Susie Elelman has had a larger than life career – and persona – but there have been many dark undertones to her life in the public eye.
From beauty queen, to day-time television presenter to writer – the media personality has stepped away from a dossier of weight-loss secrets to tell all in her new autobiography.
15 Minutes of Fame: The Dark Underbelly of Celebrity is the third book for the 64-year-old and tracks her career including stalking, rising above a “man’s world” and revealing the long-held secret that she was sexually abused as a child.
“Despite dad’s best efforts to shield me from harm, he was unable to prevent me from being sexually molested by someone very closely known to my family, not long before my seventh birthday,” she wrote in her book.
The boy in question – who Elelman claimed was older and known by her family at the time – threatened to hurt her if she ever told anyone, leaving her “fearing for her life”.
Neither of her parents ever knew of the incident before they passed away, in fear her father would have murdered “the bastard” and ended up in jail.
It’s one of the contributing factors, Elelman told Studio 10, as to why she’s never been married nor had children.
But there have been many other negative interactions with the opposite sex for the bubbly woman throughout her lifetime.
“Some of the bullying and intimidation I’ve experienced throughout my career still weigh heavily on me,” she wrote.
Originally from the Northern Beaches, a young Elelman was enrolled in teachers college but was enticed to change direction and head along the path of a modelling career not long after her year 12 formal.
The teen with jet-black hair was coached to win Miss Northern Beaches and Miss Australia New South Wales, and was in the national final of the Miss Australia Quest of 1973.
Being the beauty queen of the state led her to many interesting roles such as judging the Miss Dapto Showgirl, opening an aluminium recycling plant and being invited to open the Sydney Opera House with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Unfortunately the opening of the majestic structure was delayed until October 1973, when Elelman’s reign as Miss Australia New South Wales had ended.
Beauty propelled Elelman into the public eye but it also brought with it unwanted attention.
Obscene phone calls began not long after gaining a crown and continued well into her television career.
“I would come to the dreary realization over the years that most creeps who only have enough balls to make obscene calls to women and make repulsive threats all sound like they have asthma,” she mused between the pages.
While making her memoir entertaining, Elelman also explores the #MeToo movement though in a serious manner.
This, she told the Mercury, was in aid of making the ill treatment of women – whether it be through pay disparity or harassment – as “socially unacceptable as smoking in the workplace”.
Elelman has worked in television as a newsreader, host of her own daytime talk show and as a roving reporter on Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton. She’s also worked behind the scenes as a producer and also as a radio broadcaster.
Throughout the book Elelman ousts many men – either by name or a vague description – to get her point across.
For example, one of the perpetrators of ongoing obscene phone calls is claimed to be a former colleague from WIN TV in Wollongong.
The offender is not directly named, though the writer makes clear her angst and disgust.
It’s that dark flavour found between the bright and bubbly anecdotes in the book, which are to highlight the struggle for women in the entertainment industry.
“I’d been to see the boss of WIN at the time and shown them [proof], he wasn’t sanctioned – to the best of my knowledge – he wasn’t sacked but he got a promotion,” she said.
I’m not Madonna or Beyonce … but when you do have a profile I do think it does in some ways intimidate people and you can see people change when they meet you and realise what you doSusie Elelman
“It’s one of those stories that need to be told, I think people need be singled out.”
She admitted the entertainment industry was slowly coming up to speed with the rest of the world in terms of equality, but said talk-back radio today was disappointingly still dominated by men.
“It’s improving but it’s not improving enough; until we can get something like pay parity and you get a look in, it is still very much a male dominated industry,” Elelman said.
“Once we get more women in management we will start to see more women rising behind them.
“But there is a perception by a lot of men that women aren’t necessarily the best person for that job and give it to a man.”
What you see is what you get, Elelman said of her personality, though this has proven “intimidating” to men – and some women.
“I think some of my most successful relationships have been with blokes who didn’t know who I was,” she said.
“I’m not Madonna or Beyonce … but when you do have a profile I do think it does in some ways intimidate people and you can see people change when they meet you and realise what you do.”
One of the most notable public moments Elelman is know for was her arrival at the 1995 Logie Awards in a figure-hugging, provocative dress which made people’s eyes pop.
The dress – a black and white Herve Leger gown – was the result of a suggestion by Wollongong hair stylist Sherryl McFarlane.
“I asked her what she thought I should wear,” wrote Elelman.
McFarlane grabbed an American Cosmopolitan magazine with former Victoria’s Secret model Stephanie Seymour on the cover who was wearing that exact dress.
“Sherryl said she thought I could carry it off,” she wrote. “I loved it and took the magazine to [a] dress designer.”
At the time it was like wearing what was the most-talked about dress in the land, a frock she is still asked about to this day.
"I was not concerned in the slightest that the woman I'd seen on the cover of Cosmo was several sizes smaller than I was ... when I put it on I felt fantastic,” she wrote.
"Pretty much the rest of Australia made no bones about telling me how much they hated it. I was slammed by every sector of the media, I became fodder for talkback radio programs and I made the worst-dressed list in just about every magazine.
"It was soul destroying. I'd never been on the receiving end of such hostile publicity. I even copped abuse hurled at me from strangers out of cars driving by."
But thinking back Elelman sees the experience in a positive light, it was the catalyst for her losing half her body weight and turned around a lifetime of poor eating habits.
As for the more sinister stories in her book, she felt compelled to tell them and hopefully “pave the way for other women to speak up”.
Like her mother always said, “sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt me”.