Greek Australian seafood tycoon and celebrity cook Michael Angelakis has just announced his comeback, with the incredibly popular lifestyle TV show Out of the Blue (Channel 7), after a lengthy absence, mainly due to his ongoing battle with bipolar disorder since 2008.
The 65-year-old fisherman, who has run his family’s seafood company Angelakis Bros for the last 30 years, says he is still battling with depression and bipolar disorder but feels excited to be taking Australian viewers on a culinary journey of fresh food and local produce, as of July 2016.
“The last 32 years of Out of The Blue have presented me with unique experiences that I never thought I would endure in a lifetime and I am so excited to be back filming again,” Angelakis tells Neos Kosmos.
The award-winning businessman from humble beginnings is considered one of the most popular television personalities in Australia; he puts his success down to his Greek upbringing, his family’s support and his father’s influence throughout the years.
“My father George was an absolute gentleman and my biggest inspiration. There are times that I wish he had been awarded the Order of Australia medal instead of me, because he was the one that pioneered a lot of stuff,” he says.
George Angelakis, a migrant from the picturesque island of Symi, came to Australia in the 1930s, and together with his brother Nick and brother-in-law Sam Sperou, managed to turn a simple family seafood business into a leading Australian enterprise. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the age of 74.
“My dad’s death affected me a great deal. He had already undergone heart surgery when my sister Anna took him back to the doctor for what we thought would be another check-up.
“The cardiologist was adamant that dad had to be submitted to hospital immediately and undergo another operation; right there and then, while my sister was filling out his admission form, dad collapsed and died of a heart attack inside the doctor’s rooms.”
Unfortunately, things took another unexpected turn a little later when, at age 50, Angelakis was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a very aggressive form of cancer.
According to the businessman’s oncologist, the three lemon-sized tumours growing inside his body translated into an intrusive and invasive form of treatment, which consisted of major operations, 24-hour painful infusions and 25 prescription pills a day.
“They gutted me like a fish and that’s when I thought that karma must exist; I guess the fish finally got back at me,” jokes the always vibrant and optimistic businessman although, in the same breath, he recalls the pain being unbearable at times.
“I think I was ready to go (die) then. I had an incredible life, a beautiful family, I had received an Order of Australia, had become a finalist for Senior Australian of the Year twice and had experienced so much success along the way. I felt complete.”
Equipped with family support and extensive medical treatment, the determined seafood tycoon managed to survive the cancer scare and slowly return to normality.
He started working again and also became an ambassador for the Cancer Council of South Australia and the Salvation Army. Shortly after, the feeling of depression started creeping up.
“I was in Italy filming and I found myself feeling demotivated, depressed and withdrawn; that’s when I realised that something was not right and with my wife’s urging, I decided to seek medical advice,” says Angelakis, who has never made a secret of his long history of depression.
“My mother was a manic depressive, so mental illness is in my genes.”
He describes bipolar disorder as difficult, filled with periods of depression and periods of elevated mood, that are not easy to overcome without medical interference.
“It’s a cruel, debilitating, solitary illness and although I take the medication, I still struggle with the bipolar concept, mainly because I refuse to come to terms with the fact that I might get to a point where I can no longer control my mind or my life.”
With the bipolar diagnosis becoming severe in 2014, Angelakis went into survival mode. He resigned from his 30-year position as managing director of the very profitable and extremely successful wholesale and retail seafood business Angelakis Bros, and admits that he hasn’t regretted his decision. He remains the major shareholder but neither he nor his four children are involved in the company at present.
As far as suing his insurance company, CommInsure, after it originally rejected his claim for ‘total and permanent disability’ payout due to the bipolar disorder diagnosis, the businessman confirms that the two parties are currently in discussions.
Angelakis’ life almost seems like a thrilling roller-coaster ride – the dyslexic son of two migrants went against all odds; he built an empire, received an OAM, became famous, survived cancer, presented one of the longest living television shows in Australia and has gained utmost respect within the Greek Australian community.
He proudly adds to his achievements his 40-year marriage to Slovenia-born artist and costume designer Sylvana, his four incredibly talented children and his first grandson, who is turning one next month.
“Now, all I want in life is to wake up healthy and help others, because like my dad always used to say: ‘There is no greater pleasure in life than the pleasure of giving.’
“Don’t take it away from me. It’s my pleasure.”