Celebrity

EXCLUSIVE: Tracy Grimshaw on her gap year and return to TV

In her first interview back in the spotlight since leaving A Current Affair, Tracy Grimshaw opens up about the sheer delight of taking a year off to finally put herself first.

Tracy Grimshaw has “absolutely let go”. For those who’ve been wondering, she hasn’t a hint of regret about stepping away from A Current Affair, the iconic evening news and events program which she anchored for 17 nail-biting, engrossing, award-winning years. And she thinks Allison Langdon has deftly picked up the baton.

Does she ever feel like chiming in? 

“I definitely don’t,” she laughs. “Ally’s nailing it, and I’m not screaming questions at the television. I’m very, very relaxed about all that.” 

She looks relaxed in spite of the fact she’s not long back from London and orders a double-shot latte to counteract the jet lag – all part of exploring her new-found freedom.

Tracy stepped away from Nine’s flagship current affairs show in November 2022. She was 62 years old and when she started out in television 40 years earlier, she says, it was inconceivable that a woman could work in TV journalism into her sixties. 

“When I started, at 21, I remember being told, ‘Don’t think you’re going to be here for a long time’,” she tells The Weekly in her first interview back in the media after what we’re dubbing her ‘gap year’. “There weren’t many women on air at the age of 40, really. Now we’re babies at 40 in television. So I think we’ve made some big gains over the years.”

Much has changed, but there’s still so far to go, Tracy admits. We’re meeting today, just a fortnight after thousands of Australians marched to demand urgent action to prevent violence against women. The last time there was a women’s protest of this magnitude, in March 2021, Tracy made headlines when she gave then Prime Minister Scott Morrison a grilling. 

It felt like an era-defining interview, coming in the wake of Brittany Higgins’ allegations, rumours swirling around the then Attorney-General Christian Porter and the widely held view that the federal parliament was not a safe working environment for women. 

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan. Styling by Mattie Cronan & Jamela Ejjamai

Looking back, Tracy remembers that “Julie Bishop had, not long before, given an interview to Leigh Sales on 7.30 where she’d talked about the ‘big swinging dicks’, which was a boys’ club in the Liberal Party who had tried to stymie her career path. Clearly, I’m a woman too, and that landed on me, and that landed on a lot of women.

“In a climate, at the time, where the Prime Minister was just bungling every question he was asked, I was a bit surprised that he volunteered for an interview, but he did. So I thought, okay, let’s see if we can rip the scabs off this.”

Tracy has a finely tuned internal barometer where public opinion is concerned, and as the interview went to air one could almost hear the women of Australia standing in front of their tellies applauding. Not all 
the feedback she received afterwards was positive, but the overwhelming majority was – effusively so.

“I was getting it for months after,” she says earnestly. “Women would approach me in the supermarket.”

This year Tracy was watching from the sidelines. But after 40 years covering the subject she has a passionate and deeply informed perspective.

“Women have found our voices,” she says. “I think that’s what we’re seeing now. I’ve been kicking around the planet for a while and I remember when women’s voices weren’t necessarily prioritised or heard.”

Tracy remembers, as a young news journalist, being asked to monitor the police radio. If she heard the call sign for a murder, a news crew would be right onto it. However, if it turned out to be domestic violence-related, it would be ignored.

“Domestic violence in the ’80s wasn’t really a story,” Tracy explains. “People felt that what happened behind closed doors wasn’t anybody’s business. That was a very antiquated view and things have changed … 

“However, if you’ve lost someone 
to domestic violence or if you’ve got someone who’s in fear for their life right now, that change is certainly 
not moving quickly enough. There 
are more things that governments 
can do. We don’t need more inquiries. We need action now.” 

We’re sitting in a sunroom in the warm, dappled light 
of an autumn afternoon. The conversation is relaxed but 
Tracy speaks with the authority of all those years spent deeply embedded 
in news. It can’t have been an easy environment to step away from, and Tracy says she considered it for months before she finally made the leap.

“I role-played it for months and months before I even talked to Nine,” she says, “because I knew it was a lot to step away from … Seventeen years was a long time. That crew was family and I knew my job and I liked it. So it was a lot, but I was ready to step away.”

Working through COVID had been a factor. Tracy had spent hours researching every new development. “But I think it took the bark off me a little bit,” she admits. 

She took a break over the summer of 2021-22, hoping for a reset. 

“I thought that would be enough,” she says. “I’d never had three months off in my life … But when I came back it honestly felt like I’d never been gone. And I thought, ‘Oh, I think I’m in trouble here …’

“I had a great job that I loved, working with people who I really loved working with, so I’m not complaining. I was just tired. I got through until about July and said, ‘I think I need to pull the pin’.”

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan. Styling by Mattie Cronan & Jamela Ejjamai

Tracy worked until the season’s end in November and then began her gap year, which was, she says, everything she’d hoped. 

When people asked her what she would do all year, she said: “I want to make no plans. I don’t want to map out the year because, if I do that, I’m just going to be on a schedule again, and what I really want is to not have a schedule. I want to wake up each day and the day is a blank canvas and I’ll do what I want to do with it. I’d never really done that. So that’s what I did.”

Was she bored? Hell no, she says.

“I do like the buzz in the office when something’s happening, and I do like the interaction of a bunch of people all pulling together when the pressure is on. But I wanted to relax and step away from that, and I wanted to breathe. I gave myself the opportunity to do that and I really liked it.”

There were some renovations, there was time with her beloved animals, there was some travel. 

“A friend was turning 60, so we all went to Europe and had a great time.” And she put her feet up and read. 

“Just to read,” Tracy says with relish. “To read something that’s not research; to read something that’s 
not an autobiography you’re reading because you think, oh, I might like to interview that person, or I might need to get across that topic. To read novels and to spend a few hours on the couch. 

“One of the things I did was leave my phone on the kitchen bench and not even look at it all day. Sometimes I wouldn’t look at it for 24 hours and people would get cranky with me, but it was nice. It was nice to step away.”

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan. Styling by Mattie Cronan & Jamela Ejjamai

She also let her hair grow out grey: 
“I did it to be low maintenance.” 
Then she thought better of it and tried blonde, not because she wanted to conceal her age but because it wasn’t quite the silvery grey she was hoping for. “It took a while to grow out, but once it did, I got a bit of a surprise every time I looked in the mirror.” 

Then, towards the end of that glorious gap year, a producer at Nine called with a proposition. Celebrity doctor Nick Coatsworth had an idea for a show that had elements of popular science, health and longevity research.

“I’m a medical nerd,” Tracy says unapologetically, “and Nine knows that. It had become really clear during COVID. I was the one reading all the research papers and driving everyone mad with story ideas around the science of COVID.”

The new show, which she’ll co-host with Dr Nick, is called Do You Want to Live Forever?.

“It was [out of] left field,” she admits. 
“Some of my friends were a bit surprised because they thought I might do an interview-based show. But I like the freedom of doing something new, of the road less travelled.”

Tracy admits she’s never thought too much about her own mortality, nor has 
she been down “the longevity rabbit hole”, but she’s enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about it. And 
yes, she’s made some lifestyle changes as a result of what she’s learned, but she’s not giving away more than that until we see the show.

“I enjoy very good health,” she says, and she certainly looks rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed and well rested after her year of putting herself first. “I’m not on any medication and I don’t have any issues. I think the lesson I’ve learned is that I’ve probably taken my good health for granted. 

“I was raised by a very sensible mother who told me, ‘everything in moderation, darling’. But in this longevity space, what I’ve learned is that moderation isn’t quite enough. You’ve actually got to try a little bit harder than moderation – particularly when you get to an age when things might start falling apart.”

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan. Styling by Mattie Cronan & Jamela Ejjamai

Tracy’s mother died from lung cancer at age 76. The end came brutally fast – they had just nine months between diagnosis and her death. 

“Mum had always looked after herself, except for the smoking, which she’d given up when she was 50,” Tracy explains. “So I remember thinking, if anyone’s going to beat this, it’ll be her. It seemed terribly unfair that she didn’t.”

The grief was awful and prolonged, 
but she told The Weekly at the time that she felt it had made her more vulnerable, and also more compassionate. 

“I still want to pick up the phone and talk to her,” Tracy says now. “I can’t believe she’s been gone for almost 
13 years. All that still seems very fresh to me. The passage of time surprises me. I’m surprised that I’m 63. And look, you know, you don’t come through something like that unscathed. I don’t think anything quite prepares you for the death of a parent …

“In mum’s case, the illness was short. It was nine months of … of a battle. And yes, it changes you. I mean, grief changes us. We learn from grief. Life changes us, doesn’t it? I think every day is a lesson if you’ve got your eyes open and your ears open and you’re thinking about it. So yes, I do think I’m different as a result of that.”

The experience did not make 
Tracy want to live forever, but it did bring home the message that life is inestimably precious – as did her gap year. Can she imagine giving up work altogether? She ponders this a moment.

“I mean, yes,” she says thoughtfully. “Last year was great. I taught myself I’m not wedded to it. I have a big life outside work and I proved that to myself last year … If I could never work again, I think I’d be absolutely fine with that, but 
I also like having options. I think I’m very lucky. I’m in a lucky, happy space.”

Another thing that has always been precious to Tracy is her privacy. It is quite remarkable that in this age of social media what we know about her personal life 
is no more and no less than she 
has wanted to share. She made 
that decision when she was young. 

“When I was a baby journo,” she says. “I used to see young soapie stars falling in love and telling the world and then, six months later, it had gone pear-shaped and they wanted to hide at home with the doona over their heads, as we all do. But they couldn’t because they’d made it public property. 

“So, I thought, I’m never going to make my private life public property. I don’t have to do that. 

Now, here I am all these years later, and I don’t think people who watch my work expect it of me. There might have been a time when they expected it and I didn’t deliver, but I’ve been not delivering it for so many years now that they don’t expect it anymore. I just stuck to that. I was only in my twenties when I made that resolution and it’s served me well.”

Of course, nature abhors a vacuum and “I’ve had rumours over the years,” she admits. 

“The Gordon Ramsay thing all those years ago, I think probably brought that to the fore.”

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan. Styling by Mattie Cronan & Jamela Ejjamai

Tracy is referring to a misogynist rant by the celebrity chef in 2009, in which he criticised her appearance and her weight, and allegedly insinuated that she was a lesbian.

He could have burnt an Australian flag and drawn less public ire. 

The then Deputy Prime Minister, 
Julia Gillard, suggested Gordon should “confine himself to the kitchen”; then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described his comments as “a new form of low life”. 

Following Tracy’s blistering on-air rebuttal, headlines included: “The interview that proved Tracy Grimshaw is the toughest woman on TV”.

“So yes,” Tracy says now, “there have been rumours: If you’re not married, you must be gay. But if I were gay, 
I’d shout about it from the rooftops because you wouldn’t intimidate me into not shouting about it. 

“So you get rumours, but beyond that, I kind of don’t care what people say or think. It doesn’t land on me. I’ve pretty much always felt that way.”

And nothing other people say 
would have a hope in hell of changing Tracy anyway.

“Everyone lives their life differently,” she says finally. “I wouldn’t lecture anyone else on how they live their life, and I don’t know that the decisions I’ve made would work for other people either … 

I believe in ‘live and let live’. It’s worked for me and I’m not about to change it.” 

Do You Want To Live Forever? premieres on Monday, June 17, at 7.30pm on Channel 9 and 9Now.

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