TV personality and media commentator Ita Buttrose is a host on Channel 10’s morning program Studio 10. The former editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly and founding editor of Cleo talks to me about her career surprise, grandmother duties and where she got her fashion sense.
You started your career in publishing. Did you always want to move into TV?
Yes, I always had it as a little goal, but it was a long time ago and then it didn’t happen. I was on panels and was a guest on everybody’s show, but a hosting role never actually came up. I thought, “Well, it’s not meant to be” so I’ll go off and busy myself with writing and publishing, and then, out of the blue, Adam Boland turns up and says, “I’ve got this idea.” It was funny, I sat there listening and I thought, “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation”. After all these years, that old goal of mine has reappeared, so I didn’t even hesitate. I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it.”
Do you get nervous being on live TV?
No, I don’t. There was a time when I did but I think the longer you work in it, the more relaxed you become. And also the fact that I am a woman of a certain age, you’re a lot more comfortable now because you’ve lived a bit and you’ve got a bit of experience under your belt. You think, “It’s not going to fuss anybody if I say whatever I’m going to say”, so I’ll say it, what the heck!
What’s your career highlight?
I think it’ll be hard to beat becoming Australian of the Year, without a doubt. That’s an incredible honour and I could never have imagined that happening to me. And recently, I was made an honorary Doctor of Letters at Macquarie University for my contribution to the arts. I’ve got to say I was pretty knocked out by that because, given that I left school at 15, it’s not something I ever thought would happen either. When the Chancellor said, “I’m now going to invite Dr Buttrose to deliver the occasional address”, I thought: “Wow. I wish mum and dad were still alive to see this.”
When you left school at 15, did you envisage your career going in the direction it did?
No, I had no idea. Because careers – like the one I’ve enjoyed – weren’t envisaged for girls. First of all, girls’ education wasn’t considered all that important. And I certainly wanted to be a journalist, but I didn’t see it as a lifelong thing. I thought I’d work for a bit and then I’ll probably get married and have children and go home. I mean, that was the assumption for a girl, and I remember saying to my mother and aunt: “Maybe I’ll be bored.” And they said: “No you won’t!”
If you hadn’t gone down the career path of journalism, what do you think you would have done?
For a little bit I did think I’d like to be an opera singer. I do have a great love of music, but I didn’t pursue it so you realise that the calling wasn’t there. The calling was what I actually went and did. Journalism was my calling.
Do you still sing now?
Oh, in the shower! [Laughs] But I used to sing when I was at school.
What is the best part of what you do?
I really enjoy Studio 10 because it allows me to be involved in lots of issues of the day. So it means I’ve got to keep informed, and as president of Alzheimer’s Australia I know it’s really important to use your brain all the time, and to challenge it.
And the worst?
I could say getting up early. I wouldn’t mind one more hour in bed in the morning!
You always look so stylish. Have you always had a love of fashion?
Yes, I think I learnt it from my father. He used to drill it in that you always have to look as good as you possibly could. Especially as a journalist because you never know when a job is going to come up, so if you look the part, you’ll get the gig. So I was thrilled to be asked to be involved with Sportscraft.
What’s your involvement with Sportscraft?
I’m one of their ambassadors for their 100th anniversary, which they’re celebrating this year, which is terrific. When you look at the number of Australian companies that have gone out of business or struggling and it’s still here, 100 years on, you think: “Why has this brand survived?” And I think it survived because it has reinvented itself when it has had to and it has changed as women’s lives have changed. The fashion that it produced 100 years ago was for a woman who led a completely different life than what we lead today. Today it’s really geared at woman who work and lead active lives.
What do you do in your spare time?
Well, I look after my grandchildren … I know all about Barbie. I know where to find the latest Barbie DVDs!
Are you a strict grandmother?
I’m both. I think I’m fun but they all know that when I say “No” I mean it.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
There are a couple of other books I’d like to write and I’m just finishing an etiquette app, based on material I wrote for my book A Guide to Australian Etiquette. So there’s quite a few things I still have on my agenda to do, so hopefully I’ll still be busy and still making a contribution.
WE WENT TO Beppi’s Restaurant, East Sydney.
WE ATE Jumbo scallops seared & served with pea purée, salmon caviar & white balsamic and asparagus with parmesan.
WE DRANK sparkling mineral water and Pighin Pinot Grigio.
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