“I really struggled with having that level of notoriety [after leaving Today] as every day I was on the front page of the paper,” Wilkinson tells WHO.
“But I soon realised what a pent-up issue wage disparity was. Women had become sick of knowing it was going on and not being able to do anything about it so I had become the face of that issue, which was a conversation that needed to happen,” she explains.
After keeping a dignified silence for the past four years, The Project host was finally inspired to share her story in her new memoir It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins opened up to her about her alleged experience of sexual assault at Parliament House in 2019.
“I didn’t want to go tit for tat so I just withdrew but all these years later, and post-Brittany, now is the time for the story to be told,” Wilkinson explains.
“There are so many issues that women have to remain silent on just to survive men’s egos and navigating around ‘The Boys’ Club’. But women shouldn’t have to be afraid of getting sacked just because they ask for a pay rise,” she adds.
Your husband Peter FitzSimons is an accomplished biographer. Did he give you any advice for the book?
Pete was with me every step of the way and gave me some great counsel, but it was a family affair. Pete and I always say our son Jake is a better writer than both of us combined, so he was a wonderful editor. There were a few times my daughter Billi told me I’d gone too far and needed to pull back a bit and she was always right. My middle son Louis was there to give me lots of hugs, which I desperately needed some days.
You wrote candidly about your experience with sexual assault when you were 15. Was that the hardest part to share?
One of the toughest things I had to deal with was telling my girlfriend whose father had assaulted me because I’d never talked to her about it. I discovered he was much more of a monster than I knew. She shared some things she’d found out recently and in many ways, I was very fortunate that it wasn’t much worse than what it was.
What’s been the secret to your success?
Family. Putting love, energy and time into what happens away from work helps to give you perspective so that if it all does end tomorrow, then the majority of what drives you is still there.
Is there anything that could entice you back into breakfast TV?
I loved every minute while working on Today and it was a privilege to be invited into people’s homes at their most raw and vulnerable times. But I’m done with breakfast TV, just as breakfast TV told me it was done with me. I love it at The Project and all the long-form journalism I now do.
Is there anyone left you’d still love to interview?
I’d love to sit down with Meghan Markle and go on a really deep dive with her because she is such a divisive character. With the Oprah Winfrey interview being the first one post-royal life, I understand why she went where she did because of timing, but I think there is still a lot more left to that story.
Last year you celebrated a milestone birthday. Did you think you’d still be able to have a career on TV in your 60s?
Audiences love people with experience in news and current affairs. Most women in positions of authority on TV these days, like [journalists] Leigh Sales, Lisa Millar and Tracy Grimshaw, are all over 40 because audiences are starting to demand it. It’s a wonderful time to be alive and see that change happen. I don’t plan on retiring till I’m 90!
It Wasn't Meant To Be Like This by Lisa Wilkinson, $33.50, from Booktopia.
If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit their website.