Kerri-Anne Kennerley is known as the queen of daytime TV, fuelled by a wicked sense of humour and ability to handle awkward situations. She was the host of Midday from 1996 to 1998 and Kerri-Anne from 2002 to 2011. Now the 61-year-old is back in her role as Mark Bouris’ aide on The Celebrity Apprentice. Kate Waterhouse chatted to her about her new role, returning to Channel 9 and why she will never return to daytime TV.
Tell me about your experience as a mentor on Celebrity Apprentice.
It was really interesting. I love the aspect of watching human nature in its natural form. What you have is 12 people, all of whom are professionals. They’re well known and good at what they do. You put those 12 people who are naturally competitive together and you know stuff is going to happen, especially when they’re put under time pressures to complete certain challenges. So I just love that.
What made you do the show?
I had been in New York and interviewed Donald Trump and he personally asked me if I’d like to come down to see the final show. It was phenomenal watching American Celebrity Apprentice live, and that’s when I got really interested in the format of the show.
Would you do the show as one of the contestants?
No, no. That would be a definite “no!” [laughs].
Why would you never go on the show as a contestant?
Because I think it’s too hard. And I don’t need to prove anything to myself. I just wanted to see it from the inside out.
Is there anyone that you really got along well with, that maybe you wouldn’t have expected?
Gina [Liano, of The Real Housewives of Melbourne] I found fascinating! Gina is a charming, lovely woman who mothered all the girls. The girls all gravitated to her and she genuinely looked after them. She is not as scary as I thought. She’s tough, she’s bright, she has a very complete sense of herself and her own self-esteem and I admire that.
You’re back on Channel 9. Was it a bittersweet returning to the network?
Oh, no – I’m delighted to be back. Look, history is history and it’s, let’s face it, it’s television, it’s not real life and it’s not life-threatening. It’s good fun. I just did [Celebrity Apprentice] because I’ve never done a reality show. Actually, 30 years of live TV, Monday to Friday, five days a week, three hours a day, that’s what I call reality TV! But, that said, this style of reality I hadn’t done before.
Would you ever go back to daytime TV?
No, I’ll never do that again! I did from 1981 to 2011 – 30 years and it’s a six-day week. But I love projects, a bit here and a bit there, a bit of travel. I play golf; I’m on the board of Golf Australia. So I just like doing one-off little projects. I want to do more. There’s no retirement for me. I will always create something else to do but I just don’t want to have to get up at 3.30am every morning, five days a week ever again.
Out of your 30 years of daytime TV, who was most interesting person you have interviewed?
I think Robin Williams will always be up there for being the most incredible person. His presence fills the room. I likened him to interviewing a butterfly in a bottle. You could not control him. He was just wild, unpredictable. We had him officially for seven minutes; 52 minutes later – he just stayed and stayed and I wasn’t going to interrupt it. I probably in that whole time asked six questions.
You’re known as queen of daytime TV and always handling awkward situations. What’s the secret to your method?
An interview is only the tip of an iceberg. That’s what people see. The homework behind the interview is nine-tenths of the work. Especially on live television, it’s imperative that you know everything about that person because there’s nowhere to hide. You must know where the person could go with each question. So if they change direction you know where to go because it’s probably more interesting than what you had already had planned. On live TV, it’s more important than ever because it’s easy to spend five hours doing an interview in a boardroom when you can cut it up and make the best five minutes. You’ve also got to have that art of being able to go, “Oh, it’s really getting boring”, and you’ll have to take in a breath and “Now I can go in” [and interrupt] without looking rude.
When you were younger, would you have ever envisaged your life the way it is today?
I started on television at 13 as a young high school girl doing songs and dances. I had no idea because I had no expectations. I come from a family that had nothing to do with showbiz. I liked TV and I liked performing. I didn’t know how to get there. I just kept doing everything. So when people say, “how do you get into show business?”, [the answer] is you do everything, most of the time, early on, for nothing. Because that’s what you’ve got to do. Nobody is going to pay you to learn.
You’ve been at the top of your game for so many years. How have you always stayed relevant?
I never sort of try to be relevant. I just try to do that show the absolute best I could be, with the greatest amount of focus to making it just a little different. The Friday before Midday started, when I finally got that job – out of the blue – I get a call saying “Kerry Packer wants to see you”. I was literally running around town in jeans and T-shirt so I had to borrow a jacket out of Liz Hayes’ wardrobe.
Did you know why Kerry Packer wanted to see you?
I had absolutely no idea. Here am I, outside, pacing the corridor, and I walked in and then he said “OK, girly, what are you going to do?” That was the first thing out of his mouth. I said “Well, Mr Packer. I am the first woman, solo host of Midday that has come along. I’d like to make a point of difference. I don’t want it to be talking heads. I’d like it to be more interactive” and blah blah. I am pulling it from the air … I said, “We may even do a theme show like … – I don’t know if we were going to do a country show with hay bales”, and blah blah. He replied, “I like country.” So, Kerry Packer listened to me bang on and he is going, “OK, girly – you know, I like loyalty.” I’ve gone, “Well, Mr Packer, I think loyalty is not an issue. I did this and this and I’ve also been married for 14 years and I think I’ve got a fairly good track record.” And he said, “OK”. And that was it. Scary, I’ll tell you!
WE WENT TO Alpha Restaurant, Sydney CBD.
WE ATE Pita bread; melitzanosalata smoked eggplant did; taramasalata dip, barrel-aged feta tou fournou; Arctic crab and haloumi tart; slow-roasted lamb spare ribs with roast chilli macadamia skordalia.
WE DRANK Douloufakis Dafnios Vidiano, Crete
KERRI-ANNE WORE David Lawrence jacket, T-shirt and pants.
I WORE Rachel Gilbert