Why Suzie Wilks disappeared from TV
NEARLY eight years ago at the height of her career, Suzie Wilks made a conscious decision to step away from television.
At the time, the 41-year-old was a red carpet and fan favourite and she had a huge national profile, thanks to shows like Changing Rooms and Our House.
In her own words, Wilks told news.com.au that she "disappeared" from public life, determined to take a break from the industry.
Now she wants to explain - why?
Wilks, now 49, was pregnant with her fist child, Ruby, when she decided after nearly two decades in the business that she needed to have some space and clear her head.
She also wanted to raise Ruby, now 7, at home, something she thinks was virtually impossible if she wanted to pursue a career in television because of her personal circumstances.
Wilks was also a "solo" Mum as she calls it, after splitting with her then husband Nick O'Halloran soon after the birth of her daughter.
No more living out of a suitcase on remote television shoots or glamorous red carpet shots at movie premieres. She simply wanted out.
When Wilks first got into television and thought of having kids, she thought she could do both. But she soon found out the hours were impossible for her to juggle motherhood and a demanding TV career.
"I know that sound weird, because I didn't understand the hours involved," she said.
"I thought it was the type of job where I could be a mum and provide for my kids, and still work and earn an income, but what I didn't realise that it's actually quite the opposite of that."
There were also other personal factors that made her give television and fame up, after so long in the game.
She left Changing Rooms and a long-time contract at Channel 9, swapping networks to Channel 7 with an appearance on Dancing With The Stars in 2008.
It was supposed to be a new network and a fresh beginning, but it wasn't the case. It was during that series she lost her mother, Ann, who died suddenly from a brain aneurysm at the age of 67.
Sitting with Wilks in an inner city Melbourne cafe, she smiles while talking about her mother, but also grieves that she lost her so suddenly, and so publicly.
"I had just started Dancing With The Stars," she said.
"I'm sure if I had gone to them and said my mother had just died, if I needed to walk away, they would have let me. But I needed to pay my mortgage. So what do you do?
"I had to get in a dress and dance around the stage, when my heart was in a million pieces and I wanted to vomit.
"I could barely function but you have to find the strength within you to move on, because no one else is going to pay the mortgage for me. What do you do?"
Wilks was very close with her mother and to this day there isn't a day she doesn't think of her. She often thinks about what things would have been like if her mother had been alive.
"There are so many things in my life since she died that probably would have been different if my mum was still here," she said.
"I still need my mum now. I want to ask her advice, her opinion."
The legacy of her mother will stay with her forever, as she continues to raise Ruby on her own.
"I do think how lucky am I to have had such a beautiful, loving mother," she said.
"For some people they lose their mother at age five. For me, my experience with my mother was so wonderful.
"Life took a very unusual turn when she died. I had to learn to live again without her. You fill in the gaps because you have to."
The success of Changing Rooms and the shock decision to resign
Years earlier, at the end of 2005, Suzie Wilks walked into her bosses at Channel 9 and resigned from the hosting job of Changing Rooms.
It was a huge decision, as no doubt the show still had some way to go with the charismatic Wilks as host.
Changing Rooms was one of the first reality television renovation shows, starting in 1998.
In a lot of ways it paved the way for the likes of The Block, that started five years later in 2003.
Wilks had hosted the show since the beginning and while she is eternally grateful for the experience, come 2005, she was done.
"We would shoot 40 weeks of the year which was full on," she said of hosting Changing Rooms.
"It was quite an interesting show to shoot, but it's not just being a host, there is a lot more involved in it.
"It's extremely time consuming on every level and to do that for seven or eight years, it's a lot of television, plus all the other things I did.
"I'm grateful for everything, but it got to a stage where I just thought to myself, 'I don't have a life', so I decided to resign."
Powerful television executive Peter Meakin was her boss at the time and she remembers walking in to him and resigning, and him telling her not to do it.
She was still open to doing other shows with Nine but things at the network were about to change.
"When I walked in to resign I didn't know that very day there was going to be a change in CEO," she said.
"I walked in to Peter Meakin and he said 'don't do this now', and I didn't understand what he was saying.
"He was trying to tell me this is not a good time to do this, because everybody I had built all these relationships with over the years, everything was going to change.
"I wasn't going to be able to go and see the people I knew at Nine, because everything was going to be different.
"I remember getting on the plane and thinking, 'I'm not going to have a contract next year, I'm not going to have a job'. But then I thought, 'if I need to go and do something else, now is the time'.
"I always wanted to leave on top, I didn't want that show (Changing Rooms) to leave me."
The CEO change saw Eddie McGuire take over from David Gyngell, a job that McGuire lasted in for two years.
Wilks continued to work at the network as one of the presenters of Postcards, a Melbourne based travel show.
But it was two years later when Seven came knocking with Dancing With The Stars in late 2007 and the opportunity for a change of pace was too good to refuse.
Wilks made her debut on Dancing With The Stars a few months later in 2008 with Jonathan Doone as her partner. It wasn't a pleasant experience with the death of her mother.
The future - Suzie Wilks wants to come back
Now that daughter Ruby is seven, Wilks is set to make a television comeback. It won't be on Changing Rooms, although those famous shorts still fit.
Wilks says she was glad to see Natalie Bassingthwaite take up the hosting role on the revamped version of the show on Channel 10. Unfortunately, unlike the Nine version, the Ten show didn't set the ratings on fire.
Wilks hasn't regretted a thing about being away from the business for so long.
"I didn't want to miss out on Ruby's life," she said.
"Motherhood is the most natural thing I've ever done. I'm so blessed to have this beautiful baby and I love her."
But now, Ruby, who has seen some of the videos of her mother on television, is encouraging her to return to TV presenting.
"She has been one of the main instigators, encouraging me to get back on to the tele," Wilks said.
Wilks understands the world has changed, social media was really only beginning when she left the business.
She is in the process on getting back on board and is open to new TV opportunities.
Wilks says she will work as hard just like she did in the beginning when she started out hosting Changing Rooms.
"With my career something I've always been really proud of is that I got there through sheer hard work and determination," Wilks said.
"There were never any handouts with my career.
"I look back and there is a lot to be proud of, and I'm going to have that same attitude.
"That's the way I feel, maybe it's time."
- Luke Dennehy is a freelance entertainment journalist. Continue the conversation @LukeDennehy