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Date with Kate

Date with Kate: Lisa Wilkinson

28th May, 2017

Lisa Wilkinson and I catching up at Bather’s Pavilion in celebration of her 10 year anniversary as co-host of channel 9’s TODAY show


Lisa Wilkinson today marks her 10th anniversary as co-host of Channel 9’s Today show. She began her career at Dolly and at 21 she became the magazine’s youngest editor. Kerry Packer appointed her editor of Cleo and she went on to be its international editor-in-chief. Her television career began in the late-’90s as a regular panellist on Ten’s Beauty and the Beast, during the 2000 Sydney Olympics she co-hosted Seven’s The Morning Shift and in 2005 began hosting its Weekend Sunrise. Wilkinson, 57, chatted to me about her biggest highlight, why she almost gave up television and how she defines success.

Congratulations on 10 years with the Today show. What does it feel like to have been in a prominent role on TV for a decade? 

Extraordinary … because at the beginning there I thought, “If I can last six months in this job I’ll be doing well”… So much has happened in 10 years … I mean we’ve just been there with such big stories and against that we have all the fun times and the amazing people that you get to interview. So when I look back over what we’ve covered in 10 years, I’m surprised I’m not exhausted.

What do you love most about your job?

The audience – the feedback that we get, the fact that we’re privileged enough that people actually want to make our show part of their morning; that’s the way that they want to wake up. And that they trust us, they want to have a laugh with us and hopefully we put a skip in their step as they head out to work or send the kids off to school or stay home, or whatever form their day takes. If we can make their start to the day just a little bit better, for me the payback is huge.

Lisa on the Today show. Image source: @lisa_wilkinson

What’s the most challenging aspect of your role? 

The hours, the lack of sleep. I’ve got a sleep debt, but I’ll be a long time paying back to my body!

If you had to pinpoint your biggest highlight in the last 10 years, what would it be? 

Interviewing the entire cast of children from The Sound of Music on their 50th anniversary. It was such a treat because I grew up watching The Sound of Music.

Who do you still hope to interview?

Michelle Obama, closely followed by Barack.

What is it about live TV that really excites you? 

Just the adrenaline rush of having a rough idea what’s coming up next, but invariably things go off the rails, particularly when you’re sitting next to Karl Stefanovic … Some mornings are very challenging, like the one particular morning after the Logies! [Laughs.] Watching it back, I do get offended sometimes when people say that they knew that Karl had had too much drink when he said 76 times that I was beautiful. It was just like, “Thanks a lot, he had to be really drunk to say that.” With Karl and me, we push each other and we know after all this time each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we celebrate them, but we also like to push each other as well. It’s like a marriage.

When something goes wrong live on air, what’s your secret to getting things back on track?

I think, first and foremost, you can’t take yourself too seriously. In the end our viewers will forgive a lot, as long as we’re honest with them, and if things are going wrong, we tell them. We screw up all the time …

Who do you look up to and admire?

I admire so many different women, I mean everyone from Gail Kelly, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett … Ellen DeGeneres, like wow, because she has got such a beautiful heart and the generosity that she imparts daily. I mean the fact that she finishes every show with, “Be kind to each other”, I think says everything about her and it’s such a positive program.

The early covers of Dolly magazine where Lisa’s career began. Image source: @lisa_wilkinson


You started your journalistic career in magazines. Did you always know that you would go into TV? 

Not in a million years, I couldn’t have ever imagined that this is where I would end up. In fact, I got that job at Dolly at the age of 19, after answering a three-line ad in the women and girls’ employment section of The Sydney Morning Herald. I still have the ad and remember the exact phone number … It’s the only job I’ve ever applied for.

How did you end up at Cleo?

I was planning to take a trip to Europe for four weeks … It was right then that I got a call from Kerry Packer because he was looking for an editor at Cleo … I just thought, “I’ll go to lunch because he is the legendary Kerry Packer and I just want to be able to one day tell my grandkids, ‘I met the great Kerry Packer and I said ‘no’ to his job offer …’ ”

Did you know he was going to ask you to be the editor of Cleo?

No, he just said, “I really want to meet you” … So I went to the pre-arranged address that his secretary gave me … It was just like this nothing address with no restaurant except for the Channel 9 helicopter, that was sitting there with the blades roaring, and there was Trevor Kennedy, who was Kerry Packer’s right-hand man, ushering me into the helicopter so that we could go up to the Palm Beach and have lunch with Kerry Packer … Needless to say, I was very impressed … He [Packer] just made me so excited about what I was going to be able to do with Cleo. So I was there for 10 years as well.

Having worked at Dolly and Cleo at such young age, what did you learn about yourself?

To listen to your gut instinct … I learnt it’s so important to communicate with the people that you work with and to keep the lines of communication open. For everybody to work together, for everybody to be supportive of each other – and that’s when you get the best out of people – and also being given that extraordinary opportunity at such a young age, I could never understand why I got that, why me.

How do you define success? 

To feel challenged by what I do. To work hard enough that I can feel satisfied that I’ve done a good job, but also to be able to combine that with family and to make sure that the space is there for my kids and for my marriage.

How do you juggle it all?

I’ve always made sure that the kids have been very involved, particularly during the last 10 years, that they’re comfortable with the hours that I’m doing and the ways in which it can impact their lives at times, when they really want me to be at a play performance or parent-teacher night or whatever things come along … I have to be honest, I’ve missed a few. Not a lot, but I’ve missed a few … Every time my contract has come up, it has been a big family meeting about checking in and making sure that no one feels like they’re missing out. There was one time there where I thought, “I think this is impacting too much on the family,” and Pete was doing breakfast radio at that time, but he volunteered to stop doing the same hours … There was a time a couple of years ago where I thought, “I’m not sure that I can keep doing these hours and everyone is going to be OK”, so … I said to the kids, “How would you feel if I gave up the Today show?” There was just like this resounding, “No, you can’t. No, Mum.”

Lisa and her husband Pete. Image source: @lisa_wilkinson

Being married to Peter FitzSimons – a fellow journalist – you must be a great support to one another? 

Pete and I never get enough time together and we just have such common interests …  It’s lovely being married to somebody whose work you’re really incredibly proud of because his main gig now is writing books and so it’s lovely that every six months or so he is onto a new project. I’m always fascinated by the work he is doing and he is probably the most enthusiastic viewer the Today show has … The phone in my dressing room goes at 10 past 9 every day, it’s always Pete, who gives me a critique of what he has seen, and he asks me how the ratings are.

Will your children follow in both your and Peter’s footsteps? 

Well, we’ve got two that are heading for journalism … Our oldest son, Jake, has very strong opinions on things and he challenges us because Pete and I aren’t peas in a pod when it comes to our views on things, and so to now have a third one …

What do you do in your time off when you’re not working?

We’re just about to start some renovations at the house. I think, if I come back, next time around I think I will be an architect … I’m really passionate about photography as well. So they’re kind of the two things that really spark me up.


We went to Bathers Pavilion, Balmoral Beach

We ate Scones with cream and jam; biscotti

We drank Earl Grey tea and cappuccino

Lisa wore Vitteroy trench

Kate wore Christopher Esber

Photography James Brickwood.

Date with Kate


31st July, 2016

Television journalist Sylvia Jeffreys is a presenter on the Today show alongside Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic and she announced her engagement to Peter Stefanovic, Karl’s brother and a fellow journalist, over Instagram while holidaying in Europe this month. Jeffreys, 30, revealed to me about how their romance started on set, what she is most looking forward to in her married life, and her training preparations for The Sun-Herald City2Surf on August 14.

Congratulations on your engagement!

Thank you. It’s exciting; it’s a really happy time. We’re completely touched from receiving so many beautiful messages from people, not just in our family and our circle of friends but well beyond that, including all of our Today show viewers. It has been really heart-warming to get all that love.

How did Pete propose?

Pete wouldn’t let me give you all the details! It was in France, in the Bordeaux region, it was beautiful. I called the show and told them all about it, after it happened. He was on one knee in a vineyard and popped the question. We held onto it for a couple of weeks so that we could surprise our friends who we were meeting up with overseas. So it’s nice coming home now and being able to have a second wave of celebrations.

Do you have any wedding plans yet?

No plans … I don’t even know where to start. So we’re just enjoying it for the moment.

What is it like working with your fiance?

We’re both so focused on the job and there are obviously natural elements of your personal life that kind of creep through on the Today show because that’s the nature of the show. But we both just put our heads down and do the job that we’re there to do and carry on.

Did you meet at Channel 9?

Yes, we met hosting the weekend Today show over the Christmas period a few years ago. That was the first time we met face to face and it was soon after that that we started courting.

Was it love at first sight?

Oh sort of, yes [laughs]. We sort of bumped into each other in a car park at Channel 9 one day before we started hosting together … I think it was pretty obvious, certainly was to everyone around me – my mum and my sister, in particular, knew that there was something there.

What are you most looking forward to in married life?

It’s this great sense of anticipation about everything at the moment … It feels like now we’re sort of moving forward at a pretty quick rate. But I look forward to slowing down and just easing into life together and navigating everything that comes our way together.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

I suppose it’s dealing with the really sensitive issues that come up on the show. We deal with everything, from crime to feel-good human stories to everything in between. There are stories that really hit you for six, and you can’t really prepare for that and you don’t have a lot of time to think about it or think about how you would respond … so it can be challenging.

Tell me about your City2Surf ambassador role.

I was just thrilled to be invited to be a part of it because I needed that motivation … I’ve done the event once before, it’s such a great community event. It’s so much fun, the atmosphere is beautiful and you end up down at Bondi at the end too, which is a reward in itself.

Are you currently training for the race?

Yes, quite conveniently, it’s probably helping me with my wedding training as well. Obviously running makes you feel good, but mentally, for me, exercise is crucial with my hours, when you’re starting at three o’clock in the morning. There is a very genuine link between early starts and shift work and regular hours and depression. I’m not saying that I’m suffering depression, but you can have lows, you can feel flat and you can feel a bit irritable and … I would rather stay on top of things by eating well and looking after myself physically and mentally.

When you were younger did you always aspire to be doing what you’re doing today?

I did. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a journalist and went straight from school into a gap year and then came back and did journalism at university. But there were periods where I wanted to be a swimmer and I wanted to swim for Australia.

What was your first big break?

I’m not sure if it was a big break, it was a very bottom of the bottom rung of the ladders – just short of running coffees, essentially. I was writing scripts for the newsreaders in the Brisbane newsroom and rolling their autocue. It was a very junior role but I did that for a very long time through university … I ended up reporting on a TV show called Extra, which was on before the news in Brisbane. My first story was on the benefits of mini water tanks around the home and how they’re flexible and versatile and can be moved around the backyard.

What has been the best advice someone has given you?

Probably the most crucial advice came in on my first day at Channel 9 from the executive producer in the newsroom, Ron Krueger, who said, “Never assume anything”, and that comes into play in every single bulletin that I do on the Today show to this day. You can’t assume that anything is fact or true, so you have to sort of do your research and cover things off and make sure you’re on the right track.

What is it like working with Karl [Stefanovic] and Lisa [Wilkinson]?

Well, it’s fun but it’s also such a privilege. They’re two people with a wealth of experience between the two of them. I couldn’t ask to be sponging off better people in the industry… Obviously working next to Karl is a bit of a rollercoaster and sometimes a challenge in itself, but a fun one.

It must be fun working alongside your future brother in-law?

Yes … Is there somewhere to divorce brother in-law? [Laughs.] He is fantastic and he, obviously, has a reputation for being a ratbag, which he probably deserves, but he also is a very generous and supportive person, which he doesn’t like me saying, because apparently it wouldn’t do his reputation any good!

Karl must be thrilled about your upcoming wedding.

I think he is more excited about the bucks; he is already floating some ideas. I think Thailand has been floated for a week, which I vetoed!


WE WENT TO Italian Street Kitchen, Neutral Bay.

WE ATE Aranchini with Roasted pumpkin, smoked Provolone, Parmesan, thyme and panko crumb; Bruschetta with Fresh tomato, garlic, basil; Caprese salad with cherry tomatos, Bocconcini cheese, oregano, basil & extra virgin olive oil; Buffalo margerita pizza with Buffalo mozzarella, Parmesan and basil; Spaghetti marinara Rosso with fresh seafood sautéed with garlic and chilli in Napoli sauce

WE DRANK Sparkling mineral water

SYLVIA WORE Willow top, AG denim and Country Road boots

KATE WORE Witchery coat and dress from General Pants.