Television host, voice artist, stand-up comedian, actor, journalist, social commentator, painter, and author. Gretel Killeen is many things, and her career, often in the public eye, has seemingly never stood still.
Many of us strive for career diversity, and it’s something Killeen has managed to do over the years, transforming herself and her work, to become one of Australia’s most recognisable faces.
As she tells Kate Mills in the latest episode of The Leadership Lessons, she sees herself, first and foremost, as an artist.
“I have an artist’s spirit,” Killeen said. “That’s a particular kind of freedom loving adventurous person – it comes with some frailties, vulnerabilities and huge failings as well – but that is what I identify with.”
Killeen skyrocketed to national prominence in 2001, when the first season of Big Brother Australia went to broadcast, with her as the host. The reality show was a hit, and at the time, she was the only solo, female presenter on prime-time television.
“It had never been done in the country before, and we were all hurtled into this crazy world,” she explains in the podcast.
“It was wonderful for us as a society to be able to discuss things that we hadn’t discussed before – the way people related in a house, what we thought of their behaviour – it was really interesting, and I think it was an anthropological study.”
For many Australians, this was when Killeen became a household name, but she doesn’t consider her time on Big Brother as any more important than the work she had been doing for years before.
“Even though Big Brother was dominant for many people, because it was a time when the whole nation tuned in to a particular show, if I hadn’t done all the things prior to that…I wouldn’t have been able to do that job,” she says.
“So many people say things like ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with my life’ and they don’t realise that they’re actually already doing it.
“Everything we’ve done before is leading us to the point we are at now, and what we do now will lead us to the next one.”
In the podcast, Killeen shares why she doesn’t believe any of us really arrive at the perfect career moment. For her, it’s a constant process of change, bold decisions, and transformation.
“You don’t arrive, even when you’re perceived as hugely successful, there are so many people I know who might be perceived as that and are absolutely hollow inside and fearful and anxious that they’re going to lose that moment of power,” she says.
“It’s a whole journey, it’s not just the polaroid snapshot.”
Killeen has recently released a novel, My Daughter’s Wedding, which has been described as a heart-aching comedy about three generations of mother-daughter love. She says her fiction writing process is exciting and comes straight from the heart.
“I hate the physicality of sitting down and not moving but to me it’s extraordinary because I never know what’s going to happen,” she explains.
“It’s like I have all these radio stations in my mind at once, and I tune in to whichever one I want to and then it plays, and I write down what happens. After, I put it together a bit more logically but it’s as exciting for me as it is for someone reading it because I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
As for how she’s done it all, Killeen think one of the most valuable skills she’d developed is leaning how to see, and then seize an opportunity.
“Seizing it requires self-confidence and bravery, and as we all know, for women we’re far more likely to be reluctant to put ourselves forward.
“To achieve things, you’ve got to step forward. I think an underlying philosophy to help with that is to think, why you’re actually here in the world. It’s to discover who you are.
“The braver you are, the more capable you become to be braver. And bigger. And braver, and bigger. It’s exponential and exciting.
“There’s so much emphasis in our world on competition and one-upmanship, and there’s not nearly enough on being happy. It’s a pretty miraculous existence.”
The Leadership Lessons podcast series, hosted by Kate Mills, is a set of interviews with brilliant female leaders across industries, sharing their perspective on the critical decade ahead.
The Leadership Lessons is supported by Salesforce.