Julia Gillard visited Brisbane on Wednesday and I was invited to interview her at City Hall. A packed house welcomed the former PM and the chat was wide-ranging and, I think, interesting. She was forthright, obviously intelligent and disarmingly and genuinely pleasant. A powerful combination.

On stage and off she was the same — no airs and graces. I wondered more than once where this particular Julia was during her tenure as Prime Minister.

There was, of course, the manner of her ascension to the office, which John Howard correctly says robbed her of a certain legitimacy in the eyes of many. Then there were the difficulties of leading a minority government and the ongoing unresolved issues related to Kevin Rudd.

This is not the first time I’ve been struck, however, by the difference between the personal and public personalities of our leaders. In my media career I’ve interviewed and known every PM since Gough Whitlam and liked and respected them all.

I recall Gough’s sense of humour, his bigness of spirit and his generosity with young members of staff to whom I introduced him.

Malcolm Fraser, like many who are basically shy, emerged in public as arrogant. Away from the spotlight he was gentle and thoughtful.

Bob Hawke was as feisty, egotistical and entertaining with the microphone on or off. He was also privately kind in ways that have never been mentioned.

Friends are often surprised when I talk of Paul Keating as being funny, quietly spoken, passionate, terrific with children… and always that relentless curiosity burning brightly.

I’ve known Kevin Rudd for years (he’s been to my home), yet have never seen this unhinged character I read so much about.

So is the media the problem or is it the politicians’ desire to control events… and their image? More on that another time.

Only 28 people have been PM of this country. Julia Gillard was the 27th.

You don’t need to like all (or any) of her policies to respect that achievement.

Her autobiography outlines her three years and three days in that office and the events that led her there. She outlines her successes and failures and invites us to judge her performance.

I would prefer to understand — and her book helps us do that.

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