A lot has been written about Athena X Levendi since she grabbed our attention in all her golden-caped glory in the first episode of the Real Housewives of Sydney. Born in Australia and raised in Greece, coming from a background of eight generations Athenian, the artist and jewellery designer has garnered a lot of media attention since her stint on a show that often saw her at war with the other ladies. Not all of the commentary has been flattering.
“I knew I would be polarising,” says Levendi. "I’ve always been an extroverted, larger than life person and I’m comfortable with that. Others have to get used to it.”
For viewers of the show it was, at times, hard to watch how quickly relations amongst the housewives could go from normal to polemic, with Athena often being at the receiving end of provocation from the others. Articulate, reserved yet warm, the statuesque blonde with the dazzling smile and sharp tongue gave as good as she got.
“Everything is good, even the bad parts. I’ve learnt so much about myself, about people,” says Levendi. “Sometimes you can have the best intentions, but it doesn’t always lead to the best results. Even if you are 100% in the right, people can still twist it, to make you seem wrong."
"What viewers may not have realised was the level of participation required to produce a one hour episode, which often, due to time constraints, would not show the whole background to an incident or conversation. I was filming 9 hours a day, 4 days a week,” says Levendi. "9 hours of being ignored, and antagonised. I felt like they were constantly trying to set me up to fail, or giving me backhanded compliments. The other women just weren’t going to give me a chance. It felt like going to battle at times. I’m used to people wanting to be around me. Even when I’d say a joke, they’d take it differently. “
Athena cites her spirituality as the reason she was able to get through the experience. “I get up at 5am and meditate, and realised it’s not about me, it’s about them.” Spirituality aside, one thing that cannot be overlooked is her seemingly endless stores of resilience.
Having grown up in a sad home environment, resilience is something Athena had to instill from a young age. Her father fled Athens in the 1970s to escape the military dictatorship, arriving in Australia where he was offered political asylum. His wife and Athena’s older sister soon followed, and a couple of years later Athena was born. When Athena was a little girl her father was in an accident in which he was run over by a semi-trailer and was in and out of hospital for three years, enduring over 10 operations. The whole experience changed him. “My father became agitated, and didn’t have good judgement,” says Levendi. “He was constantly in and out of hospital and was on a lot of medications. There was a lot of violence and sadness in our home. My sister, although older, retreated and was introverted, so I became the voice for my mother. It made me a stronger person, but it also made me sensitive.”
In a second bout of bad luck, her father had another accident years later. Athena did not know if he was going to live or die. “I was 17 years old when he stopped hitting me. I didn’t really communicate with him. He died when I was 19 years old,” says Levendi. “My mum stood by him, even felt guilt for the sadness he had gone through. I learnt so much from her, patience, forgiveness and so on. She was simple and kind.”
After her father died, Athena and her sister returned to Australia, where she was approached by the Greek Ambassador to work as a nanny for her four children. Athena suggested her mother would be perfect for the job, and brought her from Greece. “It was very healing for my mum,” says Levendi. "She was in her early 50s and a widow. She was so damaged and traumatised, but was so caring. She always took on the role of carer in one way or another.”
Although it is something she keeps to herself and had no intentions of discussing on the show, Levendi acknowledges domestic violence is still prevalent in today’s society and that it is difficult for people, especially women, to admit to being in these situations of abuse. “People getting abused feel like it is a stigma,” she says. “When someone in the spotlight comes out and says ‘that happened to me, and I am ok,' that lessens the shame and gives courage to speak out.”
Being on the receiving end of cruel jibes and behaviour on the show brought back memories for Levendi, which she had buried deep a long time ago. “I never felt like I belonged. I wasn’t fluent in Greek or English when I was little, and was bullied at school,” she says. “I only become popular when I went to high school in Greece.”
Throughout the series, spirituality was something Athena was often mocked for, whether it be accusations of being over the top about it, or hypocritical, yet Athena remains unfazed about people’s perceived problem with her discussions about spirituality. It is a subject close to her heart and one she is happy to talk at length about, even debate, with anyone who will listen.
“I believe the soul is something that has this incredible essence of being,” says Levendi. “I feel we come back when we die. I feel I’ve had many signs. I know there is more to life than just this. Is this the message I have to give for people to ask questions?”
When Marilyn Monroe met Zorba the Greek
Against the backdrop of divorce, marital woes and absent husbands in the lives of the other real housewives, Athena’s marriage to Panos stood out as rock solid, a true partnership of love and support. “I think it boils down to luck,” says Levendi. “Some people are your soulmate. I always felt comfortable with him.”
The way they met is, in typical Athena style, truly intriguing. She was working in a store in Sydney, selling designer accessories. Panos’ brother George walked in with his wife, looking to buy a Gucci tie for Panos. Athena lost the sale because they were able to find a cheaper price at another store. Soon after, she left the store to work at a deli in Glebe. Her boss asked her to go to a party and offered to pay her wages until midnight. Athena arrived dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Panos was there, dressed as Zorba the Greek. He asked her for her name, she said ‘Athena’ and he replied “I love you already.” She then asked him if he had received a Gucci tie for Christmas. “How did you know that?” he asked, bewildered. They have been inseparable ever since that night. Six months after her arrival in Sydney, and after so much sadness and misery in her life, Athena had found the man she would marry, have three children with, and who would give her endless joy and love.
“The secret is to always admire each other,” says Levendi. “When you lose that, you lose the magic.” Panos has given me so much joy, and I admire him very much. Still to this day, even if there is cataclysmic rain outside he will go and get me a coffee and friand every morning.”
She reveals that romance is a strong trait amongst the Levendi men, from her father-in-law right down to his three sons. “Men have to see their father show unconditional love and romance to their mother,” she says. “My father-in-law has a wonderful generosity and kindness, which his sons have definitely inherited.”
Greece is the word
According to Athena, being born in Australia, spending most of her youth in Greece, and then returning to Australia has led to her thinking in Greek and speaking in English, which goes a long way in explaining many of her controversial comments on the show, including calling Melissa Tkautz a pot plant (glastra).
Her love of the motherland is evident, from the regular references she makes to its history and philosophy, to the annual vacations spent relaxing with her family and friends. “I just love Greece, the air, the energy. I drop down and kiss the ground whenever I land in Greece,” says Levendi. “I probably can’t do that now, beause someone will take a picture!” she chuckles.
She has just returned from a short trip to Greece where she spent a week in Mykonos as a guest stylist for Australian label Bardot shooting for their summer campaign. Behind the scenes photos of the shoot with the unmistakable Mykonos backdrop and featuring a glowing Athena, wearing an array of beautiful pieces, have filled her Instagram much to the enjoyment of her followers.
As to whether she will return for the second series of Real Housewives of Sydney, Athena is welcome to the opportunity, if the cast members change.
Athena emphasises she is not fazed by what material possessions others may have, the size of their diamonds, or the dollars in their bank account. “People would be surprised to find out that I am a very down to earth, humble person,” she says. “I don’t want to be aspirational. Things come and go. I want to be inspiring.”