Journalist and former TV presenter, Helen Kapalos is proud of her Greek heritage. So when a TV boss asked her to tone down her ethnicity by changing her surname, she found the encounter “jarring.”
“Early on in my career, I did have a news editor who wanted me to change my name from Kapalos to Smith. That was at Channel 9, but I won’t mention who it was,” Kapalos told the Herald Sun’s ‘Sacked: Showbiz’ podcast.
“It was really jarring to have that happen.”
Kapalos says the suggestion to switch surnames followed a conversation with her parents on the topic.
“I remember telling them, ‘I know you want me to change my name if I’m married, or have a family and so on, but I’m very attached to my name’,” Kapalos explains.
“It’s a really important part of my cultural identity and that heritage is something I’m proud of. I made a decision… in my teenage years that I’d always have my name.”
Fortunately for Kapalos, she says that although she did face resistance to her Greek heritage early in her career, things changed for the better after moving to Melbourne.
“My Greek surname was more of a problem early in my career, (and) maybe it was part of that cycle of time. In Melbourne, it was much more accepted because I could identify with a Greek audience.”
Kapalos details her ‘undignified’ sacking from Channel 10:
Kapalos started her career on radio before taking jobs at Channel 9 as a reporter, and Channel 7 as host of Today Tonight and a senior correspondent on Sunday Night.
Working at Channel 10 for six years, Kapalos also helmed the nightly news bulletin with Mal Walden. She was sacked on a Friday evening, a day before she was due to jet off to New York for a holiday.
“I had a couple of weeks of what I thought had been really successful work. I was doing a lot of fundraising (and) I’d finished a marathon bike ride for Channel 10,” Kapalos says on the podcast.
“I didn’t know anything like this was in the wings, other than there was some talk of Mal possibly retiring. That was all really.”
After wrapping the bulletin one night, Kapalos was called to an office.
“I walked into the room and there was the news editor and beside him was the head of HR. They got straight into it and said, ‘We’re going to a single reader news next year and it won’t be you’.”
Kapalos was blindsided. “Can you give me a reason?” she asked. “Has it been a performance issue?”
“The conversation degenerated in a way because there wasn’t anything solid they could point to. It was, ‘No this is a change of direction for the network, thank you for your service. There is no real need to come back after your holidays,’ which was a massive blow. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m not even going to get to say goodbye to the viewers’.”
Kapalos says management told her to come back for her belongings after her vacation.
“I said, ‘No, I want to leave. I want this to be absolutely over. You don’t want me back, so I’m going.’ I was in shock,” Kapalos remembers.
“I think what was disappointing for me was it felt like a very undignified way to be treated after such hard work and loyal service. It was quite devastating to be farewelled in that way.”
After her stints with the TV networks, Kapalos wrote, directed and executive produced the doco, A Life Of Its Own, based on a series of stories about medical marijuana she did for Sunday Night. She also served as Chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission for four years.