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A Day At A Time

Illawarra Mercury

Saturday June 7, 2008


Wollongong-born Today show host Lisa Wilkinson took advice Edmund Hillary gave her and transferred it to TV, writes LOUISE TURK.

Before his death, Sir Edmund Hillary revealed to journalist Lisa Wilkinson something of his psychological state when climbing the world's highest peak.

Wilkinson asked the mountaineer how he had mustered the strength and determination to reach the summit of Mt Everest and whether there were moments of self-doubt.

Hillary answered that he never considered he couldn't do it. He firmly believed that if he put his left foot in front of his right foot, and then the right in front of the left, he'd get there.

"That's the way I approached this job," Wilkinson says of her anchor role on WIN's Today show. "I just figured I would take it an hour at a time, a show at a time, and a week at a time. You do the best you can, every time you take a step."

Echoing Hillary's logic, Wilkinson adds: "I knew that if I put my left foot in front of my right, and my right in front of my left, that I was doing the best that I could. And if that wasn't good enough for everybody else, at least I knew that I had given it my best shot. That's all I can do, really."

Wilkinson, 48, is celebrating her first year since taking up her post alongside co-host Karl Stefanovic. She joined the live show in late May 2007 replacing Jessica Rowe.

At the time she was offered the full-time position, Wilkinson was working as co-host of Prime's Weekend Sunrise.

Before Wilkinson's appointment, Today had been rocked by instability, with several changes to its female co-hosts and its format in an attempt to close the ratings margin between itself and rival Sunrise.

Headed by Melissa Doyle and David Koch, Sunrise has held the dominant position since 2004 and, until recently, looked untouchable.

Yet the Stefanovic and Wilkinson combination, with their relaxed and informative style, is making headway and the ratings gap between the two programs has narrowed.

"The ratings are good," Wilkinson says. "We've still got a long way to go. We're still coming second but we're taking it one show at a time."

Wilkinson says Today's improved ratings can be attributed to the team working cohesively and the clear direction set by executive producer Tom Malone over the past two years.

"There was a time when the show got a little bit spooked by what was happening on the other channel and tried to make changes that probably weren't appropriate," she says.

"Everything has been re-focused now and we are just getting on with the job without distraction. Breakfast TV is such an inexact science because you're in a position in which you have to work out what is going to be the big news of the day and what people are going to be talking about.

"People are going about their business of getting ready for the day, and they will watch a segment in between cleaning their teeth and making the kids lunches, so we have to work really hard to get their attention."

Wilkinson's background in media has spanned magazines, radio, corporate speaking, publishing, TV and consultancy.

In what is one of Australia's best media success stories, Wilkinson was appointed editor of the national women's magazine Dolly at 21 - only two years after answering an advertisement to be the publication's secretary/editorial assistant/girl Friday.

Wilkinson's keen eye saw potential in a 14-year-old skinny, gangly, freckle-faced, would-be actor, long before the rest of the world had heard of Nicole Kidman.

Wilkinson put the pale red-head on the cover of Dolly in an era when tanned blondes reigned supreme (think Christie Brinkley). It was her top-selling cover.

Four years after the Dolly appointment, on the recommendation of the late Kerry Packer, Wilkinson was offered the editorship of Cleo magazine. Later she became the magazine's international editor-in-chief.

Wilkinson, a former Campbelltown High School student, was born in Wollongong Hospital and has strong childhood ties to the region. Her late grandparents lived in Osborne St, and Wilkinson continued to visit them during school holidays and for most Sunday lunches until she entered the workforce.

"Funnily enough I interviewed Anthony Warlow, a couple of years back, and we discovered that we had, pretty much, grown up across the road from each other," she says.

"I lived in Campbelltown but, for my psyche, Wollongong represented the sun, sand and surf and the hugs of my grandparents. I have very happy memories."

Wilkinson, whose professional time is largely consumed with the production of 17-and-a-half hours of live television each week, also manages to lend her profile to charities, including her ambassador roles for Barnardos and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

"I try and fit those things in, in order to be giving back," she says.

"I'm in a very blessed position and I do whatever I can do but I also have to be careful that I don't fill up the days to the point where getting to bed becomes impossible.

"I just enjoy everything that I do, and at this point, I'm coping. I've got a smile on my face and I'm enjoying it all. I actually quite like the busy pace."

This week Wilkinson travels to Nowra to be the guest speaker at a luncheon for the Noah's Ark Centre of Shoalhaven.

The service, which has been operating for more than 25 years, provides professional early childhood intervention services to children with special needs and their families. There are Noah's Ark centres in Nowra and Ulladulla and an outreach service in the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community.

Lunch with Lisa featuring Lisa Wilkinson is on Friday, June 13 at the Nowra School of Arts. It kicks off at 11.30am with champagne and canape{aac}s served on arrival and will finish at 2.30pm. Tickets are $40 per person and are available from Noah's Ark Centre in Nowra and may be purchased over the phone (4423 5022) or a booking form is available at the website

© 2008 Illawarra Mercury

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