“A lot has happened since then,” Lisa Wilkinson says with a laugh when she references the last time Audi Magazine caught up with her at her home on Sydney’s north shore in 2016.
‘A lot’ is an assessment bordering on the conservative side when you look back at the last three years of Wilkinson’s career in the ever-evolving Australian television landscape.
While she may have jumped networks from Nine to Ten in October 2017 – generating a nationwide discussion on the gender pay gap on her swift and unexpected departure – and given up the daily 3am Today alarm clock for a prime-time nightly role on The Project, she has remained a permanent fixture on our screens and maintained her influential position as one of Australia’s most respected and popular journalists.
With a new home at Ten helming the Melbourne-based news and entertainment program three nights a week (as well as travelling the world on special assignments and her role as Editor-At-Large of the network’s news website, 10 Daily), some may think after 10 years of rising in the wee small hours of the morning, it might have taken her some time to re-adjust to a normal waking schedule.
“It was literally instantaneous. 24 hours and I’m not even kidding”, the Audi ambassador responds, without a moment’s hesitation.
“I must say after more than a decade of getting up at 3am, it was a very welcome relief the very first morning and every morning since when I could blissfully be unaware that it was 3am because I was busy staring at the back of my eyelids.”
Despite the ‘permanent jet lag’ she endured during her 11 years on the breakfast show, at the time, Wilkinson was adamant that waking up with Today was the “best job in the world”.
“I have to say right up until that very last day, Karl and I could still do that, still make each other laugh and still challenge each other, still argue a point and be friends at the end of it, we still respected the work that the other one did, and it was a great on-air marriage where we were still peeling back the layers of the onion. We could still frustrate the hell out of each other as well, like any great marriage.
“But I do feel that when you’ve invested that much time and that much energy and that much commitment – and I really did commit to that job – I don’t feel like I left anything undone, or unsaid or unchallenged so I feel like I walked away from that job having owned it and I’m proud that I can say that because that was as high profile and as pressured a role as I have ever had.”
It might seem hard to top one of the most coveted positions in Australian television, but Wilkinson seems to have found a way to do it.
While her job involves helming The Project Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights, she spends a considerable amount of the remainder of the week flexing her journalistic muscles in other ways.
“I’ve got a fairly well-travelled passport between Sydney, LA, New York and London,” she says of her new posting.
“I’ll never forget the day I got a call from my executive producer saying ‘ok I need you to clear the decks for the next week, we want you to fly to London and interview David Beckham, and then we want you to go to New York to interview Bradley Cooper because he’s got this new movie coming out called A Star Is Born, and then come back via LA and we want you to interview Jon Bon Jovi.’
“And I said to my executive producer ‘ is this a joke? because this is a complete waste on a happily married woman’. And then I said to him ‘actually, no it isn’t, I can still appreciate an intelligent, warm, accomplished, good-looking bloke to have a chat to for half an hour’”.
David Beckham was “just so charming”.
“I was completely blown away by his charm, so I thought ‘ok well, I’ve got my favourite out of three already’.
Bradley Cooper, “is impossibly good looking, but in a way that has a lot to do with this beautiful, gentle intensive creativity that he’s got. It’s not in any way confronting, he’s just completely in the moment and he’s really listening to the questions you are asking, and is giving you answers he’s really thought about. He’s completely engaged, and as a journo, there’s nothing more creatively satisfying than feeling that exchange of energy.”
But Jon Bon Jovi was the real surprise.
“He walked into the room and from the moment he sat down, he was 100 times more interesting than I ever could have expected.
“He had so many more layers than I was expecting and so I walked away impressed with all three of them, but thinking, ‘if you had to pick your favourite out of those three, Jon Bon Jovi is the one that really seriously impressed me with the level of authenticity and depth that went way beyond a guy on a stage with a microphone and tight jeans and hair flying’. It’s nice to be surprised.”
With the newfound mental clarity that comes with normal working hours, Wilkinson says she has been surprised to learn a few things about herself too.
“I think with everything that’s happened over the last three years, I’ve learnt that I have reserves of resilience that I possibly didn’t credit myself with previously, because I didn’t really have to.
“When change came along – and I adjusted amazingly quickly – I realised that I am somebody that likes a challenge, while I can happily float along and commit and be involved, I think I’m never better than when I find myself thrown in the deep end and have to rethink everything and that’s where I think I’ve been thrilled to discover I’ve got reserves of resilience that I was not aware I had.”
Lisa Wilkinson is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.