She doesn’t remember the night she nearly died, but 18 months after the broadcaster’s brain surgery, Kim Knight finds Susan Wood in buoyant form.

By anyone's measure, it was a marathon. Champagne. Salmon and cream cheese. High heels and even higher hopes.

At the annual Canon Media Awards dinner, 500 of the country's journalists drank deeply and adjusted their facial expressions appropriately. For almost three hours on that Friday night in May, Susan Wood delivered the results. Finalists, winners, judge's comments. On the stage, in front of the country's keenest observers, she read and read and read.

Which, by anyone's measure, was a miracle. Because in January last year, Wood fell down the stairs. When she woke up, she couldn't walk or talk. She definitely couldn't read.

"I've lost about a month," she says. "I don't remember being in Auckland Hospital. My children told me the doctors and nurses were fabulous. Then I went to rehab for about four weeks, and I was getting out of there as fast as I bloody well could. Then I came home, and what I did, was I just slept a lot.


"And I had to re-learn a lot of my life. You get an operation, on that side of your scalp ... " She pauses, looking for the correct terminology. "Scalp? Brain? Anyhow, your head comes off and it goes back on. Yes, I know. It's not ideal. Then your hair starts to grow. You have to learn to read again, you have to learn to do everything. Walking, talking, the whole thing."

Determination. And stubbornness. Inherited, she thinks, from her father, former Auckland Star chief reporter, Alex Wood. He died when she was 24.

"I loved my father, and I still do ... You know, it was almost like Dad was with me in that difficult bit. I was just determined to get back and luckily - luckily, luckily, luckily - I did, and I have."

The year of Wood's fall would have been her 30th in television. She began her journalism career at the Bay of Plenty Times, and worked as the New Zealand Herald's police reporter. In 1985, she made the switch from print to TVNZ. Count the milestones: First Australian correspondent. First Midday presenter. First Breakfast host, alongside Mike Hosking. She presented Frontline and Assignment and had regular stints on Holmes, the country's first 7pm news and current affairs half hour. In 2004, when Paul Holmes took his show to Prime, TVNZ replaced it with Close Up and named Wood as the host. Most recently, she has fronted political news and talk show Q&A.

Says John Gillespie, head of news and current affairs: "We hold Susan in very high regard - TVNZ has a long-running relationship with her, which we'd like to see continue."

Wood has always made corporate videos for private clients and that work has continued, with two recent trips to the United States. There was a return, of sorts, via pre-recorded segments for Q&A, but Wood has yet to front a live interview.

"Who knows what will happen in the future ... If you're not interested, if you think I'm an idiot, that I'm not brainy enough, that's fine ...

"I've had a really good year, in which I've done some really interesting work, a variety of work ... I have taken a year doing what I want to do. What happens with Q&A we'll figure out next year. "


Wood, 55, is sitting on a squashy cream couch in her magazine-immaculate Orakei home. There are two Ralph Hotere artworks on the wall, glassware by Garry Nash and fresh tulips that she queued to buy this morning ("three bunches for $20"). A couple of weeks ago, she had a man in to clean the "five years dirty" chandelier. Wood had the tall ladders for the job - but not the nerve to climb them.

"I am very, very careful about how I use the stairs. I hold the rail now. I will not fall down the stairs again."

She is sitting just metres from where her niece, who had been visiting from Dunedin, found her unconscious and bleeding around midnight on a Sunday night in January, 2015.

Wood remembers nothing about the accident or the days leading up to it but she understands that without immediate emergency help, she would have died. A neurosurgeon had to cut a 10cm square hole in her skull to relieve the pressure on her swollen brain. She was unconscious for 10 days.

"I've been incredibly lucky that I've gone from where I was, to where I am now."

Smile, nod, next please. Wood would very much like to move on. To tell well-wishers she's fine, she's back and to leave it at that. She is regularly asked to speak to organisations about her experience, about that night she nearly died.

"I don't remember what happened ... it's quite good it's erased. I'm quite pleased. I don't spend time looking back, there's really no point."

I want life to be as good as it can be, while I'm going through it.

She has cancelled her $250-a-month health insurance - "the public system was fantastic to me" - and, she says, her circle of friends is smaller.

"You really only have so much time in your day and your life. And I'm where I want to be more."

But: "I am more aware of my mortality. I'm very aware of it, that I will die at some point, as will everybody. I want life to be as good as it can be, while I'm going through it. That's the problem with being older - you see people losing various ways of being alive, and I don't want to do that. I just want to fall asleep in a chair one day.

"I wish to hell my boys had not gone through this, and I'll never get over that. But we've all moved forward. What's changed for me is I'm very relaxed about my life. I really like what I do, I like who I see, what I read. I like the television I watch, the movies I go to. I go to bed very early and I get up very early, and I'm very happy with that, too."

The glamour days, she says, have gone. "I don't care about age now. That's probably one of the things that's changed. Take me, or don't. I am what I am. You go through life, and you can't stay 12, and why should you?

Bill Ralston, former colleague and boss, says the post-accident Wood is less hyper-self-critical.

"Before the accident, when she was on television ... she would analyse everything that she said and did, looking for fault. I suspect that is not the case now."

Ralston uses words like honest, believable and intelligent to describe Wood: "And she can be bloody hard in an interview, too."

He recalls a Close Up segment with then-leader of the National Party, Don Brash.

"She just demolished Brash. The press secretary was sitting there with his head in his hands. Brash comes out the studio door, and the press sec says 'she took you apart'. He said, 'I know, but she's beautiful, isn't she?'"

Wood reported the news, but she also made it. You don't spend 30 years in the primetime spotlight without racking up a few headlines. Two marriages (first husband Duncan Beck is still a good friend; the second was "a complete mistake and waste of time"), two sons (Alexander and Matthew), and multiple women's magazine covers.

In 2005, the coverage hardened when it emerged that TVNZ wanted to cut $100,000 from her $450,000 annual pay packet. Wood took legal action. She won, but the court of public opinion was not kind. Sample letter to the editor: "I am writing to express my contempt ... what a superficial world we live in, where money rules."

Susan Wood took over from Paul Holmes' current affairs slot on TVNZ with Close Up in 2004, and discovered her pay rate was half that of her predecessor's. Photo / Olivia Hemus
Susan Wood took over from Paul Holmes' current affairs slot on TVNZ with Close Up in 2004, and discovered her pay rate was half that of her predecessor's. Photo / Olivia Hemus

"Well," says Wood. "It was the right thing to do. It should never have been a public thing. It was ridiculous, but I knew what Paul was getting. Lovely Paul. And a bit of me is quite pleased I stood up for it, and a part of me is a bit ...

"It was half what Paul had got and I know that because when I cleaned out his office, bless him, his contract was in the drawer, so of course I read it. I'm a journalist, I read things. Anyway. I don't miss that for a moment. It's a long time ago."

It's a stance she adopts throughout the interview. Ask her about her past, and it's just that. She'd rather talk about the news of the day - the Stanford rape case, Donald Trump, the brutal death of baby Moko - than her own life.

"There is so much we need to do as a society. This should not be happening to our little people, It's completely unacceptable and I really hope we do something about it ... It's time we helped the little kids get educated, get loved."

The view out Wood's window is worth a couple of million dollars. How does she reconcile a social conscience with her own social status?

"Exactly. Oh, I know. But who knows what I'll do next. I don't know. But I think about that. And yes, I understand we have some issues with little Maori kids, and I have a real problem with that because I think it's wrong and we should fix it. I understand that we came here a couple of hundred years ago, and behaved poorly. But it's time for it to be fixed. It's time for those children to have the opportunities. For education, for love, for care ..."

She thinks about this. She thinks about an Auckland where the homeless sleep in cars, and says, "I'm sorry Paula [Bennett, State Housing Minister], but giving people $5000 and telling them to leave Auckland is pointless and bloody ridiculous."

After the fall: "I look at a lot of things more now, I guess. I read a lot. I take the time. Before ... I used to work a lot more."