Melissa Doyle had been a major star on Channel Seven for 25 years when she was dumped by the financially struggling network several months after turning 50.
Recovering from the sadness she says she felt, Doyle threw herself into making a “very personal” podcast series, Age Against the Machine, which tackles Australian society’s prejudice against older women.
Perhaps surprisingly, Doyle insists her age had nothing to do with Seven’s decision to cut ties and she has only praise for her former bosses.
“No, I don’t think it was to do with my age, because I look around at the number of women who are my age and older and are still doing extraordinary things,” she tells Guardian Australia.
“I was sad because I’d been there for such a long time and I was comfortable and I’ve got lots of dear friends and it was such a part of my life.”
For 14 years until she stepped down in 2013, Doyle was one half of Sunrise’s famed “Mel and Kochie”, a duo which changed breakfast television in Australia. A cool-headed TV presenter, Doyle deserves credit for avoiding the scandals which dogged her replacement Samantha Armytage until she quit the Sunrise chair earlier this year.
A former host of current affairs show Sunday Night, Doyle has appeared on every Seven news show and has hosted numerous big events including the Beaconsfield mine disaster, multiple Olympic Games and royal weddings and, most notably, the Lindt cafe siege where her professionalism and news experience shone through hours of live coverage.
After years of paparazzi-led articles about her gym gear, her weight or her lack of makeup, Doyle wants to “change the narrative” from one which focuses on what a woman loses when she ages to one about the power and wisdom she gains.
The 51-year old mother of two teenagers says she has been inspired by the activism of younger women like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame and encourages generations to work together to banish discrimination and prejudice.
I look at some of the young girls ... and I go ‘now my job is to stand with you’
“We need younger female voices to support us and back us, and I think as an older woman I need to make sure that our voices support and back up the younger women,” Doyle says.
“I look at some of the young girls at the moment doing extraordinary things on the stage, such as Brittany and Grace who are agitating for great change, and I go ‘Now my job is to stand with you.’”
The podcast project, produced by Audible with her good friend Naima Brown, grew out of the frustration she felt when people repeatedly asked her how she felt about the “milestone birthday”.
“It’s meant to be some epiphany but I felt no different than I felt about 49,” she says.
Doyle is all too aware of her own privilege as a white woman who has been paid well, is in a stable relationship and has good health. Now she wants to use her platform to highlight the vulnerability of older women and First Nations women to unemployment, homelessness and domestic violence.
Covid-19 scuttled her plans to travel the world for the podcast, including to Finland, Ghana, South Korea and New Zealand, to interview women about different cultural attitudes to ageing, menopause, sex, political representation and financial security, so interviews were done remotely.
“It did feel like a very personal project, because it was personal to me, but clearly for the women that we spoke to it was very personal to them,” she says.
“And there were feelings that maybe we don’t always share openly unless it’s with your best girlfriends and a glass of wine.”
As for her own attitude, “the only time I remember my age is when I wake up and I get out of bed and my knees are a bit sore or something and you go ‘Oh that’s right.’”
Getting older is extraordinary, and it’s better
Brown and Doyle also explored the culture of youth, and asked why we are “so fascinated” by whether a woman has “had work” or not.
“I’ve got laugh lines; I’ve got loads of them, but I figure that means I’ve been laughing for 51 years, so I’m sort of OK,” she says.
Despite working in high-profile television roles, Doyle is not an advocate of plastic surgery or nonsurgical treatments such as Botox and is surprised at how many young women have them, especially in South Korea.
“I personally look at some women in Hollywood who’ve done quite a lot and I don’t necessarily think it’s beautiful.
“Getting older is extraordinary, and it’s better,” Doyle says. “And I’ve got so much more and I’m richer for it. So why aren’t they the conversations that we’re having? Why do we spend so much time worrying about wrinkles and grey hair and stuff like that when that’s only 0.05% of it?
“I think a face that reflects somebody’s heart, whether they’ve smiled or what they’ve done, I find that that’s a thing of beauty.”
• Age Against the Machine is available now through Audible