q: "What was your vision for how your children would turn out?"
A: "Happy. Happy, have a few friends, and be self-fulfilled. Without sounding like a bragging mother, I always knew that William was going to do something special. I didn't know what. I certainly didn't think it was going to be Eggboy."
At his school formal last year, he was voted most likely to get drunk and get a tattoo, a prediction that came true a few months later on a family holiday in Bali, although he says he was sober when he made the decision. Over his heart, he now has his mother's surname, because hers will be the last generation to have it. He also has a Star Wars-related yin and yang symbol on his hip.
At both his mum's house and his maternal grandparents' house, there are many artefacts showing how proud the family is of him: cartoons, caricatures, artworks. His mother's living room has a near-life-size painting that was sent to them, featuring Connolly as a superhero, painted in egg. His grandparents have a thick clearfile full of newspaper and magazine clippings and various pieces of Eggboy-related esoterica. But beyond the permanent record, the family will always have their stories: The NBA star who wrote "Eggboy" on his shoes; Al Gore calling Connolly an inspiration; Hilltop Hoods, a mega-selling Australian hip-hop group, among the many bands both local and international offering him free tickets to their gigs for life.
From the age of 6, baseball has played a big part in Connolly life. In his early teens, he played for the first Australian team to go to the Little League World Series, the world cup of junior baseball, and they came second. His club president Rick Wills says: "He was always the go-to man, if you like. If you wanted something, he just had that uncanny ability to be able to make something happen. And not all players have it. Some have big reputations and they fold in the heat."
In the opening pages of Connolly's grandparents' clearfile is a two-page statement he wrote for police about the egging. Its simple declarative sentences stand both as personal mission statement and testament to the power of action, as opposed to the power, say, of writing long-winded thinkpieces or sick zingers on social media.
"I wanted to let him know how I felt about what he had said. I didn't want to hurt him. I wanted to make a joke of him. If no one else was going to do anything about it then I was. I felt it was my duty. I think people should stand up for what is right."