When Donald Trump was just a “guy with a bad orange hair-do hosting The Apprentice“, Leigh Sales took over as the anchor of ABC’s 7.30.
It was five Australian Prime Ministers ago. She has decided against remaining in the role for the sixth – the incumbent or the contender.
After the looming federal election is over, Sales has decided to step down in her 12th year in the seat.
“There’s nothing wrong, other than I just feel a strong sense of it being time to pass the baton to the next runner in the race and to take a break,” she told 7.30 viewers this week.
“The end of an election cycle feels like a good time to move onto something new at the ABC.
“I hope it’s been obvious that I’ve always approached this job with one goal — and that is to ask frank questions of people in power, without fear or favour, that a fair-minded, reasonable person with some common sense watching at home might like to ask if they were sitting in my position.
“I’ve tried to shut down wafflers, call out bullshit, hold powerful people to account, expose lies, incompetence and exaggeration in all political parties and on all issues, and present facts even when they’re unpopular or inconvenient.”
She would “never stop being grateful” for the opportunities that came with anchoring 7.30, including interviewing “incredible people”.
She highlighted the interview with Mathew Low whose wife Cindy was one of four people killed on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld in 2016.
“People like Mathew are the ones who stick with you,” she said.
“Every time you interview somebody whose life has been devastated, you feel terrified by what life has dished up to them and incredibly humbled by how they’ve met that with strength and clarity and dignity.
“You don’t forget it.”
Interviewing celebrities was also part of the gig, with Sales describing getting a hug from Sir Paul McCartney as “one of the best days of my life”.
“In all the years I’ve anchored, I’ve never had more viewers come up to me in public than after that interview to say how much joy it gave them, and it was so beautiful that people felt like they had shared in that experience with me,” she said.
While hosting 7.30 was an “unbelievable privilege”, Sales said it was a demanding job that came with pressure and scrutiny.
“Anchoring a nightly current affairs show for so long has been a marathon but every day, it’s a sprint as well,” she said.
“When I first started I didn’t have children and now I have two boys aged 10 and eight.
“They’ve only ever known their mum at work four nights a week. They want me home with them before 830pm and I don’t think that’s too much for two little boys to ask. And they’re two beautiful little boys too.”
She thanked viewers for their support, saying it meant a lot when the ABC was “so often under fire”.
Sales looked forward to having a “good break” and figuring out what to do next at the ABC.
“There’s no other show that does what 7.30 does night after night,” she said.
“I’m so proud of what our team does.
“And I know the program is going to keep going from strength to strength as it always has.”
Friends and colleagues paid tribute to the outgoing anchor.