Lisa Wilkinson, AM, has been a mainstay of the Australian media landscape for the better part of four decades. Carving out successful careers in both magazines and as a TV journalist, through her hosting roles on both The Today Show and Ten’s The Project, she’s become one of the most recognised and most respected faces on television.
An award-winning journalist, her stellar career began at the tender age of 21, when she scored her dream job as editor of Aussie teen mag, Dolly. By 25 she was editor of Cleo magazine, a role she held for many years before jumping ship from print media to TV, taking up an on-air role with the Seven Network, co-hosting Weekend Sunrise, from 2005.
After flipping networks and hosting Today on the Nine Network for ten years from 2007, she crossed over to Network 10, famously signing as a co-host of the network’s flagship news and current affairs show, The Project, an hour after tending her resignation from Today due to a pay parity dispute (she was reportedly being paid $200,000 LESS than her male co-host, Stefanovic).
The move sent shockwaves through the Australian media scene, but unflappable Wilkinson always kept her cool, perhaps because away from the spotlight, her life is decidedly more low-key and resolutely drama-free. Wilkinson has been happily married to her husband, ex-professional rugby player-turned-journalist and author, Peter FitzSimons for 27 years, and the couple have three children Jake, Louis, and daughter Billi. She has long talked about how family is her sanctuary from the crazy, sometimes mean-spirited world of media.
Let’s take a look at how her extraordinary life has played out, and celebrate the achievements of this trail-blazing journalist.
Where did Lisa Wilkinson grow up?
Lisa Wilkinson was born in Wollongong, an hour’s drive south of Sydney, to parents, Beryl and Ray Wilkinson. "I would describe my roots as working class," Wilkinson recently told SBS. "I've never had a big ego... I think that's the Campbelltown girl in me."
Hers was a happy home – Wilkinson has often spoken of her close bond with both her parents, who have since passed away (Beryl died aged 89 in 2018, and her father passed away in 1990).
"The amazing thing is my father passed away almost 30 years ago, and just the mere thought of him and him not being around, I get emotional," she recently told SBS’s Who Do You Think You Are.
Though her home life was content, things weren’t quite so easy at school. Wilkinson attended Campbelltown High School (now Campbelltown Performing Arts High School), but her teen years were marred by bullying, an experience she says was formative.
“It happened in my teenage years. How I got through it, I’m still not sure,” she recently told Ten Daily. “For years I dreaded that walk to school each day; the constant threat of being beaten up. The anticipation of an unexpected shove in the canteen queue, a netball 'accidentally' thrown at my head during sport or, on a few occasions, the humiliation of knockout blows while crowds of fellow pupils gathered to chants of ‘fight, fight, fight’.”
Never one to let adversity get in her way, she pushed through, and after school scored a job as a receptionist at the teen magazine, Dolly – a dream come true for the magazine-loving teen.
Lisa Wilkinson’s early career
Wilkinson was lucky enough to work for the Sydney publishing company ACP during its heyday when it was home to the country’s most popular stable of magazines (Nine’s telemovie, Paper Giants, starring Asher Keddie as the formidable magazine maven Ita Buttrose, gives a good idea of what life was like at the company at the time)
She landed there at just 19, settling into a job at Dolly magazine, first as a receptionist, then writer, and – in record time – as editor...at just 21!
“It was certainly the making of my career,” she told News in 2016. “I learnt everything from the ground up when I worked at Dolly. I mean, where else could you start as the receptionist at 19 and be the editor at 21?”
The publication’s youngest ever editor, she remained in that position for four years, until at 25 she was hand-picked to edit Cleo magazine, where she radically transformed the way the magazine connected to its young, female audience. She went on to become the magazine’s International Editor-in-Chief and has always spoken fondly of her time at the helm.
“At your best, you were fun, informative, lusty and liberating, and several generations of Australian women are in your debt,” she wrote in an open love letter to her magazine via Huffington Post Australia at the time of Cleo’s closure in 2016. “While it's sad that our daughters no longer need you, it doesn't mean that you failed, but that you, and we, succeeded.”
How did Lisa Wilkinson get her start in TV?
Wilkinson’s move to TV was a logical progression, and by the late 1990s, she had begun to pop up on various commercial channels. As well as becoming a regular panellist on Ten and Foxtel’s Beauty and the Beast, in 2000, she was signed to host The Morning Shift during Seven’s coverage of the 2000 Olympics, alongside Duncan Armstrong. At the time it was a huge career break and marked the start of Wilkinson’s successful turn as a breakfast television host.
Though the picture of professionalism in those early days, Wilkinson has spoken of just how daunting she found the prospect of hosting live TV, a skill so far outside her usual frame of reference. But she says she’s glad she took the giant leap.
“Never stop challenging yourself. It’s essential to keep growing, learning and remain[ing] interested,” she recently told Vogue. “I’ve never wanted to stand still in my career. I have a history of moving on when I am at my most comfortable. Being uncomfortable is good for the soul. It keeps you agile and adaptable. And, I think, a good employee.”
Lisa Wilkinson on breakfast TV
In April 2005, Wilkinson began hosting Weekend Sunrise on the Seven Network, alongside veteran journalist Chris Reason (later, Andrew O’Keefe). A huge career shift, it marked her final move away from print to the realm of broadcast television (though over the years she would continue to write in a freelance capacity for various news outlets).
She was a hit with viewers, and it wasn’t long before Wilkinson was tapped by Nine executives to jump ship to the rival network to replace then-Today co-host Jessica Rowe, who was being heavily criticised in the press at the time for her perceived role in the show’s flailing ratings (an unfair and baseless accusation).
Rowe was later famously “boned” by her then-boss, Eddie McGuire, replaced by Wilkinson, who went on to co-host the show, alongside Karl Stefanovic. Theirs was a successful pairing, and ratings for the show climbed (in 2016, Today claimed the most weekly victories in the five major cities) until 2017 when all hell broke loose…
Lisa Wilkinson Today show controversy
Which brings us to a famously tumultuous period in Wilkinson’s career – 2017 – a year that would see the then 57-year-old anchor famously jump ship and leave the Today show over a pay dispute, after ten successful years with the program.
On 16 October 2017, Wilkinson resigned from the Nine Network and Today due to a contract dispute. At the time she cited “lots of reasons,” but it’s been widely reported it was, in fact, over pay parity. Reports claim Wilkinson refused to re-sign with the network as her contract fell $200,000 short of Stefanovic’s rumoured $2million salary.
Nine refused her request (in its defence, they said the disparity was due to Stefanovic’s other commitments with the network) and within the hour Wilkinson had announced she’d be jumping ship to Ten to join The Project on a contract reportedly worth over $2million once her external endorsements were factored in (the Network were prepared to allow them, while Nine, reportedly, were not) – this reportedly made her Australian television’s highest-paid female star. Nine were blindsided, immediately cancelling her security pass, which meant Wilkinson was unable to return the following morning to formally farewell her loyal Today audience.
It was a PR disaster for the network, who weathered a torrent of public abuse for the perceived slight. Media identities like Leigh Sales, Tracey Spicer, Virginia Trioli and even the NSW Premier weighed in, praising Wilkinson for taking a stand and demonstrating the gender imbalances that exist within her industry.
Wilkinson was placed on ‘Gardening Leave’ before finally starting her role as Sunday anchor for The Project in January 2018. She hasn’t looked back – and no, she most certainly does not miss those early starts.
“I’ve got these new reserves of energy and I feel challenged and invigorated,” she told Stella magazine recently. “I love it when the alarm goes off and I see the number seven at the front. I wouldn’t change any of it.
“It was about six months after I made the move, and Pete, the kids and I were sitting around having a midweek barbecue that ended up going well into the night. At about 11 pm, we were all still chatting when Jake, our eldest, turned to me and said, ‘Mum, it’s so great that you can do this now – stay up late and not be frantically watching the clock so you can get to bed. I feel like we’ve finally got you back.’
“I was suddenly reminded of the price your kids pay when your job can be all-consuming. That’s when I really knew it had all been worth it.”
Wilkinson has remained with Ten since proving a popular addition to their stable of stars. Meanwhile, over at Today, ratings have continued to plummet and the show has since had two line-up changes.
Who is Lisa Wilkinson married to?
Lisa Wilkinson has been married to red-bandanna-wearing Peter FitzSimons for 27 years, after a whirlwind courtship – the pair announced their engagement just nine months after meeting, much to Wilkinson’s mother’s distaste!
"My mum was not a believer in Pete. It took many years," she recently told The Australian Women’s Weekly. “She thought we got married way too quickly. She always acknowledged Pete's extraordinary generosity towards her but a few times she told him she was unconvinced we were right for each other.
"Pete, to his enormous credit, would never be challenged by it – he found it kind of amusing. And he said to me, 'I know I'll win her over one day.'"
And he did!
FitzSimons, an author and journalist, started his career playing professional rugby for the Sydney University Football Club and Manly RUFC in the 1980s, before relocating to France to play professionally there. He later returned to Australia, where he played for the National team, before retiring from the sport in 1990. FitzSimons went on to focus on sports journalism and writing, and since 1988 he’s written regularly for The Sydney Morning Herald.
The couple were married on September 26, 1992, and in the years that followed, had three children Jake (born 1993), Louis (born in 1995) and daughter Billi (who came along in 1997). Interestingly, Jake and Louis share the same birthday, but two years apart, and Billi would have also shared it had she not arrived four days prematurely!
“Yes, all Christmas babies, if you know what I mean,” Wilkinson hilariously wrote on Instagram.
To mark their 25th wedding anniversary in 2017, Lisa and Pete renewed their vows, at The Bathers’ Pavilion on Sydney’s Balmoral Beach – the same spot they were married at a quarter of a century before! This time they had their entourage along for the ride, their children acting as officiators during the ceremony. According to reports, middle child Louis walked Wilkinson down the aisle, while older son Jake acted as FitzSimons’ best man. Daughter Billi was on hand as her mum’s Maid of Honour. Wilkinson later described the event, which was attended by a smattering of celebs, including ex-Today co-star Sylvia Jeffries and her husband Peter Stefanovic, as “one of the most joyous nights of our lives.”
Wilkinson’s family are the great joy of her life, and she credits them with helping her stay focused and grounded amidst the chaos that sometimes comes with her career.
“Fortunately my self-identify has never been tied up in my work,” she recently told Vogue. “I still think of myself as a magazine junkie kid from the suburbs who lucked out big time by being in the right place at the right time at the beginning of my career.
“Everything that has happened since has come from doing the work, putting in long hours, recognising opportunities when they came along, and making sure that I had plenty of perspective on the industry that I’m in. I’m grateful for everything that’s come my way, but I’ve worked hard for all of it. And for me, family has always come first.”
Lisa Wilkinson’s Order of Australia
Lisa Wilkinson was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2016, for her significant service to print and broadcast media, as well as her involvement in youth and women’s health charities and groups.
Lisa Wilkinson’s net worth
It’s unknown how much Lisa Wilkinson is worth, but it’s likely in the millions, once her highly lucrative contract with Network Ten is taken into consideration. She also has highly paid contracts with Audi and Canon, as well as a vitamin company, which reportedly pays her over $500,000 to promote their brand. Wilkinson and her husband have lived in the ritzy Sydney harbourside suburb of Cremorne for 20 years, where the average house price for the area is an eye-watering $2.657million!