Cal Wilson sadly missed an Australian showbiz wedding which took place in the final days of her cancer battle.
But her presence at the marriage of Melbourne comedians Rhys Nicholson and Kyran Wheatley was felt by way of a touching gift she made the couple before her untimely death on Wednesday aged 53.
Wilson had spent four weeks at Sydney’s Prince Alfred Hospital after presenting with lower back pain. It turned out the mother-of-one had a rare and aggressive form of cancer, which she kept private from the public.
On the last weekend of October, while Wilson was in hospital nearby, Nicholson and Wheatley held their nuptials at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney’s Newtown, where a memento crafted by Wilson in honour of the couple held pride of place among the decor.
Wheatley took to Instagram to share a photo of the lovingly-made piece, which featured the newlyweds initials emblazoned with colourful trinkets, which Wilson originally made for them after their initial wedding day was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It arrived on our doorstep, unannounced, along with a basket of messages and gifts from friends, when we cancelled our wedding day at the very start of the pandemic,” Wheatley wrote.
“It’s an elaborate explosion of trinkets and adhesive that filled a sad day with bonkers of joy.
“After a brief journey to Sydney to welcome people at [our] rescheduled wedding, this work of art is now back on our top shelf, as an eternal reminder of the care, optimism, wit, folly, and hot glue gun, of our brilliant friend Cal.”
Wilson picked up a hobby of making what she described as “ridiculous” headdresses to keep her occupied during the pandemic. She told The Guardian in late 2021 her most useful object she owned was her hot glue gun, because it kept her “sane”.
Her work with headdresses was immortalised in a painting by Cairns artist Andrea Huelin called ‘Clown Jewels’, which won the packing room prize in the Archibald Prize for portraiture, in April 2023.
At the time, Huelin said she was inspired to paint Wilson wearing one of her own flamboyant creations after finding joy out of her Instagram posts during the Melbourne lockdowns.
“Cal’s Instagram page revealed the brilliant headpieces that she made from plastic toys and shiny ornaments during the long Melbourne lockdowns. Cal brought her creativity and imagination to the sitting, as well as a suitcase full of headpieces and outfits,” Huelin said.
“I wanted to paint a formal portrait, mocking the 19th-century style in which women were painted in their fancy bonnets and frilly blouses, looking either bored and oblivious, or proud as punch of their best duds. As often happens, the painting acquired a life of its own. With Cal’s slightly haughty expression and sparkly headpiece, it suddenly became seriously regal.”
Meanwhile, Nicholson, who appears as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, paid tribute to Wilson after news of her death, posting a lengthy statement on social media.
“It’s hard to describe her, because everything you want to say comes out sounding like a pile of cliches,” Nicholson began.
“I was always relieved to see Cal. Anywhere. At very good gigs, very s**t gigs, dinners, parties. Spaces had a particular vibe when she was around.
“I don’t think it’s hit all of us yet. I’m finding it so hard to fathom our friend is gone, given she had so much life in her. And was just truly f***ing generous with that life.
“Curious, profoundly fanciful and absolutely biting when it was needed. She was all in. A gift we got to enjoy for not nearly enough time.”
The Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday that Wilson was filming a new season of The Great Australian Bake Off in Sydney when she had to be taken to hospital.
She had joined the show as a co-host for the 2023 season, which premiered earlier this year.
It’s understood Wilson wished to keep the details of her short health battle private, with only a select few members of her inner circle told of her illness in the lead-up to her tragic death.
Wilson, who is originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, passed away on October 11, surrounded by family and friends.
She is survived by her husband of 15 years, Chris, and 14-year-old son Digby.