Walking into Deborah Hutton’s home on the east coast of Sydney is like arriving at an old friend’s place.
She greets me with open arms and that beaming trademark smile. Before long we’re propped up on her couch, coffees in hand, nattering about everything from politics to nudity and the joys of getting older.
It was a very different story when The Weekly was here just four months ago. There was no smile, just an angry, jagged scar that made even the smallest facial movement painful.
This was the undisguised aftermath of a serious surgery to remove a facial BCC (Basal Cell Carcinoma) in May this year.
The cover image and story the team captured that day would go on to be one of The Weekly‘s most impactful and talked about of the year.
The reaction was overwhelming. The issue flew off the shelves and The Weekly‘s office was inundated with letters, emails, phone calls and photos from people across the country sharing their own skin cancer battles or thanking Deborah for prompting them to get a check that turned out to be crucial.
A few months later, we catch up with her again to
The reaction to your skin cancer story was incredible. Did it surprise you?
I was blown away actually by the reaction and the gorgeous reader letters you sent on to me. To come to The Weekly and to have a national platform to really raise awareness is just such a gift.
It was very touching and quite profound to see that people actually got the message and they went into action. They booked skin checks and got it done. I’m inundated with people still to this day who write to me, send me photos.
It’s quite traumatic in those first stages of scarring and stitches, so in a way it turned around a situation of feeling sorry for myself into something positive.
I had no idea it was going to create such a reaction. But I’m really glad that it did, I’m really grateful.
Why do you think it resonated in that way?
I think it’s that thing where people think you’ve got a profile so your life’s all hunky dory and bad things don’t happen.
Shit happens to everybody, and not everybody wants to share that stuff. But I felt really compelled to share this; I felt very strongly that we don’t do that enough.
Where are you at with your recovery now?
It’s looking good, but I still need checks every three months. It’s not in a great area, there’s a passage in there that can be a gateway. It hasn’t stopped me from playing golf and training outside.
Well you’re certainly in great shape, how do you stay so fit?
If you’re going to exercise you’ve got to find things that work for you. For me it’s changed over the years. I was always a runner and it was running and aerobics and all that but
I’m 60 next year and its now come down to training a couple of times a week. I do a bit of cardio and some weights in a group at the gym and I do Pilates because that’s really important as you get older.
So those things are locked in. That’s my routine and it’s been like that for years. I put it in the diary and just tell people that I’m not available at those times, because I’m lucky enough to be able to do that now.
So do you still enjoy the odd long lunch or glass of wine?
Oh God yes. I enjoy life, I like to cook, I’m always entertaining and I’ve got a fabulous wine cellar. It’s been a big year of that stuff, so now it’s time to pull it back. You let it go, and then you pull it back in.
With the fires, the pandemic and your own personal battles, what have the past few years taught you?
I just lean back on gratitude, in a big way. I look back and go, wow. I’m so grateful for everything, even grateful I had skin cancer because I was able to tell my story and people reacted the way they did.
There was such devastation with the fires, then to see the reaction to that, to see communities and Australians come together and give in whatever way they could. I sat in tears most days. I couldn’t believe it. It was the most beautiful thing. It really is the yin and yang of life, where the good and bad always sit together.
And I suppose I was grateful that really, for the first time since I was 16, I had three months where I was forced not to work. It’s the first time I’ve had three months off in my entire life. I absolutely loved it.
How are you feeling about Christmas?
To be honest I’m not a big Christmas person. I don’t have a huge family and it’s not a big thing for me.
I think this year is just about really being grateful for what we’ve got, and that we’ve survived it. Probably just a celebration that we made it to the end of the year!
What lessons will you take into the future?
Well, you’ve just got to hang on to the good and be kind to people.
Help where you can. Look after yourself and look after those around you.
We’re very resilient when we put our minds to it. Women certainly are. Sometimes we have to pick up our men and sort of dust them off a bit, and say “c’mon”.
With the year that’s been, it makes you realise how little control we have over our lives. We try to organise and structure so much stuff but it’s actually pointless to stress about that.
You have to accept whatever it is that comes your way, and accept it with grace. I now let things wash over me rather than getting upset or trying to control the narrative. It’s a new sense of “it is what it is; let’s just make the most of it”.
The good thing is we’re allowing ourselves to think outside the box. We’ve taken the blinkers off, just to look at things like we’ve never looked at them before because the opportunity is there to change your life. And I think that’s really powerful.
And it sounds like you’ve got plenty of projects to keep you busy…
Yes! I’m also bringing out a range of hats with this amazing company that produce something called a UPF50 hat.
I was wearing my golf hats and my visors, and thinking, yep, I’m protecting my face, but our nuts are being fried because the UV is just coming through. So these hats actually provide a barrier and cut out the UV rays. I’m so excited about it. There will be beach hats and then also sports ones and beautiful weekend lunch ones.
And I’m going back into homewares with Home with Deborah Hutton, primarily focusing on bedroom and bathroom and a bit of décor.
I had a range years ago and loved working in that space. It’s the creative side to me which I haven’t had an avenue to for a while.
Well you have been both the Homes Editor and the Fashion Editor at The Australian Women’s Weekly, so you know your stuff! Is there anywhere you didn’t work at The Weekly?
Well, I was never ‘Dear Deborah’ [laughs], and I never did the pets section. I started as Beauty Editor and then, when Maggie Tabberer retired from doing the fashion pages, I took over as Fashion Editor.
Then I was doing commercials for The Weekly, then I was the Homes Editor, then Editor-at-Large – which covered pretty much everything!
Any stand-out memories?
I’ll never forget, we were in the office one day and Nene King [the Editor at that time] came out screaming, “Amazing, amazing, we’ve just hit one million readers!” There was lots of Aussie sparkling wine going around that day. It was pretty exciting.
The other big moment was when Princess Diana died and everything changed. It had been all about stories on the royals and their personal lives and then it became almost taboo to cover them. So The Weekly had to flip. They looked at themselves and it was a really hard look.
But that’s The Weekly. It always evolves and remains relevant.
I think there’s such a huge respect for it, there really is. It’s like part of the family. It tells stories that we want to hear, and stories that need to be told. Where else are you going to read them?
You’ve also graced your fair share of Australian Women’s Weekly covers. I think it’s about a dozen now, isn’t it?
Yes, about that. I was looking for something recently and I dragged them all out of the basement and I thought, “God – I’d forgotten about that one. And look at that one.”
They go back to days when I was at Channel Nine in the early ’90s. To be honest, The Weekly feels like part of my family, it really does.
And there was one cover that garnered even more publicity than this year’s: When you posed nude for your 50th birthday…
Oh, that one [laughs]. It broke a few taboos, that’s for sure.
At first I said, “Don’t be ridiculous, I’d never consider doing something like that!”
Then I was home one night in my undies and I stood in front of my full-length mirror and thought, “Could I do this?” I did all these poses and I thought, “Oh no, I can’t do that, I can’t show that, I can’t show this”.
Then I sat on the ground and I started sort of wrapping myself up like an octopus. And I thought, “Actually you can’t see anything. I think I can pull this off.” It was for the annual Body Issue, and I’ve always had body issues, from modelling years ago. So I thought, this could be a really strong story, and a good story to tell. But that’s not what came out.
It ended up not being about the story but about the image. Some people celebrated it, others thought it was inappropriate, and some wanted to take me down because they thought it was fake.
I’ll never forget someone wrote in saying, “It looks like they’ve photo-shopped your head onto someone else’s body”. And my reaction was – if you’re going to do that, then find me one with bigger boobs!
But you know it was the first time I’d ever really been taken down.
It was like trolling before trolling was something we recognised…
Well, it was. Social media was really just Twitter back then. I was like, “Wow, this is lethal”.
It was the first time I’d really felt attacked. There are a few journalists still out there today that really took me down. I just thought, that’s a bit unfair. I fought back, I really did. Then eventually I just went to ground. I said my piece, I put it out there then I said, I’m done; you can say what you like.
Did all the negativity get to you?
Well, when it was all going down I was in Mexico celebrating my 50th, but as soon as I got home I was papped at the beach in my swimsuit, so there was quite a bit of that shit going on.
But do you know what’s interesting? You think it doesn’t affect you, but even today, 10 years on, something comes up about you in the media, or about your personal life, or someone has an attack on you and it still hurts.
Even if you get wind something is coming out, you get that awful feeling in your stomach and it’s like, “Oh God, here we go,” because it’s so intrusive.
Anyone who gets hammered [in the media] can’t possibly deny that it affects you. But you put it out there, and you live your life. But do I regret any of it? No. If I had that time over, I would do it [the nude cover] again.
So does that mean you’ll pose naked for us again on your 60th?
No, no, no! [laughs] Happy to leave that one right where it is thank you …
Modelling, magazines and TV… you’ve had a remarkable career. What do you put your success down to?
Well, I never really finished school; I never went to uni, so there was no plan. I was just grateful for anything that came along. You just go along and you deliver.
I remember years ago, I was interviewing Rebecca Gibney – actually she and I were on the cover of The Weekly together once! – and I asked her why she thought she’d had such a long and stable career. She put it down to three things – and they are exactly the same things I do.
It was always: turn up on time, know your lines and never forget that you are part of a team.
It’s not all about you; you just have a particular job to do. It’s about respect for others. It is three really simple things that can apply to anyone in any role.
And it’s probably why you’re still in demand all these years later…
It’s funny because earlier this year I thought, “Next year is going to be the first year that I may not be working at all.”
So I went to a financial planner and said, “Let’s just look at how I’m going to survive without any income”.
As soon as I said that things just started to pop up. So I thought, “Okay, interesting, I’m not done yet.” I had started to think, “When will I be done?” Because I’m 60 next year.
Sixty, that’s exciting, how are you feeling about it?
I sort of say it with a smile on my face. There’s a bit of disbelief and a bit of humour. There’s much more humour than there was turning 50. Because then I thought, “Oh my God, I’m leaving my forties” and it was a bit like, “ugh”.
But 60, you know what? I just think it’s fantastic. I’m very proud to turn 60. I’ll be very grateful to get there and still be working and hopefully have my health.
It’s interesting because Mum’s having a few health issues and you start thinking, “She’s only 24 years older than I am. What was I doing 24 years ago?” Life just goes by like that.
So that’s why you have to be grateful for every moment I suppose.
It’s like, why do we leave these things until we’re older? This year is a wake-up call to say, if there’s anything you want to do, there’s no time like the present. It really is about living in the moment.
And now you can do it with a smile on your face again…
Yep. It’s slightly crooked, but I’m still smiling.