'Tabatha Takes Over': Tabatha Coffey goes from bullied kid to tough taskmaster
Fans of the show know that the platinum-tressed Coffey is a no-nonsense truth-teller, waking up owners of failing establishments to the realities of running a business, making a profit and managing staff, all without losing their creative zeal.
"It's driven by passion," Coffey says over lunch with Zap2it in Hollywood, during editing on the show. "People get incredibly emotional about that, because they're giving you their art. So, it doesn't matter what it is, if it's cooking a meal, doing a haircut, doing your color, they're giving you a piece of themselves, which is how artists think.
"They're absolutely correct in feeling that way, but then you have to learn how to disassociate and realize that you have to be able to take criticism. It helps you grow, and it makes you better. You have to be able to charge for your work, because you are making a living, and you have to be able to pay your bills and expenses.
"That's where the disconnect comes through, especially with passionate individuals."
Quite often, that passion turns to anger when the Australian-born Coffey tries to correct what's wrong in a faltering business. She is often the target of very nasty comments about her attitude, both from employees and owners.
"I can't say it doesn't affect me," she says. "You have to process that like you process anything. ... Look, I have to be as tough-skinned as I expect everybody else to be."
Asked if she acquired that tough skin over time or was just born that way, Coffey says, "I think it's a little bit of both. My mother was incredibly tough and taught me to be tough and not care what people said about me, and not care what people would say or think, that it really didn't matter as long as I knew who I was and as long as I felt OK with what I was doing.
"The other part, when I was a child, I was picked on all the time. I was a bit of an odd child. I was incredibly overweight, and I was an easy target. I couldn't play sports and do a lot of the things that the other kids would do. So, though I tried, I couldn't.
"I would go to swim class, and they would call me terrible names as soon as I put on a bathing suit, or as soon as I tried to play net ball or do any of those things, because it wasn't in my wheelhouse. I didn't care for it. I didn't like it, and I wasn't good at it.
"So, I got teased unmercifully as a child, and that makes it tough as well."
Coffey did get past it, but now in her mid-40s, she emphasizes that she grew up in a very different time than today's teens.
"There's an extreme now, that sometimes they don't recover. Some of those cases you hear about where it really does become fatal, it's either, maybe the kids aren't sharing with the parents or the parents aren't realizing that it's so bad.
"Social media is different. When I was a child, there was obviously no social media, so you got bullied from 8 to 3, and then you'd go home and escape from it. All you had to keep thinking to yourself is, 'Let me suck it up from 8 to 3,' and the worst time is really coming into school, leaving school and lunchtime, because the rest of the time you're in class.
"But now it's cellphones and Facebook and computers. It doesn't stop now, which I think is really different as well."
But Coffey did have a self-confidence that has served her well over time -- and an ability to assess her own strengths and weaknesses.
"For me," she says, "it always just has been a belief in myself. No one could be harder on me than me. No one can. It doesn't matter what you say to me, I will have said it to myself or criticized myself, said, 'I should have done this better. I could have done differently. Why did you do this?'
"So you can't be harder on me than I will have already been on myself."
But still, vile comments over social media can sting.
"People will say things to me," Coffey says, "and it's incredibly hurtful."
Although tempted to engage, Coffey has learned to let it go, block the offensive Twitter user, for example, and move on. But she's not sure that today's kids have that kind of mature self-control.
"If I was 14," she says, "I probably would hit 'Send,' and I would get into that battle of words. I probably wouldn't block. It feeds into it."
She continues, "Look, for people, it's important to be accepted. I never really cared if I was accepted or not. I was always a little odd and quirky and dressed in a certain way and did strange things with my hair, wore strange things.
"So I never really fit into a specific clique or a specific group."
And the upside of social media is that people who may be a little out of the norm can find each other.
"You can have a voice with social media," Coffey says. "You can find people now that share an interest that you have, so you don't feel as quirky and weird as you probably would have 15 years ago."
While Coffey has obviously made no effort to keep in contact with bullying schoolmates, she has become pretty well known.
"It's kind of amusing, actually," she says. "I wonder if people put two-and-two together? With a name like mine, it's kind of hard not to. There aren't a lot of Tabatha Coffeys around, especially if you put the Australian equation into it.
"So, if you went to school with me, chances are you're going to know it's me, based on the age and the name. But you never know."