‘I thought about a total career change’: Why Leigh Sales is back on the ABC

For more than a decade, Leigh Sales spent five nights a week asking people questions. As host of ABC’s flagship current affairs program, 7.30, she regularly grilled world leaders, celebrities, actors and sportspeople.

So perhaps it makes sense that when it comes to promoting her new job as host of Australian Story, Sales is all interviewed out.

Leigh Sales, new host of Australian Story on ABC.Credit:Facbeook

When this masthead requested an interview with Sales, rather than agreeing to a face-to-face, she asked for an email interview to discuss her return to the small screen, the liberation of semi-retirement and why her comeback may be short-lived.

How have you found the rhythm of life since departing 7.30?

Absolutely liberating and never boring. It has been a great relief not to have my life potentially thrown into chaos every time the phone rings with word of a big breaking story.

What has been the biggest upside to having your days back?

Never feeling rushed. I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, cello practice, and spending a lot of time doing fun things with my kids.

People were curious about what your next move would be following 7.30. Were you sure you wanted to return to broadcasting?

To be honest, I gave some thought to a total career change. But, in the end, I love telling stories and I love the creative process, whatever medium.

“I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, cello practice, and spending a lot of time doing fun things with my kids.”Credit:Nic Walker

Australian Story has been without a presenter since Caroline Jones left the show in 2016. Have you thought much about how best to approach the role?

As anchor, the tone I’ll be going for is: “I’m your relaxed, trusted friend and hey, here’s something really interesting you might like to know about.”

Whatever I’ve worked on, from 7.30 to Chat 10 Looks 3, I’ve always enjoyed throwing ideas for the program into the mix, and I’m already doing that with Australian Story.

I bowled up 30 ideas for programs on day one! There are so many interesting Australians out there, most of them not famous. It’s a case of me getting to know them and working out how I can be most useful.

The program has been running since 1996; few shows last that long. Why do you think the appetite for Australian Story has never wavered, even as our viewing habits have changed?

People are always interested in good stories, well-told, and Australian Story has always done that brilliantly. I think Australian Story is also very much the program for the moment.

A lot of people are disengaged from the news because it makes them feel either overwhelmed and anxious or depressed. While Australian Story doesn’t shy away from challenging topics, it puts them in the full context of people’s lives. It doesn’t simply show one frozen moment of tragedy or disaster again and again. It gives you hope that most humans are adaptable and resilient.

Hosting Australian Story is not quite as laborious as hosting 7.30. Do you have plans to expand your involvement with the ABC?

There are numerous discussions going on currently, and all sorts of ideas being bandied about. I love narrative non-fiction storytelling (whether long-form TV, books or podcasts), but I’m also very interested in vertical video, extreme short-form storytelling and how we are innovating in news.

Leigh Sales schools former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on interview etiquette during a robust exchange on 7.30 in 2015. Credit:ABC

Has your relationship with the news cycle changed during your time off, or is it an impossible thing to shake?

I went almost completely cold turkey for the first time in 30 years. It’s taught me a lot – mostly that I was consuming so much information that has no relevance to my everyday life.

In the last 12 months, we’ve seen you, Lisa Wilkinson, Carrie Bickmore and Tracy Grimshaw leave high-profile broadcasting positions. Can we expect some kind of all-conquering panel show hosted by the four of you?

Haha! Look, they’re a top bunch of broads, but that’s about as likely as a reunion between Michael Clarke and Jade Yarbrough.

Leigh Sales presents Australian Story from 8pm, Monday 27 February on ABC.

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