Latest Breaking News & Top Headlines

Inside Lisa Wilkinson’s eight years of torture writing controversial memoir

0

Lisa Wilkinson did not believe she was capable of penning her autobiography and initially expected her best-selling author husband Peter FitzSimons to write it.

FitzSimons conducted hours and hours of interviews – including with his wife’s now deceased mother – in an attempt to kick-start the project, then lost all the recordings.

Wilkinson has revealed the tortuous process of telling her life story in words, including how she considered returning the advance on the book and had to ask for two extensions on her deadline.

The book she produced after eight years, It Wasn’t Meant To Be Like This, has been mired in controversy since it was published but the wordy title is certainly accurate.

Wilkinson has been criticised for everything from allegedly misrepresenting the pay difference between her and Karl Stefanovic when they hosted Today to fleeing the western suburbs for the lower north shore. 

Lisa Wilkinson did not believe she was capable of penning her autobiography and initially expected her best-selling author husband Peter FitzSimons to write it. She is pictured with the couple’s son Jake who helped edit the manuscript

FitzSimons conducted hours and hours of interviews - including with his wife's now deceased mother - in an attempt to kick-start Wilkinson's book project, then lost all the recordings. The couple is pictured with daughter Billi at a Dymocks book club lunch

FitzSimons conducted hours and hours of interviews – including with his wife’s now deceased mother – in an attempt to kick-start Wilkinson’s book project, then lost all the recordings. The couple is pictured with daughter Billi at a Dymocks book club lunch

Wilkinson posted a tribute to her mother Beryl on Instagram when she died in 2018. Mother and daughter are pictured with Wilkinson's children Jake, Louis and Billy. Wilkinson told a book club lunch her mother's life story 'plays a very significant role in my own'

Wilkinson posted a tribute to her mother Beryl on Instagram when she died in 2018. Mother and daughter are pictured with Wilkinson’s children Jake, Louis and Billy. Wilkinson told a book club lunch her mother’s life story ‘plays a very significant role in my own’ 

She claims to have been portrayed as a ‘craven, shameless media wh**e’ who has ‘just written a revenge memoir designed to get back at anyone who’s ever done me wrong’.

Wilkinson, a presenter on The Sunday Project and onetime editor of Cleo and Dolly, was approached by a number of publishers to write her autobiography after delivering the annual Andrew Olle Media Lecture in 2013.

The topic of her speech had been the treatment of women in the media and it had taken her ‘six stomach-churning’ months to write 6,000 words – ‘and every one of them was a complete agony’.

After that experience Wilkinson was convinced she could not write a book but had the benefit of being married to FitzSimons, who she estimated had just begun work on his ‘723rd’ biography.

Wilkinson told a Dymocks literary lunch crowd last month she had been in ‘complete awe’ of FitzSimons and his ability to ‘hold his audience mesmerised with his superb prose over hundreds and hundreds of pages.’

‘It was something I was convinced I could never do,’ the 61-year-old told her audience. ‘So of course I didn’t want to write my autobiography and I told Pete that.

Wilkinson, a presenter on The Sunday Project and onetime editor of Cleo and Dolly, was approached by a number of publishers to write her autobiography after delivering the annual Andrew Olle Media Lecture in 2013

Wilkinson, a presenter on The Sunday Project and onetime editor of Cleo and Dolly, was approached by a number of publishers to write her autobiography after delivering the annual Andrew Olle Media Lecture in 2013

FitzSimons, who has written biographies of sports stars, politicians, war heroes, adventurers and other colourful Australian characters, told his wife: 

FitzSimons, who has written biographies of sports stars, politicians, war heroes, adventurers and other colourful Australian characters, told his wife:  “[I’ll] lay down a basic word bed, you come in over the top, add and subtract, you spit, I polish and hey presto, autobiography done’

‘There was crazy talk of 100,000 words and I told Pete that. The sheer prospect of doing my autobiography utterly terrified me, and I told Pete that.

‘So a few months later in 2014 as my pen hit the dotted line on that contract with HarperCollins what I knew more than anything else was that I was not only not an author but that I was never going to write that book. Pete was.’

Wilkinson said 60-year-old FitzSimons, who has written biographies of sports stars, politicians, war heroes, adventurers and other colourful Australian characters, was ready to help.

‘”A piece of cake”,’ he said. “I’ve written plenty of biographies. I’ll just sit you down over the course of a week, turn the tape recorder on, ask you everything, get it all transcribed”.’

“‘Lay down a basic word bed, you come in over the top, add and subtract, you spit, I polish and hey presto, autobiography done”.’

Wilkinson said that ‘comforting plan’ went well at first. FitzSimons was working on another book but the couple went away and he interviewed her with a tape recorder, ‘for hours – and hours and hours’.

Wilkinson has revealed the tortuous process of telling the story of her life, including considering returning the advance on the book and having to ask for several extensions on her deadline

Wilkinson has revealed the tortuous process of telling the story of her life, including considering returning the advance on the book and having to ask for several extensions on her deadline

‘I talked and Pete listened and in our marriage that’s rare,’ she said.

‘I answered all of his questions and he had lots. I delved into memories of things I’d long forgotten, both good and bad. And then we went away again and Pete asked more questions.

‘We talked about happy times and we talked about difficult things. He even interviewed my late mum…

‘So the beginnings of this book were off and running, as promised, and I was actually beginning to get excited.

‘I had at my disposal the magical literary touch of the country’s best-selling non-fiction author, helping – OK, about to start writing – my autobiography.’

A few weeks later Wilkinson asked FitzSimons how things were going. He hadn’t transcribed the tapes yet, he said, but there was no need to worry.

A couple more weeks later Wilkinson asked again and got essentially the same answer.

Wilkinson has been criticised for everything from allegedly misrepresenting the pay difference between her and Karl Stefanovic when they hosted Today to fleeing the western suburbs for the lower north shore. Wilkinson is pictured with Stefanovic in 2007

Wilkinson has been criticised for everything from allegedly misrepresenting the pay difference between her and Karl Stefanovic when they hosted Today to fleeing the western suburbs for the lower north shore. Wilkinson is pictured with Stefanovic in 2007

Wilkinson waited patiently for three months until her husband had finished his book on Breaker Morant then calmly queried, ‘Darling, the transcription, where’s it up to?’

‘And for those in the room who know Pete I’m sure you can guess what came next. My darling husband had lost all those tapes. Every single one of them.’

Wilkinson said she then realised if she tried to write her story this way she would be going to FitzSimons ‘cap in hand’ for the next few years, begging him for his help.

‘And in the power dynamics of any marriage that wold be a huge mistake,’ she said. ‘That would mean cashing in all my marital bargaining chips. I was now in trouble.

‘I knew I couldn’t write this thing on my own but I had a contract and I had to honour it.’

Wilkinson said she also realised her husband had been asking her questions he could probably have answered himself.

‘And yet I had already lived half of my life when I met Pete and I had been working on my story my entire life. There was still so much he didn’t know to ask and much I had probably buried.’

She claims to have been portrayed as a 'craven, shameless media wh**e' who has 'just written a revenge memoir designed to get back at anyone who's ever done me wrong'. She is pictured at a Dymocks book signing

She claims to have been portrayed as a ‘craven, shameless media wh**e’ who has ‘just written a revenge memoir designed to get back at anyone who’s ever done me wrong’. She is pictured at a Dymocks book signing

Wilkinson thought she would start ‘tapping out a few notes’, beginning with what she called ‘the easy stuff’.

‘Like the time I found that completely unknown 15-year-old corkscrew-curled freckle- faced aspiring actor Nicole Kidman and put her on the cover of Dolly.’

‘And I should write about those awful times I was bullied at school and the fear I felt every day from the moment I woke up and why I wanted to just disappear between the cracks.

‘And the promise I made to myself as I walked out the gates of high school after I’d finished my very last exam in the HSC.

‘And then there was the time I found that tiny three-line ad in the women and girls employment section in the Sydney Morning Herald saying that Dolly magazine was looking for a secretary/editorial assistant/girl Friday.

‘And what about that time I was flown up to Palm Beach in the Channel 9 helicopter to meet Kerry Packer when he came after me to edit Cleo magazine.

'As my kids know, there were many days when I cursed myself for ever taking this mammoth task on and when I looked at Pete as an author wondering what the hell it was that kept him coming back for more,' Wilkinson said. She is pictured with FitzSimons and their children

‘As my kids know, there were many days when I cursed myself for ever taking this mammoth task on and when I looked at Pete as an author wondering what the hell it was that kept him coming back for more,’ Wilkinson said. She is pictured with FitzSimons and their children

‘And that time he yelled at me when he found out on Ray Martin’s Midday Show that I was dropping the magazine’s infamous male naked centrefold after I kinda didn’t check with him first.’

Wilkinson looked back on the death of her ‘beautiful guiding star’ father Ray and meeting Wallaby turned writer Fitzsimons just one week later. She recalled marriage, motherhood and three miscarriages.

‘And I kept writing, knowing that at some stage Pete would finally find a slim space between his own book deadlines and jump aboard this writing train that I was on, just like he promised.’

She wrote of the pressure of fronting 17 and a half hours of live breakfast television a week for more than a decade, what it felt like to be sacked from Today and what it was really like working with Stefanovic.

‘Some days I would go to bed at 3am and wake up at 6am just so I could keep writing,’ she said. ‘In fact for me the best words would flow when I was in my pyjamas.

Weeks from deadline, Wilkinson was nowhere near finished. She had not even started writing about about her time at Channel 9 but had already put down 140,000 raw words - 40,000 more than her target. She is pictured with one of the first copies of her memoir

Weeks from deadline, Wilkinson was nowhere near finished. She had not even started writing about about her time at Channel 9 but had already put down 140,000 raw words – 40,000 more than her target. She is pictured with one of the first copies of her memoir

‘Often it was about the intimacy of those first thoughts I would wake to and I didn’t want to lose them in the formality of getting dressed to face the world. It was all about putting that same comfort right there on the page.

‘I’m sure when HarperCollins signed me on to write my autobiography they thought they were getting a celebrity memoir… but ultimately the more I wrote the more I realised that this book was never going to be that.’

Instead, the book would be about growing up and an ‘awakening’ – a ‘genuine account of why my life wasn’t meant to be like this’.

‘Many was the time as I wrote that I wondered if I should give back my advance,’ Wilkinson said.

‘Because far from being a celebrity memoir this book was about taking a very deep dive over six decades and the process of finding out who I was, how I got here and how much life for women everywhere was changing just as I was over that time.’

The book would be about ‘acceptance and forgiveness and understanding and deep, deep gratitude’, and a ‘beautiful’, ‘complicated’, ‘blessed’, ‘exhilarating’ public life.

'So a few months later in 2014 as my pen hit the dotted line on that contract with HarperCollins what I knew more than anything else was that I was not only not an author but that I was never going to write that book,' Wilkinson said. 'Pete was'

‘So a few months later in 2014 as my pen hit the dotted line on that contract with HarperCollins what I knew more than anything else was that I was not only not an author but that I was never going to write that book,’ Wilkinson said. ‘Pete was’ 

‘And so I kept writing and every so often as Pete sat in his favourite writing spot in our lounge room I would sit on the chair opposite and read out small passages to him,’ she said.

‘And he would encourage me to keep going and I am still unsure if that was because he liked what he heard or if that was a great way for him to get rid of me so he could get on with his own next book.’

Weeks from deadline, Wilkinson was nowhere near finished. She had not even started writing about about her time at Channel 9 but had already put down 140,000 raw words – 40,000 more than her target.

Wilkinson asked manager Nick Fordham to request an extension from HarperCollins which was mercifully granted.

Fordham soon had to ask for another extension when former political staffer Brittany Higgins came to Wilkinson with her claims about having been raped in Parliament House.

Wilkinson turned her attention to issues including the gender pay gap, domestic violence against women and the treatment of sexual assault survivors

Wilkinson turned her attention to issues including the gender pay gap, domestic violence against women and the treatment of sexual assault survivors

Higgins had previously spoken to political journalist Samantha Maiden but Wilkinson described her television interview with the 26-year-old as the most important story of her professional life.

‘Brittany’s story forever changed the narrative for sexual assault survivors in this country,’ Wilkinson said. ‘And it instantly changed the narrative of my book.

‘After witnessing Britney’s courage up close I now had to include the story of my own sexual assault at 15 at the hands of the father of one of my closest school friends.

‘And as tough as that was to revisit and write, it stirred something deep inside me. Brittany’s courage had lifted my courage and re-empowered my writing.’

Wilkinson turned her attention to issues including the gender pay gap, domestic violence against women and the treatment of sexual assault survivors.

There were times she was convinced she would never finish her book but she eventually handed an 186,000-word manuscript to FitzSimons, just as he finished his own biography on polar explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins.

Wilkinson has been on a three-week break from The Project and is due to return on Sunday night. She will be filling in for regular weekday host while Carrie Bickmore is on holiday

Wilkinson has been on a three-week break from The Project and is due to return on Sunday night. She will be filling in for regular weekday host while Carrie Bickmore is on holiday

‘I will never be able to thank Pete, or our wonderful son Jake enough for their superb editing skills, their calm, clear heads and wise counsel over many months in the middle of this year,’ Wilkinson told the Dymocks lunch.

‘Both were completely invaluable to the final manuscript.

‘And to our children Louis and Billi, there is only one thing worse than having a stressed parent on book deadline in the house, and that is having two stressed parents on book deadline in the house.

‘Thank you for your understanding, your own wise words and the heartfelt hugs.

‘As my kids know, there were many days when I cursed myself for ever taking this mammoth task on and when I looked at Pete as an author wondering what the hell it was that kept him coming back for more.

‘Well, now I know, because just like the Andrew Olle lecture, one of the best things about writing your autobiography is finishing it and knowing that you’ll never be asked to do it again.’

Wilkinson has been on a three-week break from The Project and is due to return on Sunday night.  

Why has Lisa Wilkinson’s memoir been mired in controversy? 

NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham accused Lisa Wilkinson of 'reinventing herself as a victim of the gender pay gap' in a speech to NSW Parliament last month

NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham accused Lisa Wilkinson of ‘reinventing herself as a victim of the gender pay gap’ in a speech to NSW Parliament last month

One of Wilkinson’s fiercest critics has been NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham who used parliamentary privilege to her attack her in the upper house last month.

Mr Latham blasted Wilkinson for ‘reinventing herself as a victim of the gender pay gap at Channel Nine’ and claimed she had ‘always been about the money’.

The former federal Labor leader said publicity surrounding Wilkinson’s book revealed she had been paid more than her onetime Today Show co-host Karl Stefanovic for many years.

Wilkinson claims in her new book that Stefanovic proposed in August 2015 they join forces to renegotiate their Nine contracts.

But she claims he ended up ditching this idea and instead played rival networks Nine and Seven off against each other in order to secure a better deal for himself.

Lisa Wilkinson's book It Wasn't Meant To Be Like This is published by HarperCollins

Lisa Wilkinson’s book It Wasn’t Meant To Be Like This is published by HarperCollins

Stefanovic was soon at the centre of a bidding war between Nine and Seven that resulted in him re-signing a five-year deal with Nine worth at least $2million per year.

Wilkinson’s deal was worth significantly less, about $780,000 a year, and was only for two years. She described the resulting pay disparity between them ‘so off the charts that no-one would have believed it’.

However, in an article written by political journalist Samantha Maiden, sources at Nine disputed her claims Stefanovic was ‘paid double’ what she earned.

They claimed it was Wilkinson who was paid much more than Stefanovic for ‘many years’ after the pair first teamed up on Nine’s breakfast flagship in 2006.

Mr Latham said one of Wilkinson’s old classmates had contacted him to say, ‘That’s Lisa, it’s always been about the money’.

The classmate allegedly told the former federal Opposition leader:  ‘We went to Campbelltown High together and she couldn’t get out of here fast enough.’ 

Mr Latham slammed Wilkinson for having ‘a PhD in victimology’ and said the TV personality had ‘played the victim card’ while promoting her book.

He referred to a lengthy Instagram post in which Wilkinson she said the writing process for her book often saw her looking ‘puffy’ with ‘mascara-stained eyes after hours of tears’.

‘Boo hoo for her first world problems,’ Mr Latham responded.

‘Posting a picture from her Mosman mansion, with smudged mascara, feigning distress, while also carefully – in a classic product placement – posing with copies of Mr Wilkinson’s ghost-written books in front of her.’

Mr Latham said for ‘elites’ like Wilkinson, the gender pay-gap debate was just ‘another way of enriching themselves at the expense of others’.

He questioned how ‘a millionaire like Wilkinson living the high life in a Mosman mansion’ could portray herself as a victim and concluded by stating: ‘If this is feminism then God help the women of the world.’

.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.