“Looks were never my thing”

As she caps off an­other year of head­line-mak­ing in­ter­views, Gold Lo­gie nom­i­nee Tracy Grimshaw takes stock of a ca­reer – and a life – that have never been de­fined by the mun­dane

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy DAMIAN BEN­NETT In­ter­view ANGELA MOLLARD

COVER STORY She may have chalked up nearly four decades in the no­to­ri­ously fickle TV in­dus­try, but veteran jour­nal­ist Tracy Grimshaw tells Stel­lar she’s never felt pres­sure to be glam­orous. In­stead, the Gold Lo­gie nom­i­nee says her “luck” is sim­ply the by-prod­uct of hard work.

Tracy Grimshaw was clean­ing out the sta­bles at her home on the out­skirts of Sydney when she re­ceived a text from a friend. “I’m vot­ing for you for Gold,” read the mes­sage. Grimshaw texted her back, ask­ing what on earth she was talk­ing about. Her friend promptly phoned. “You re­ally must watch tele­vi­sion,” she told the sea­soned news­reader. “The To­day show is cam­paign­ing for you for the Gold Lo­gie.”

Grimshaw had no idea her Nine Net­work col­league Karl Ste­fanovic was cru­sad­ing to have her nom­i­nated for the gong. “I am im­mensely flat­tered and hon­oured, but I wasn’t ex­pect­ing it,” she tells Stel­lar. “I don’t see my­self in this space. I’m not a front-and-cen­tre girl; I’m a work­ing journo.”

While some are claim­ing this year’s Gold Lo­gie nom­i­nees, who in­clude Amanda Keller, Grant Denyer and Fox­tel’s An­drew Win­ter, are a tri­umph of “sub­stance over style” and “ex­pe­ri­ence over ego”, oth­ers re­gard the line-up as a bunch of “has-beens and no­bod­ies”. Grimshaw, who takes both slams and su­perla­tives with a grain of salt, couldn’t care less about the com­men­tary – but notes one thing: “Amanda and my­self are not kids. It’s the #Metoo year, so it’s nice that two ma­ture women are not only up for the Gold Lo­gie, but it [also] gives lie to the no­tion that TV is for young women and that older women are be­ing shuf­fled out the door. We’re cer­tainly not.”

Grimshaw turned 58 ear­lier this month and while TV news is in­creas­ingly pre­sented, if not pow­ered, by am­bi­tious and glam­orous young fe­males, she has no fears of be­ing re­placed as host of A Cur­rent Af­fair af­ter al­most 13 years in the post.

“I don’t feel that pres­sure at all and I never re­ally have,” she says. “It de­pends on what you pri­ori­tise over the years. If you make your look, for ex­am­ple, your stock-in-trade then that’s go­ing to di­min­ish as you get older. I never walked into a room and thought glam­our and looks were my thing. If you make your ap­proach to your job, or your mea­sure of author­ity, or cred­i­bil­ity, your stock-in-trade then it’s not go­ing to mat­ter what hap­pens to how you look or what you’re wear­ing or whether you have wrin­kles. Cer­tainly, no-one has tried to pen­sion me off.”

Grimshaw’s grav­i­tas firmly es­tab­lishes her in the league of the ABC’S Sarah Fer­gu­son and Leigh Sales, and her 60 Min­utes coun­ter­parts Liz Hayes and Tara Brown. But she has ar­guably made the sit-down in­ter­view her own, not just on the grounds of the exclusives she has se­cured, but through the deft­ness of her ques­tion­ing. To watch her in­ter­view foot­ball star Matthew Johns in a dark­ened stu­dio about the NRL sex scan­dal in 2009, or in­ter­ro­gate tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter Don Burke on sex­ual-harass­ment and bul­ly­ing al­le­ga­tions late last year, is to be given a front-row seat to her sub­ject’s char­ac­ter.

It can be un­com­fort­able, ad­ver­sar­ial and at times ex­cru­ci­at­ingly in­tense. But Grimshaw tries not to let her method over­shadow the mes­sage. It’s the same when she’s do­ing more heart­felt in­ter­views – most re­cently with the par­ents of Amy “Dolly” Everett, the North­ern Ter­ri­tory teen who took her own life af­ter re­lent­less bul­ly­ing.

In an era of “gotcha” ap­proaches that find in­ter­view­ers be­ing de­lib­er­ately an­tag­o­nis­tic, or pan­der­ing chats where they cry and put their arms around the sub­ject’s shoul­ders, Grimshaw rarely grand­stands.

“In­ter­views are a fas­ci­nat­ing in­ter­play be­tween two peo­ple, but I should be a con­duit and dis­ap­pear into the back­ground,” she ex­plains. “It should be about them – if you in­ject too much emo­tion, you can colour the way [the sub­ject] be­haves.”

That said, there’s al­most a shrink’s in­sight in the way that Grimshaw elic­its an­swers, not so sur­pris­ing when you

con­sider she be­gan a com­bined psy­chol­ogy and zo­ol­ogy de­gree at La Trobe Univer­sity when she was 18. “I do have a nat­u­ral in­ter­est in psy­chol­ogy,” Grimshaw con­firms. “A girl­friend did her de­gree re­cently and she was send­ing me links. I’m still fas­ci­nated by it. But then I’m fas­ci­nated by the hu­man con­di­tion. And re­ally, jour­nal­ism is a daily ex­plo­ration of the hu­man con­di­tion.”

Yet for all the ef­fort she throws into help­ing oth­ers ex­am­ine them­selves, Grimshaw is deeply un­com­fort­able when the mi­cro­phone gets turned around. Plenty of tele­vi­sion hosts clam­our for pub­lic­ity, but she clearly dis­likes that part of the job. Af­ter pos­ing in a se­lec­tion of out­fits for Stel­lar, she is vis­i­bly more com­fort­able back in her own clob­ber when she sits down for a chat. Still, Grimshaw would much rather dis­cuss any­thing other than her­self. For the first 20 min­utes she shifts un­com­fort­ably, oc­ca­sion­ally tries to ob­fus­cate, but even­tu­ally ap­pears to re­mem­ber a key premise of in­ter­views: that they are gen­er­ally over more quickly if the sub­ject ac­tu­ally an­swers the ques­tions.

“It’s very hard to talk about me,” she ad­mits. As such, it is pretty un­likely that she will re­lease an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy any time soon. When it’s pointed out that she wrote a beau­ti­fully ob­served ar­ti­cle for The Aus­tralian when four of her Nine col­leagues from 60 Min­utes were im­pris­oned in Beirut in 2016, and that she must have some ter­rific sto­ries to tell, her face shriv­els with dis­taste, the thought clearly ap­palling her: “There’s noth­ing I’d like less than to write a book on me. I’d rather re­cede into the back­ground.”

Grimshaw won’t budge when prompted to dis­cuss her pri­vate life, say­ing only that, “I’ve had lots of long-term re­la­tion­ships, but I’ve never talked about any of them.” She also tends to be ab­sent from red car­pets and A-list in­dus­try events; she works week­day evenings and, in any case, would rather buy a ticket on her own and go out with her mates. These choices have led to mis­con­cep­tions and even down­right nas­ti­ness from ob­servers. She has been ac­cused on­line of be­ing “mad and menopausal” by a viewer,“crip­plingly shy” by a mag­a­zine and, in 2009, a “les­bian” in need of Bo­tox by the celebrity chef Gor­don Ram­say. She came out fight­ing against that last one, declar­ing that she wasn’t gay, but that Ram­say was an “ar­ro­gant nar­cis­sist”. Grimshaw’s friends, in­clud­ing tele­vi­sion pro­ducer and former Nine sports com­men­ta­tor Anne-ma­ree Spark­man, still laugh up­roar­i­ously at any pre­con­cep­tions she is re­served.

“Tracy Grimshaw is not a shy wo­man, not on any day that she’s ever walked this Earth,” chor­tles Spark­man, who has known the TV host since they joined Nine 37 years ago. “She’s de­ter­mined and fierce and fe­ro­ciously in­tel­li­gent, but she’s also great fun. She en­joys laugh­ing and so­cial­is­ing and her gen­eros­ity knows no bounds. She wouldn’t want me to give ex­am­ples, but she helps peo­ple in all sorts of ways.”

Probe a lit­tle and it be­comes clear Grimshaw is, in­deed, far from an in­tro­vert. She spent her re­cent birth­day with friends around a bon­fire, and Spark­man re­veals that the jour­nal­ist is a “mar­vel­lous” cook who rus­tles up ex­trav­a­gant feasts at her acreage prop­erty. “She has gone from the girl who’d do a roast chicken for her boyfriend once a week to this ex­tra­or­di­nary cook. She’s a pescatar­ian now and she’s taught her­self to cook in the same way she does ev­ery­thing – throw­ing her­self in 100 per cent, in­ter­ro­gat­ing and analysing so she can do it well.”

It would seem that Grimshaw also likes a drink, but mov­ing from To­day to A Cur­rent Af­fair has put paid to the days of long lunches. “I don’t do lunches,” she says, adding with a laugh, “There’s no point drink­ing wa­ter at lunch… and the at­trac­tion at lunch is not the food.”

In­deed, it was a drink­ing ses­sion with her former boss James Packer that led to Grimshaw find­ing her­self locked out of her ho­tel room naked af­ter the 1998 Lo­gie Awards. She and Packer had been knock­ing back te­quila – “we used to love the te­quila shots” – when she re­alised that she needed to get ready for To­day. Back in her room at The Crown in Mel­bourne, Grimshaw stripped off her clothes and de­cided to have a shower be­fore the hair and make-up artists ar­rived to make her cam­era-ready.

“I locked my­self out of my ho­tel room stark­ers,” she af­firms, ex­plain­ing that she mis­took the ho­tel room door for the bath­room door. It was 3.45am and there was no-one in the hall­way. “I took stock of the sit­u­a­tion and re­alised that the guest op­po­site had The Aus­tralian de­liv­ered. Thank god it was a broad­sheet and not the Her­ald Sun. I cov­ered my­self with that and knocked on the next door down the hall­way, then ran back to my door. Some­one stuck their head out and saw me, and about five min­utes later the girl from Crown walked down the hall­way and let me in.” The mishap would have re­mained a se­cret had she not told her co-host Steve Lieb­mann when she ar­rived late on set. “He was wear­ing a mi­cro­phone so it went straight to the con­trol room in Sydney,” she re­calls. “Of course, ev­ery­one heard it.”

If any­one is qual­i­fied to chart the rise of women in com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion, it is Grimshaw. Af­ter aban­don­ing her univer­sity de­gree – she found the vivi­sec­tion in zo­ol­ogy too grue­some – she be­gan a cadet­ship in sub­ur­ban news­pa­pers be­fore be­ing hired by Nine in 1981. “When I walked into the news­room, it was pretty much a sausage fest,” she re­calls. “There were hardly any women so I mod­elled my­self on Peter Jen­nings, the ABC Amer­ica an­chor, be­cause he was an amaz­ing in­ter­viewer and great live-tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist.”

She never left – and is on her way to chalk­ing up four decades with the net­work. “I’m a bit of a stayer,” she laughs. “I do tend to put down roots. If I was a race­horse I’d be a Mel­bourne Cup horse. I’m not a sprinter.”

In the wake of #Metoo, Grimshaw has a few thoughts. She be­lieves workplaces must pri­ori­tise pro­tect­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble, and points to­wards her own re­silience as so­cial mores evolved. “I’ve cer­tainly had in­ap­pro­pri­ate things done to me over the years, but ev­ery­one draws their line in dif­fer­ent places. Just be­cause it doesn’t bother me, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t bother other women.”

Through­out our in­ter­view, Grimshaw con­stantly points out that she’s “lucky”, but ac­knowl­edges her luck is also the re­sult of hard work. She is also an op­ti­mist, one who opts to fo­cus on prac­tis­ing grat­i­tude be­fore she starts tap­ping away on so­cial-me­dia chan­nels. “So­cial me­dia can be a mega­phone for pes­simism. Most peo­ple use it to ex­press ‘woe is me’ or ‘life is ter­ri­ble’ or ‘I’ve had a shock­ing day’,” she says. No­tably on her own un­der­stated In­sta­gram ac­count – she has fewer than 3000 fol­low­ers – there is a post that reads: “Peo­ple who won­der whether the glass is half-empty or half-full miss the point. The glass is re­fill­able.”

Cer­tainly, she’s a wo­man who tries to re­main teth­ered to what is truly im­por­tant. Hav­ing lost her mum Barbara to can­cer in 2011, she still misses her – and oc­ca­sion­ally talks to her. “I’m very aware she’s not there but I still say, ‘Ma, you would’ve liked to­day.’”

As she pre­pares for the Lo­gies next Sun­day, Grimshaw con­tin­ues to pay no at­ten­tion to her de­trac­tors, and is happy to re­mind that she never re­ally has. “It’s up to you how im­por­tant you make those peo­ple,” she says. “You can give them power or give them none.”

Be­sides, she would rather give her at­ten­tion to view­ers like Fred, who lives in a re­tire­ment vil­lage on the NSW Cen­tral Coast. He re­cently made her a neck­lace in the shape of a horse­shoe and posted it to her with a card. She could barely read his hand­writ­ing but made a call to the fa­cil­ity named on the en­ve­lope. “Tell Fred I’m go­ing to wear his neck­lace on the show tonight,” she told a mem­ber of staff. And she did.

GOOD AS GOLD (from top) Tracy Grimshaw co-host­ing the To­day show with Steve Lieb­mann in 2004; grilling Don Burke over sex­ual-harass­ment al­le­ga­tions in Novem­ber last year; with fel­low 2018 Gold Lo­gie nom­i­nees Grant Denyer, Amanda Keller, Rodger Corser and Jessica Marais in May.

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