Mon 14 November 2016
Written by Brodie Lancaster.
During a screenwriting class at university, someone once told me that a character becomes more likeable the better they are at their job. While I don’t think that’s always true (for starters, female characters who spend a lot of time at work are almost always punished for giving up maternal pursuits in the process), there is something to be said for the impact growing up with a “character” like Leigh Sales on TV has had (and will continue to have) on young girls growing up in Australia.
It’d be easy to position someone as brilliant and accomplished as her on a pedestal, to frame them as unreachable and their achievements as impossible to replicate. But when I watch Leigh at work—whether it’s when she’s refusing to let our politicians wriggle off the hook of her questioning; or when she and her BFF, Annabel Crabb, are darting through the ABC office, looking a quiet spot where they can discuss ‘Game of Thrones’ for their show, When I Get a Minute I’m filled with admiration and hope, instead of that crippling feeling you get when you realise someone or something is totally out of your reach. (You know that feeling, right? The one you get in the pit of your stomach when you see someone’s cool ocean of endless holiday photos on Instagram and you’re like, I could never begin to comprehend this reality; or the one you get when you listen to the ‘Hamilton’ original cast recording for the first time and you’re like, YOU wrote this like you were running out of time, Lin-Manuel Miranda!)
Instead of the overwhelming dread that tells me, in no uncertain terms, that I’m about to start comparing myself to someone else and inevitably will feel bad as a result of that comparison, when I watch Leigh at work, I see a goal. Not a #goal, but something that, with work and dedication and a clear-eyed focus, could potentially be achievable. Watching Leigh’s interviews with national (and world) leaders is like watching Simone Biles at the Olympics; she’s trained and researched so hard that seeing her perform feels at once instinctual and dynamic.
But what I don’t get from watching her interviews is the thing I’m so excited to ask her about at Breakthrough: what she did before to become the the responsive and skilled political journalist we know today. I want to know more about what Leigh was doing when she was my age; at 26 she’d already covered a NSW state election and the 2000 Olympics, and would soon leave Australia to work in Washington—something I’ve heard her drop into conversation with Annabel, with the same casualness Nigella Lawson has when she’s making a pasta dish and mentions the time she spent working as a chambermaid in Italy. Both drips of information always make me want to know more.
Did she have a plan for where her career would go back then? What did she think about on the plane to America? I want to know the answers to the questions she asks her guests, like when she celebrated the 21st anniversary of Muriel’s Wedding by asking Toni Collette what advice she would give to her younger self, or when she asked the Dalai Lama, “You always seem so happy and calm. Do you have to sometimes fake it?”
It’s questions like these I’ll have to awkwardly wedge in off-stage at Breakthrough, because when Anne Summers and I have got the microphone, we’ll be asking Leigh your questions. What have you always wanted to know about the woman who has both facilitated Hillary Clinton’s conversation with Hamish and Andy, and prevented the present and past Liberal leaders from dodging her questions in favour of spouting basic party catchphrases?
Leigh Sales will be delivering a keynote address at Breakthrough 2016, followed #QForLeigh where Brodie Lancaster and Anne Summers will flip the script and turn the mic on one of Australia’s most renowned journalists.
Breakthrough is happening over 25 + 26 November at the Melbourne Town Hall, and in addition to Brodie, Anne and Leigh, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with passionate change makers like Tara Moss, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Clare Wright, Marilyn Waring and 100+ more. Given current climate, Breakthrough is timely gathering of people who know that the future is gender equality. Join us!