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Tracy's year of living dangerously

After 29 years in journalism, A Current Affair’s Tracy Grimshaw is finally getting the recognition she deserves, thanks in part to a series of bruising public encounters this year, writes Michael Sheather.
Tracy Grimshaw couldn't believe what she was hearing. Driving home on a Saturday afternoon, she took a call from Grant Williams, executive producer of A Current Affair, but the news he delivered was the very last thing she expected.
“Grant’s a capable bloke, but he had trouble telling me what had happened,” recalls Tracy, the 47-year-old host of ACA. “And, finally, he just blurted it out – Gordon Ramsay had gone off half-cocked and publicly called me a fat pig, said I was old and needed Botox. I was completely stunned, absolutely gobsmacked. That’s the only way to describe it. I nearly drove off the road. I had to pull over to take it all in. It simply didn’t make any sense.”
It still doesn’t. Chef Gordon Ramsay’s bizarre, unprecedented and all too public attack on Tracy, with his cruel and sexist accusations about her sexuality, her appearance and her personality in June is as much a mystery to Tracy today as it was when it made headlines around the world three months ago.
Ramsay’s unprovoked tirade and Tracy’s sharp, eloquent and dignified television response – leaving her rude assailant sliced and diced, with nowhere to hide but the kitchen waste bin – was just one contest in a year of high drama and personal success for Tracy, who, with a series of hard-hitting TV encounters, has risen to be considered on the highest tier of Australia’s broadcast interviewers.
She has, say her many supporters, come of age as a journalist, presenter and interviewer, while just as many believe that recognition is long overdue. Her confrontational interview with former colleague and NRL footballer Matthew Johns earlier this year – in which she questioned Johns over his involvement in allegations of group sex during a football trip seven years ago, while his wife, Trish, sat beside him – is being touted as a contender at this year’s Walkley Awards, Australian journalism’s highest honours.
Awards aside, there seems little doubt that Tracy, one of the most accomplished journalists on Australian TV, is at the peak of her game. Her versatility is rarely equalled, slipping easily as she does from an interview with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to a visiting Hollywood celebrity or a touching encounter with an injured policewoman left for dead after a vicious assault in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
And across them all, she hits the key issues with tenacity and compassion. “She always does a professional job, always had a great sense for a story, but also great humanity and humour,” says friend and Nine Network colleague, Liz Hayes, of 60 Minutes. “She knows how to keep her nerve, how to ask a tough question and not blink.”
They are skills Tracy has needed in spades recently. First, there was her confrontation with disgraced Australian swimmer Nick D’Arcy in April, putting the Olympic hopeful on the public record over his bar-room assault on fellow swimmer Simon Cowley, which left Cowley with a shattered jaw.
“I do like a vigorous interview, I must admit,” says Tracy, whose questioning had D’Arcy on the back foot. “You wouldn’t want to do them all the time because it’s exhausting, for everybody. But I was surprised to get Nick D’Arcy. We had spoken with Simon Cowley and it’s hard not to do a sympathetic piece with Simon because he’d been beaten unconscious. So I was surprised, but I think that showed some bravery on his part.”
Read the rest of this story in the October issue of The Australian Women's Weekly with Tracy Grimshaw on the cover.
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