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TV

A series of recent health scares nearly derailed Denise Drysdale, but she’s not tapping out just yet

“I’m rediscovering my confidence”

By Thomas Mitchell
They say bad luck comes in threes, and if anyone knows the truth behind that saying, it's beloved Studio 10 co-host Denise Drysdale.
In 2018, she recalls, her year went from bad to worse to "What the hell is going on here?"
First, there was a freak knee accident sustained on an ocean cruise.
"I was meant to be the entertainment," Denise, 70, tells TV WEEK drily, proving that pain hasn't dulled her sharp tongue.
Then, she suffered a detached retina, which meant an emergency stay in hospital. That was promptly followed by the discovery of a lump in her left breast.
"I've had lumps everywhere and anywhere, but never there," she explains.
Though she was diagnosed with just a benign cyst, the traumatic trio of events caused Denise to reflect.
"Getting through the lump was intense," she says. "I suffered a bit of depression. I was down a bit, but I'm over that and eager to get back to the real Denise."
After a series of health scares, she's ready to get back to the "real" Denise.
That process begins with her return to Studio 10 this week. Ready or not, greeting Denise will be a show fresh from a revamp and boasting a shiny new set.
"I was a bit apprehensive about going back to work because I've done absolutely nothing since the end of September," she explains. "I haven't been able to drive; I've felt useless. But now, I'll start to feel like myself again and get a bit of confidence back."
It's easy to forget that the two-time Gold Logie winner, fondly nicknamed "Ding Dong", is now 70, since she has been entertaining Australian audiences with a youthful spirit since the 1960s.
But Denise admits this recent run of hospital visits and health problems has been a stark reminder of her age.
"I'm OK with dying with dignity," Denise declares. "Death doesn't worry me. What scares me is being dead while alive. I don't want to be stuck with bad quality of life, you know?
"When I was sick, I'd be in a shopping centre and get recognised by people. They'd come and say hello, but I didn't feel like Denise Drysdale − I felt like a sick person, so that was hard."
Denise with her Studio 10 co-stars.
On the mend, Denise is now able to take stock of what's happened to create a new normal.
"This was my body telling me enough is enough − so going forward, I'll be doing less work," she confirms. "I'm also drinking less; I'll still have the occasional champagne, just not as much as I used to."
The dedicated performer is under instructions from her two sons, Peter and Rob, to rein it in.
"They've been telling me for ages to slow down − and now, after all this drama, they're feeling smug," she says with a laugh.
"But they do worry about me, so I've reassured them and agreed not to push myself like I was."
Returning to the Studio 10 panel two days a fortnight seems to be the perfect compromise for a woman who has spent her lifetime in the limelight.
"I'm so lucky to have the chance, at my age, to even come back to work," she says. "There's not that much work in TV for women 70 and over!"
Denise hosting the 1976 Logies with Garry McDonald (as Norman Gunston).
One woman who did find work in TV past that landmark is Denise's former Studio 10 nemesis, Ita Buttrose, the next chair of the ABC.
"Ita will do a brilliant job," Denise says. "She's like a dog with a bone when she's got an issue to deal with. But I don't envy her workload. I could think of nothing worse than that gig. It would be so demanding, let alone at age 77."
The pair famously fell out over accusations that Denise threw a Brussel sprout at Ita during a taping of a Studio 10 Christmas special.
"I don't think it'll ever be water under the bridge," Denise admits about what became dubbed Brussel Sprout-gate. "But if we saw each other, we'd be polite. I'd say, 'G'day, Ites!'"
Denisa and Ita in happier times.
It's this cheeky side that fans want to see again on Studio 10, and proof that Denise isn't done yet, not even close.
"Oh, I've got a lot more up my sleeve," she says with a wink. "Don't you worry about that!"
Studio 10 airs Monday to Friday, 8:30am, on Network 10.

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