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Journalism

Oct 18, 2011

Andrew Bolt's secret ex-fiancée revealed

Anne Summers' profile of Andrew Bolt in the October edition of The Monthly looks set to become one of the most successful commissions in editor Ben Naparstek's 30-month reign as editor.

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Anne Summers’ profile of Andrew Bolt in the October edition of The Monthly looks set to become one of the most successful commissions in Ben Naparstek’s 30-month reign as editor.

Interim sales figures are said to be huge and when the story was temporarily released online last Monday it notched up a massive 10,000 page views in 24 hours.

But since its release several of its central claims have come under sustained attack. At the centre of Summers’ piece was a pseudonymous interview with a one-time belly dancer, now executive coach, who was engaged to Bolt in the 1980s.

The duo had met when they worked alongside each other at The Age — Bolt was a cadet journalist and “Sophia Wilson” ran the editorial floor and worked as a secretary to an editor.

Ever since details of the profile started to circulate, Bolt has been eager to cast doubt on the some of the facts in the piece. On October 3, when only the blurb was available, Bolt rejected the existence of his fiancée at all, informing readers he promised to read out a “1987 letter confirming the error”.

Two Sundays ago, Bolt posted this incorrect entry on his blog under the headline “defamation removed”. He wrote about his “supposed previous ‘engagement'” and referenced the “pathetic sledging of my wife by an unnamed ex-girlfriend of mine from more than a quarter of a century ago”.

Bolt had also requested that The Monthly “pulp” all its remaining news-stand copies.

Last week Anne Summers responded to Bolt, both on her own blog and The Monthly’s website.

But some commentators have continued to cast doubt on the veracity of the piece. On Friday, Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog column ran an item under the headline ANNE SUMMERS’ ANONYMOUS SOURCES mocking the existence of the “alleged” Sophia Wilson:

“Dr Summers’ sources for her essay included (i) ‘a colleague of Bolt’s’, (ii) ‘someone present’, (iii) ‘one colleague from The Age‘, (iv) ‘a woman who lived with Bolt in the early 1980s’, (v) ‘a former journalist who has worked with Bolt’, (vi) ‘the woman who was once engaged to Bolt and who lived with him for the best part of six years’ [What about the worst part? — Ed], (vii) ‘a friend of the belly-dancing Sophia Wilson’ and (viii) ‘a Ten inside’. For the record, Sophia Wilson is a nom-de-plume.”

Colleagues and friends have expressed little doubt that Sophia Wilson, whose real name is Sue Walshe, was once engaged to Bolt.

Walshe was facilitating a business seminar and was unavailable to comment this morning. But Gavin Youl, Walshe’s husband of 20 years (they met in 1988), confirmed that his wife had in fact been Bolt’s fiancée.

“It was a matter of family history that she had been engaged to Andrew. They lived together for 5-6 years in St Kilda and they were engaged towards the end of that time,” he said.

“How can Andrew possibly argue against reality?” Youl told Crikey. “Let’s hope this is the end. We’d like to see the end of it.”

Summers had cited a statutory declaration written by Walshe, as yet unpublished, and letters sent between the young couple as evidence for the engagement. The text of that statutory declaration reads as follows:

“My last formal contact with him was via email after the publication of a profile of Andrew in the IPA Review in January 2011, where he described himself as going to Darwin in 1984 as ‘a minder for a belly dancer’. I took exception to his belittling our relationship in that manner and reminded him in that email that we had been engaged. He did not dispute this fact when he replied to me, apologising for having hurt and embarrassed me.”

The email trail remains in existence. The “minder for a belly dancer” line has been used before, in a 2008 Bolt blog post under the headline “Ruining a good spaghetti”.

Former Age colleagues attested to Bolt and Walshe’s closeness the morning.

“There’s no doubt about that,” former Age editor Mike Smith told Crikey. “They were pretty thick, it was no secret and it was common knowledge. It was a very strong relationship.”

Margaret Simons remembers Walshe well as a “seriously bright young women who ran the editorial floor, photocopying and greeting people coming in for an appointment.”

“There was certainly no doubt that Sue and Andrew were in a relationship…everyone knew about it,” she said.

A recently-retired former colleague of Bolt’s, legendary Herald Sun business editor and former Sunday Age and Australian editor Malcolm Schmidtke, said that Walshe had once belly-danced for him on his birthday.

“I knew her and I knew they had a relationship,” he said.

Both Bolt and his wife Sally Morrell have kept up the email heat on The Monthly, with Bolt accusing Naparstek this week of “lying” in response to a profile of the young editor by Nick Leys published in yesterday’s Australian. Morrell has also personally emailed Naparstek saying she was sick to her stomach over the piece.

Bolt’s rancour may reflect his uneasiness in revisiting his romantic history with his current wife and family.

He wrote that after details of Walshe’s existence emerged, he had “boasted to my eldest son, a Mad Men fan, that at least I was now a man with a Hidden Past, the Don Draper of journalism …”

Andrew Crook —

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

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37 comments

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37 thoughts on “Andrew Bolt’s secret ex-fiancée revealed

  1. SBH

    I read the monthly article. It was really disappointing. Firstly it was published before the judgement and was greatly diminished as a result. I understand that this was an editorial decision. I know bugger all about publishing but I would love someone to explain to me why you would commission an article about Bolt and not wait until the judgement was out.

    I suppose you might do so because you had a substantial piece but we didn’t get that. In fact what we got was a bit of detail about his parents which could have been kept to half a para and been as useful (eg they were required to marry in Holland as a visa condition – and??) some really interesting but all too scant analysis of Bolt’s motivations, and some just unreasonable intrusion into his and his family’s personal life. Lots of people find there past romances uncomfortable territory, why should this most human weakness be held against Bolt. I was really surprised that someone like Summers would choose to go there and the irony of the piece immediately predating the Ernies was not lost on me.

    I also found the references to his early career, things like (and I paraphrase) 20 years ago as a a copy boy – pointless and even petty attempts to belittle Bolt. 20 years ago we were all something else but so what?

    Why wasn’t more done to discuss the proposition that Bolt saw a niche and with a cynical commercialism pursued a place as Australia’s Bill O’Reilly? This seemed like a really meaty angle. Why not more discussion about why he would write the offending pieces and how they might fit his business model, or a development of the view that he sees himself as an elite intellectual opinion maker who can cynically manipulate his readers into outbursts of rage and hatred – and that he does it, not because he believes it, but because it makes money. This would have been a much more useful contribution. Maybe it was lawyered out or maybe Summers pulled her punches. Either way, it diminished rather than enhance the Monthly’s reputation in my eyes.

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