Up Close: Zoe Marshall

If there’s one thing Zoe Marshall isn’t afraid of, it’s going deep. The podcast host has, since launching her hugely successful series ‘The Deep’, proven exactly that. Releasing the project in 2020, Marshall has boldly — and proudly — held space for guests to candidly share their stories, from terminal parents to sex works, extremists and drug addicts, allowing not just herself, but her community, to engage in thought-provoking (and often harrowing) conversations. Ones that, more often than not, leave you questioning — “who are we, when no one is looking.”

What started as a series that looked to the uncomfortable, has since turned into an engaged community that is willing, and able, as Marshall says, to face these stories with a compassionate and open perspective. This year, the second chapter of Marshall’s ‘The Deep’ journey began with the release of ‘The Deeper’, seeing the podcast take a plunge into a subscription-based model. As Marshall explains, the shift has allowed an even deeper uncovering of topics that are usually shied away from, given to an audience that is prepared to take it on.

“[This project] is so personal to me and it’s so private that it felt like it had to belong to a close circle. If you’re a dedicated listener, then I trust that you can hold the space for me.”

Speaking of the new subscription model, Marshall adds: “I think it comes down to having earned the listeners’ trust. They were able to turn up every week for these stories that were harrowing and awful and triggering and disgusting. Week after week, they wanted more and more and more and they were willing and they had so much empathy and understanding to things that are very controversial and very misunderstood. I think the timing for me was because I went, ‘These people are ready’.”

While the podcaster and media personality is no stranger to sharing snippets of herself online, regularly posting about her life alongside husband Benji and their two children, Fox and Ever, Marshall’s podcast is a space that is unlike any other. It’s a place where she can feel empowered to share not only her own traumas, but the people that have helped her heal from past experiences. That includes, ahead of ‘The Deeper’s’ launch, Marshall deciding to candidly share her personal experiences with domestic violence, revealing she had been in an abusive relationship for four years. It was not an easy decision to make, but one she felt was necessary to “lead the way” in holding these conversations week after week.

“Coming out with a story that’s like, ‘This all happened to me.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve set the scene. I’ve set the tone. Everyone understands what this is about’,” she explains, adding it didn’t come without its fears. “I think the biggest thing for me with the team was when I was thinking about sharing… I’ve got a few traumas and this is the first one I wanted to share, was it enough? I think that is such a DV response, victim’s response of, ‘Is it enough? Is it bad enough? Is it traumatic enough? Is it heartfelt enough?’ All of the things. And then my team was like, ‘It’s really fucked up. You have to feel really comfortable about this and it is enough’.”
It’s clear when listening that Marshall has a knack for not only making guests feel comforted and safe, but a natural ability that allows people from all areas of life, to sit, share and engage in a space free of judgement. Something, she believes, is because of the experiences she’s faced.

“There’s no way I would be in a position to have these conversations if I didn’t experience all of that stuff, there’s no way. I think that’s the thing about ‘The Deep’, is it’s for the people who have definitely travelled the hard road in life. It’s not for those that have had a smooth sailing experience."

Each week, ‘The Deeper’ explores a new topic — some heartbreaking, some triggering, some astonishing, but all with the overlying theme of vulnerability. Listeners have heard stories from sex workers, grieving mothers, celebrities, journalists and even an opiod addict. All of who, lay themselves bare.

As Marshall says, it’s sometimes the most unassuming of episodes that garner the most immense response from her community, who see themselves reflected in these stories. Some such episodes include a woman named Sally, whose husband and the father of her children, became addicted to meth. Sally shared what that was like, unafraid to leave out details that were dark, raw and searing. Another was with a woman named Nix, the creator of CWK, Courage, Wisdom and Knowledge, who after losing her baby turned to drugs. Nix bravely shares not only how she crawled her way out of rock bottom, but went on to create an empowering community of her own. 

The immense responses she’s seen from her audience, has been, as Marshall explains, eye-opening. “The amount of Australian women of all ages that go, ‘That’s my story. That’s my story.’ I’m talking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, maybe a thousand of women coming up and going, ‘That is me’.”

Being as transparent and open as Marshall has been, and speaking with guests about their most difficult moments, is no easy feat. She admits while it’s “really hard”, she’s learned to protect herself for the sake of her own mental wellbeing.

“This is another avenue of why I created ‘The Deeper’, because you now get access to my black book. You get every single person that has helped me over the years. Instead of asking me who is not a doctor or a specialist or trained in any way, you can go to them and seek all of the help, all the guidance, all the healing you need to.”

But through the tough conversations, Marshall says the project is one she is immensely proud of. Especially, when seeing how many have resonated with each and every story told.

“I think when people say to me, ‘You’ve changed the way I thought about sex workers,’ or, ‘You changed the way I thought about drug addicts,’ or, ‘Now, I see this with a totally different lens’.’ The shifts in perception and judgement and reality are huge.”