Melbourne-based gay activists Antony McManus and his husband Ron van Houwelingen are well known for their fight for marriage equality and getting married to each other 19 times over the three decades that they have been together.

On Thursday, Australia celebrated McManus as the winner of the elusive $1 million on Channel 9’s Millionaire Hot Seat quiz show – only the second time in the show’s 21 year history that a contestant has won a million dollars. 

McManus told Star Observer that after the episode, which was taped earlier in the year, he did not even remember how many questions he had answered (it was in fact 16, including the fastest finger round question).

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“To be honest with you, it was all a bit of a blur,” McManus recalled. “When I won, I just kind of went into a shock. It was such a strange thing – I had to have photographs taken, people would look at me wanting to talk, and then all of a sudden I found myself out in the street all by myself with a bottle of champagne.”

‘No, I seriously won’

Antony McManus with Millionaire Hot Seat host Eddie McGuire.

When McManus got home, his husband asked him how it had gone. 

“I told him that I won $1,000 in the fastest finger first round, but then I had to give it back (when he used it as a lifeline) because I wasn’t sure about one of the questions. And he told me, ‘Well, at least you tried!”

McManus told his husband that he had gone on to answer more questions and had won a million dollars. 

“He just looked at me and went, ‘Oh, yeah!’, and I replied, ‘No, I seriously won’. He wouldn’t believe me for about five minutes,” McManus said. He then showed his husband the dummy cheque for a million dollars and the messages from the people at Channel 9. “That’s when he realised, it was true,” McManus chuckled at the memory of the day. 

The million dollar question was guessing the classic literary work that was published first from the options given – The Count of Monte Cristo, A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, Les Misérables. 

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McManus correctly answered: “The Count of Monte Cristo”.

A Home Of Our Own

Antony McManus (right) and his husband Ron van Houwelingen

The million dollar question was however not the hardest thing that he has had to do in the past year since the episode was taped. It was to keep his win a secret till the episode was aired, from family, friends, and even his mother-in-law who was the one who had told him to apply for the show. 

“My mother in law was visiting towards the end of last year. We were watching Millionaire Hot Seat on television and I was answering every question. She kept telling me, ‘oh my god, you really should go on the show’. 

Asked about plans for the prize money, McManus revealed that it would go into buying a home for the couple. 

“We’ve been together for 34 years and we’ve been renting all our lives. I thought we would probably be renting for the rest of our lives. So the chance to be able to buy a property of our own would just be amazing, and something that we’ve only ever dreamt about,” said McManus, who has put part of the money into a deposit for an apartment.

“It’s such a once in a lifetime, life changing experience and I feel very grateful. So the last thing I would want to do is to appear to be wasteful and just blow the money on extravagance. So that’s definitely not what I’m going to do,” he said.

Nineteen Marriages

Antony McManus

The spotlight is not new for McManus, who was a child actor, before being out there advocating for LGBTQI rights. 

Coming out at a time when the community was still fighting for its rights was difficult, but McManus said he does not remember ever being in the closet.

“Even when I was a little boy, I just knew that there was something different about me. I started telling people (I was gay) when I was in the first year of high school,” said McManus. The bullying at school – not just for being gay but also for being that kid on television – got to him and he dropped out after year 10. 

“I really didn’t enjoy my high school years,” he recalled. “When I was 22, I went back to school as I wanted to get my year 12 certificate. I was studying drama, and that’s where I met my husband, who was pursuing acting at the time,” said McManus, who by then was also involved in gay rights activism.

The couple’s aforesaid 19 marriages, including one legal one, were part of the LGBTQI community’s long struggle for marriage equality in Australia.

“We were married on television, on Joy FM, we were married at Sydney University and at various rallies before it became legal. The 18th wedding was the real one (after the marriage equality vote). Then a few weeks later we got asked to be in a TV commercial for the Apple iPhone. We had to be married again, but that was the last one,” said McManus. 

McManus now hopes to go back to his normal life and the causes that he has been involved with all his life. McManus works as a retail worker and is the treasurer for the non-profit Positive Attitude, which provides weekly lunch for people living with HIV in Melbourne. 

I’ll be able to do possibly more than I have in the past,” said McManus, who also has a message for young people. “Going through school wasn’t necessarily that easy (for me). And that could be the case for you. But, know that things get better and there is a community that will provide support to make life a lot easier.”


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