Lisa Wilkinson was named the editor of Dolly magazine at the age of just 21, and just a few years later was negotiating with Kerry Packer to take the helm of CLEO.
She famously tripled the Dolly circulation and dramatically transformed CLEO and Australian magazines in general — all before reaching the age of 30 and embarking on her television career.
That TV career would see her initially working part-time on the daytime talk show Beauty and the Beast, before later going over to work on Sunrise and then being poached to take on the high profile role of co host of Today on Channel Nine.
Wilkinson later started as co host of Channel Ten’s The project in 2018.
From magazines to breakfast television and meeting and mentoring some of the biggest personalities in Australian media, Wilkinson shared some of the key turning points of her career with Shivani Gopal for the latest episode of our special series, The Moments that Make Us, supported by Stella Insurance.
The conversation comes after Wilkinson recently launched her autobiography, It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This.
Wilkinson shared how walking into the Dolly office for the first time felt like “coming home.” Within two years she was named the youngest ever editor of a national magazine and leading a team. She describes how working with people who believed in her helped, as well as how she focused on the “small steps” she could take to get past the challenges she experienced.
“One of the real advantages of going into this role so quickly is that nobody had got around to teaching any of the rules,” she says.
“So I wrote a few of my own rules and probably broke plenty of them, which wasn’t a bad thing. Because in the space of four years, we tripled the circulation.
“A bit of rule-breaking never hurts as I discovered very early on in my career.”
Wilkinson shares how having been bullied in high school, she learned what a privilege it was to enjoy your work and to ultimately be a boss at Dolly. However, she also notes the experience of negotiating for fairer pay at the magazine, which ultimately put her on the path to leaving.
That path was cemented when she was invited to meet with Kerry Packer, who wanted Wilkinson to come across to run the iconic CLEO magazine.
Wilkinson says she didn’t want to turn down the opportunity to at least meet the iconic man for lunch. She got on his helicopter and experienced one of the most terrifying moments of her life: negotiating with Packer for a job that she initially didn’t think she wanted.
“Somehow, I said yes to the job offer because I figured I didn’t want to die wondering,” she says.
Wilkinson took the job, removing the famous centerfold section for her first issue. She believed the double-page spread, featuring a man naked each issue, was a clever gimmick to meet a certain time in magazines. But it was time to move on.
Having had a career in magazines behind her before she ever got in front of the camera was a good thing, Wilkinson says, giving her perspective outside of such a large giant spotlight.
“Fame is not all it’s cracked up to be, believe me. That scrutiny can be pretty full on,” she says.
“For me, throughout my career as a journalist, what has kept me sane and what’s kept me driven, and what’s given me the greatest joy, is concentrating on the work and every day trying to do good work.
“But also every day being incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been afforded and making the most of those opportunities. And being surrounded on really significant occasions by people who believed in me and supported me and gave me those opportunities.”
The older she gets, the more challenges and opportunities to learn Wilkinson says she wants to take on.
Being open to change, she adds, has been instrumental in her career, given just how much can happen when you “let the universe in”.
“Every single time I’ve made a significant change throughout my life, I’ve always walked into that moment thinking I could be terrible at this. But I’ll never know if I don’t give it a go. So, I want to just keep giving life a go.”