For nearly 12 years, they were one of television’s most charismatic and loved pairs. Melissa Doyle and David Koch (or “Mel and Kochie” as they were affectionately known) helped raise the ratings of Australian breakfast program Sunrise and made it so popular, they both became household names. So it was not without surprise and sadness from Sunrise viewers when last year, Doyle announced she would be leaving the show.
It is not like Doyle to fade into obscurity however, and she has continued to remain in the hearts and minds of many Australians. She now presents the Seven Network’s 4 pm news bulletin and a 7 pm bulletin alongside former Today Tonight presenter Matt White on the network’s second digital channel, 7 TWO. She also hosts a weekend breakfast show on Sydney and Melbourne radio station smoothfm, and last month, toured the country to launch her new book, Alphabet Soup.
It is because of Alphabet Soup that I am talking to Doyle on the phone today. It’s a book that makes her sound like a normal person: she struggles with finding the balance between raising a young family (her son, Nick, is 12 and daughter, Talia, is 10) and having a career; she worries about whether she’s feeding her children enough—or too much; she gets star-struck when she meets famous Hollywood celebrities; and she chases the cat around the house with a worming tablet.
When I tell Doyle that, she replies with great warmth and what sounds like relief in her voice.
“That was the absolute goal of what I was trying to do,” she says. “We’re all trying to do our best. Some women don’t work while they’ve got small children, and I respect that, but for those of us who are working, I think we’re all in the same boat—we’re doing our best. My job has me in front of a camera but it’s actually no different to yours and to anybody else’s. I still have to get up, work out what to wear and head into the office and handle office politics, work hard and do exactly the same as everybody else.”
Speaking with Doyle, I get a real sense of her genuine and down-to-earth humility. She may have a highly recognisable face and name in Australia, but there is nothing pretentious nor aloof about her. No wonder she has been voted one of the “most real celebrity mums” and is regularly featured in the Top 50 of Reader’s Digest’s annual “Most Trusted Australians” list. Today, she tells me, she’s speaking with me after doing the morning school run and has a pile of ironing awaiting her after our conversation, just like any other mum. Perhaps minus the phone-interview-for-a-magazine part.
Painting A Real Picture
Alphabet Soup is Doyle’s second book and one in which she hopes to encourage mums to support each other a little more. “I know from my experience as a working mum that we tend to be fairly stoic,” she says. “But I think sometimes we do ourselves and our families a little bit of a disservice by thinking that we can do it all.”
“Women tend to paint a slightly artificial picture. They can get very competitive and so they want to be the one that rocks up to mothers’ group saying that their baby sleeps longer than anybody else’s and that their life is perfect. I’m not into that. I would much rather be really honest and say to my girlfriends, ‘I’m so tired. This is really, really hard. How are you coping?’ and have them say to me the realities of what they’re dealing with. I think the moment that one of us opens the door to think that we’re not perfect and can’t do it all and that maybe we need a little bit of help, others will be quite happy and quick to open the door as well and [agree they could] really do with a hand. I think that support network is so important.”
It’s this trusted support network that has kept Doyle going through the years of working at Sunrise, when she had to wake up at 3 am to get to work or travel overseas on special assignments that included covering the inauguration of President Barack Obama and the election of the new Pope. She had to rely on friends to pick her kids up from school if neither she nor her husband, John, were able to make it.
And while Doyle isn’t afraid to ask for help, she’s also quick to return the favour because “I like being able to help someone. If I can help [a girlfriend] and make life a little bit easier for her, then that’s something really special and it makes me feel good. I also think it’s important for my children to see that we all work together and that we help each other out, and hopefully that translates to them in the playground. If there’s a new child at school, it’s up to them to be nice and reach out.”
This desire to help others not only extends into Doyle’s professional career, it is what drives her.
Doyle trained as a journalist and before Sunrise, spent years working as a reporter, not to chase fame, but with the aim of getting people to think about “stories and issues.” Her stint with Sunrise gave her recognition and a voice, but for her personally, it simply meant enabling her to use “the forum of breakfast television to improve things and make a difference.” To a certain extent, you could say that Doyle has simply returned to her passion in her current role as network news anchor.
“I’m a news journalist: that was what I’ve always done, that’s my background. I love nothing more than covering news and live events, and so I’m still getting the same job satisfaction. One of the great things for me is that I’m in a [somewhat] unique position where I have a national profile, so I’ve got this amazing network role for all of our news departments around the country. Previously where they might have sent somebody from each state to cover [a story], I can go and do it on behalf of everybody.”
Doyle speaks with great emotion when she recalls her trip to Lebanon and Jordan last year to cover the Syrian refugee crisis as a World Vision ambassador. While there, she met a teenage girl who fled Syria with her family, leaving their comfortable existence behind to live as refugees in a tent.
“Even if only one person saw that story last year and has been able to think about it and maybe do something or help in some small way, then that’s amazing! I’m really proud that I could do that,” she says. “I want to be able to make a difference, and, hopefully, I’ve been able to do that.”
“There are some stories you tell because you want to put a smile on someone’s face and then there are some stories that need to be told. I’m hoping to [be able to say to our viewers], ‘This is happening. This is why you’ve got to have a look. This is what you need to know. If you’re interested in helping, this is what you can do.’ Hopefully I can bring a voice to some of these stories, people and issues.”
Doing Her Part
Doyle does more than bring a voice to people through the stories she shares with viewers. Her website officially lists her as an “ambassador” for eight different charities, the national patron for Make A Wish Australia and chairperson for the Giants Foundation. She also speaks at charity functions and supports many more causes.
“It’s almost like the more I take on, I want to take on even more, because I know that I can make a difference,” she says. “And it has brought me so much satisfaction both professionally—because [it means] I’m not wasting my role—and personally, I’m so rewarded by it that it has probably been one of the unexpected bonuses of my role and what I have been able to do.”
Her passion for helping charities is fuelled by a simple philosophy: “Some people are rich enough that they can be philanthropic and build a wing on a hospital. And some people are smart enough that they can go into a lab and find a cure for cancer. I can’t do either of those things, but I’ve got a voice and I want to use it. So my job is to raise my voice on behalf of these organisations and charities that need it. If I can put on a pretty frock on a Saturday night and stand up on a stage and MC or speak at a function to raise some money to give to the researchers or the builders of the wing, then that’s great. That’s my job; that’s what I can do, so I do it proudly.”
While Doyle has been upbeat throughout our chat, her enthusiasm really shines when we talk about the concept of helping others—be that helping working mums to cope with their busy lives, helping to make a difference in the world or helping charitable organisations with her voice and profile. It’s what gives her career purpose and, as she agrees, brings reality to the biblical aphorism,
“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Making a local difference
A firm believer in finding time to do something nice for somebody, Doyle has a simple suggestion on how we can do so in our local communities:
“You might have a woman who lives down the road who has no family and is on her own. All you’ve got to do is knock on her door every once in a while and check that she’s OK. Does she need her lawn mowed? If you’re going down the road to buy some fruit, does she need anything?”
“I’m incredibly lucky. I have a job; I have an income; I have a healthy, happy family; I have a comfortable home; we don’t want for anything; I live in a country where we have access to health care, education, electricity at a switch and clean water. I’m really grateful and I feel we shouldn’t take that for granted.”
“Sometimes, we need to stop and realise that not everyone has all of those things and I just don’t want to have a life that’s filled with excess and lose track of what matters.”