Popular Australian personality, Mel Doyle, chats to Ari Chavez about combining two of her greatest passions – a high-profile TV career as a television journalist and motherhood, and how the ‘sisterhood’ has helped blend the two into a workable, fulfilling lifestyle.
After a few minutes of chatting to Melissa Doyle, it’s clear she’s is a glass-half-full kinda gal. Impeccably polite, bubbly, articulate and focused she is, as expected for a media veteran, a practised interviewee presenting a snapshot of a life that seems to be bathed ever-so-slightly in a hazy, golden glow.
Things looked very different for Doyle just a little over 12 months ago when the 44-year-old co-host of Channel 7’s ubiquitous breakfast television program, Sunrise, went on air to make the tearful announcement that she was leaving the show she had been an integral part of for 14 years, ostensibly for greener pastures.
Mel, a reliable performer for Channel 7, and one half of the immensely popular duo Mel-‘n-Kochie, was moving on to co-host a new 4.00pm news program and host the, ultimately short-lived, 7.00pm news bulletin on 7TWO. Meanwhile, Weekend Sunrise presenter, Samantha Armytage was set to take on Mel’s spot on the Sunrise couch. Mel was, she said, immensely grateful for her time at Sunrise, and extremely excited about the new challenges ahead. On her farewell program, a solid three hours dedicated to her time with the Sunrise ‘family’, she thanked her colleagues and smiled tearfully for the cameras. Messages of support poured in from viewers, the then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sent flowers and Seven West Media Chairman, Kerry Stokes, thanked her on air.
It was a graceful performance from, well, everyone, but it didn’t stop the frenzied speculation about the real reasons for Mel’s rapid exit stage left. Insiders whispered that industry veteran didn’t get a choice in the matter, that she was hauled into a meeting, had her generous salary cut by $150,000 and was informed of the changes to the Sunrise line-up and her new role, which some commentators labelled a demotion. Others cried sexism, citing the notoriously blokey culture of commercial television, and noting Armytage was almost a decade younger than Doyle, who was presenting as too ‘mumsy’, an apparently unforgivable threat to the ratings.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Mel has never veered from her script about the pleasures of working with the Sunrise team and 7 management and it seems, 12 months on, the shock of not having to set the alarm for a pre-dawn dash to the 7 studios is still a fresh and wondrous thing.
“Shift work is hard,” she says, breezily. “No matter who you are, what you do, whether you’re a nurse or a baker or a newsreader, shift work is really hard. I got up at three o’clock in the morning for fourteen years and did it with two children, I had two children during that time. It was tough on the body but it was an awesome job and great shift and you make the most of it.
“You realise why they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture because when you’re tired, and any parent knows it, particularly when you’ve got little ones, it just overtakes everything you do.”
I think I’m one of these people who, I make the most of everything I’m doing, but now that I get to wake up at a normal time I’ve noticed a difference. I feel a lot healthier. I’m going to the gym and doing weights and exercising and getting a proper sleep every night and waking up when the sun comes up. It’s quite nice!
You realise why they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture because when you’re tired, and any parent knows it, particularly when you’ve got little ones, it just overtakes everything you do. For me, tiredness was all consuming. I was never one to nap through the day, which I probably should have, but I never did. I got to a point where I found I was just tired all the time. I can’t imagine I’m different from everyone else, when we’re tired we get cranky, we get hungry – all those things. But you know, that comes with shift work. It wasn’t like it was any great surprise. I certainly knew what I was in for.”
After leaving Sunrise, Mel turned her attention to reporting, covering international stories such as Schapelle Corby’s release from prison in Bali, the Royal tour, the Oscars and the Syria refugee crisis. As she discusses the ins and outs of her career, she sounds almost surprised that she gets to do something she loves so much for a living.
“As a journalist, it’s a privileged job. Some stories are there to give people a laugh and some stories are there for public education and some stories need to be told purely because we need to know about them and the world needs to know.
The thing I love most about my job is the mixture of things I get to do. I’ve had the most amazing, fascinating career. I’m so thankful for it…My role is to stand somewhere in a situation and tell people who are at home watching their television what’s happening…to give people an understanding of what it’s like, what the smells are like, the sounds are like, the atmosphere…It’s all I’ve ever done and I love it. It’s the most fascinating, interesting job in the world.”
It’s a role that traverses the fluffy concoctions of the entertainment industry to some of the biggest tragedies of our time. With news now on tap 24/7, Mel is conscious of viewer fatigue, particularly with confronting stories of human suffering.
“I went over to Lebanon and Jordan in November last year [to report on the Syria refugee crisis] and sometimes I think you can see these overseas stories and it blurs a bit for viewers, it’s often seen as a bit of white noise.
I really wanted to bring it home and show people they were families just like ours…With these stories, one of the things I’ve really tried to do as a journalist is tell them in a way that people can relate to and they can really understand.
It was really sad to meet people whose lives had been completely destroyed. I met a lot of children in an orphanage who had lost their parents, and had witnessed their fathers killed in front of them. One little boy we interviewed, his teacher was shot in the classroom – just horrific, horrific stories that, God, I hope we never have to have any understanding of because you’d never want to witness it.”
Mel acknowledges that, while her primary role is simply to report the facts of a situation, stories of senseless deaths and unimaginable human trauma and suffering take their toll, and even more acutely since becoming the mother of her two beloved children – Nick, 13, and Talia, 10. She cites the unexpected jolt of vulnerability that motherhood brings, a deepening of an understanding of life’s many fragilities, as informing both her journalistic work and her contributions to numerous charities.
“Once I became a mum I looked at quite a number of things with a different view, from a different perspective, and I never really anticipated that I needed to or that would happen.
“Once you have kids, it changes the value of your own life in a way because my children need me in such a way that I’d never anticipated, and also I look at them and think oh my God I’d lay down and die.”
I do a lot of charity balls and they’re all pretty much to do with children. Last Saturday was the Children’s Cancer Institute, this Friday night’s Healthy Harold and, you know, I did those before I had kids, absolutely. Now that I’m a mum, I stand there in that room and we play the video and hear the stories and they just affect me in such a different way because suddenly I could imagine being that parent.
Once you have kids, it changes the value of your own life in a way because my children need me in such a way that I’d never anticipated, and also I look at them and think oh my God I’d lay down and die. If you guys needed a heart tomorrow, you can have mine. I would have no hesitation. And that gives you quite an incredible perspective on things.”
It’s motherhood, in all its complexity, its confounding frustrations and joys, that was the impetus for Mel’s second book, the recently released Alphabet Soup, a charming collection of anecdotes and observations about, well, the A-Z of mothering.
“We see all these beautiful glossy commercials from magazine spreads and sitcoms, where the house is immaculate and Mum’s beautifully dressed, and there’s a lovely dinner on the table and the table’s all set beautifully and I just remember thinking, seriously, am I the only one who’s not experiencing this? It’s not like that in my house,” Mel says, laughing.
“Some weeks I nail it and everything is tidy and organised, and the kids are happy and fed, and other weeks it just goes to pot and I think my God there’s no milk in the fridge and I’ve forgotten to buy birthday presents and I’m running out of time blah blah blah.
I just wanted to say to other mums, as one of the girls, ‘This is my experience and I wonder if yours is the same because if it is then, hey, more power to you because we’re all kind of going through it together’. I just wanted to break down those notions that everything has got to be perfect and wonderful and rosy all the time because in my world it’s not. People might look at me and think that my life might be somehow different to theirs but it’s not. I’m a normal, regular, working mum the only difference is my job brings with it a profile. I go home and kick off my heels and wash off my makeup and put a load of washing on.”
Mel acknowledges that, while women can be an incredible support to one another throughout motherhood, the opposite is also true in that parenting can become an epic battleground of judgement and one upmanship. True to form, she doesn’t focus on the negative instead preaching a message of self-empowerment in seeking out your tribe.
“Women can be competitive. I think we all find that. I remember mothers’ group…when I had Nick, my firstborn. There were all these ladies and they were perfect and they were bragging that their babies had slept for three hours and blah, blah, blah. I had a little boy that was a twenty minute napper and I was lucky if he did twenty five minutes in one hit.
“I’m a normal, regular, working mum the only difference is my job brings with it a profile. I go home and kick off my heels and wash off my makeup and put a load of washing on.”
I remember walking in there, and there was another mum there called Katrina, and she just walked in with her baby in the capsule, absolutely squawking, and she popped her in the corner and covered her up and said, ‘She’ll be fine, she’ll go to sleep in a minute’. I just went, ‘Oh my God, you’re my friend!’ and we’ve been besties ever since…we just hit it off.
And for me, I thought, that’s when you seek out the other mums who think like you. And, you know, at the school gate, it’s just inevitable you’re going to meet some women who have the same way of thinking, the same approach to their children, the same discipline – all of those other factors – and there are other mums who do it differently and that’s fine. I’ve been drawn to other mums who have similar ways of bringing up their kids, and we’ve become a wonderful support network for each other.”
The evolving nature of enduring female friendships seems integral to Mel’s life and indeed, constant, bubbling happiness. She speaks of catching up with girlfriends for a glass of wine, carpooling for ballet lessons, the thousand tiny kindnesses that she and her circle offer one another to ensure their lives run just a little more smoothly.
“I’m such a supporter of the sisterhood,” she explains, earnestly. “For me, when I became a mum, I realised the importance of my network around me, my girlfriends that were going through the same thing and how vital they are. Helping you in a physical way by picking up your kids when you’re stuck, and helping and supporting you in an emotional way, having some people you can ring up and go ‘oh my God this is hard’, or ‘I’m really struggling’ or ‘I’m tired’, or whatever it might be. I found I couldn’t do it by myself and my girlfriends took on a really bigger, deeper role.
“I’ve been drawn to other mums who have similar ways of bringing up their kids, and we’ve become a wonderful support network for each other.”
It’s gone from helping you get dressed on a Saturday night, and going out to a party and crying over some stupid boy, to suddenly, they’re the ones nursing you when your parents are sick or…you’re going through a period where you feel like you haven’t slept for six months.
She pauses to catch her breath, and I can feel her beaming down the phone line, her positivity infectious.
“I just wanted to reach out to all the other mums out there and say, ‘Hey girls! We’ve all got to look out for each other and support each other and we’re all in this together’.”
There’s that hazy, golden glow again.