Sa­man­tha Hayes

Talks about land­ing her dream role and takes us to visit her family at her child­hood farm


When Sa­man­tha Hayes was of­fered her dream job as TV3’s six o’clock news an­chor, there was one call she had to make be­fore ac­cept­ing the role. That call was to her par­ents in South Otago. The TV ca­reer wo­man is also a family ori­ented coun­try girl who val­ues her mum and dad’s ad­vice. The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly vis­ited the family farm with Sam to find out how her life of city glam­our fits in with her strong ru­ral roots. Ni­cola Russell tells her story.

EACH TIME SA­MAN­THA HAYES turns her car into the rocky drive­way of her Aunt So­nia’s Otago farm, climb­ing to­wards the rolling hills and ex­pan­sive pad­docks and catch­ing a glimpse of the white build­ings with their red roofs, she ex­pe­ri­ences some­thing in­cred­i­bly spe­cial.

“I feel an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment,” ex­plains TV3’s freshly ap­pointed six o’clock news an­chor. “I guess it is just hap­pi­ness. I ab­so­lutely love be­ing here. I feel very lucky to have been able to spend my child­hood in a place like this.

“I al­most feel as if I have two dif­fer­ent lives,” she con­tin­ues. “I have this life in Auck­land with the per­ceived

glam­our of tele­vi­sion, and there’s this other side of me that would like to own a cou­ple of horses, dogs and a lit­tle shaggy Shet­land pony, not wear make-up and live in gum­boots.

How beau­ti­ful would that be?”

Be­fore now, Sam hasn’t al­lowed her family to be in­ter­viewed by the me­dia but when The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly asks to visit the farm where she spent so much of her child­hood, she agrees – the op­por­tu­nity to bring her two worlds to­gether be­ing too good to miss.

At the re­mote, 650-hectare sheep and cat­tle farm in Lawrence, 20 min­utes from her home town of Milton, she is just as she’s de­scribed – gum­boots, jeans and no make-up, her porce­lain skin ra­di­at­ing with the glow of hap­pi­ness she gets from be­ing in this trea­sured lo­ca­tion with her horses and close-knit ex­tended family.

She is at her most peace­ful in her South Is­land haven. If she needs to calm her­self be­fore she goes on air, she trans­ports her­self here men­tally. As she did when she found her­self in tears mo­ments be­fore read­ing the 9.30pm New­shub up­date in which she was to an­nounce her beloved col­league Hi­lary Barry’s shock res­ig­na­tion.

And a few weeks later, when she was asked to take over Hi­lary’s role of six o’clock news an­chor, it was home she called to dis­cuss the de­ci­sion with her par­ents, Sheena and Paul Hayes, and her aunt, So­nia Ly­ders. “Ever since I was 17, when I started work­ing at TV3, it has been in the back of my mind that one day I would love to read the six o’clock news,” says Sam, who has pre­sented New­shub Late, News­wor­thy, 3D and Night­line. “I had to stop and take stock of the sit­u­a­tion and I needed my family to do that.

“I spoke to Mum and Dad about it a lot. It was a re­ally good bal­ance – Dad is a real hard-arse, so he was all about mak­ing sure I got the best pos­si­ble deal, whereas Mum’s opin­ion was, ‘You’ve al­ways wanted this, this is your mo­ment, come to an agree­ment as quickly as pos­si­ble,’ and So­nia just said, ‘We love you, we are so proud of you and what­ever you de­cide is the right thing.’”

After­wards, she also called the men­tors who helped shape her ca­reer – for­mer TV3 bureau chief, Gor­don McBride, and for­mer head of news, Mark Jen­nings.

“Back when I was presenting Night­line, Mark and I had a meet­ing at a café, and he wrote down on a nap­kin what he thought the course of my ca­reer might be like to get to this job. He asked me to do jobs that would build up my cred­i­bil­ity – re­port­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and stu­dio ex­pe­ri­ence – so I would be ready to step into the role when it be­came avail­able. These jobs don’t come around very of­ten – and there is a cer­tain amount of be­ing in the right place at the right time. Luck­ily it has worked out for me.”

Along­side presenting the news, Sam will con­tinue do­ing news sto­ries – a stip­u­la­tion she made on tak­ing the job.

If she is sur­prised by the ap­point­ment so early in her ca­reer, her family are not. Asked to de­scribe their daugh­ter grow­ing up, they speak of a driven, in­de­pen­dent child, who has al­ways em­braced the op­por­tu­ni­ties that have come her way.


WHEN WE AR­RIVE at Aunt So­nia’s wel­com­ing farm­house, it is hum­ming with peo­ple. A large group sits around a long ta­ble, shar­ing lunch. Sam says this is a

reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence – the farm has an open-door pol­icy for neigh­bours, farm work­ers, family and friends. It’s a core part of what she loves about Milton and Lawrence, where “the peo­ple down the road aren’t just your neigh­bours, they are peo­ple you re­ally care about”.

The flame-haired pre­sen­ter was en­sconced in the out­doors from day dot – Paul and Sheena (who are at the farm to meet The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly) made sure of it. What they didn’t have in money they made up for in time spent with their chil­dren, Clin­ton, Sam and Katie.

“Sam was al­ways on the go, she never stopped,” says Sheena, a calm, steady wo­man who grew up on a sugar cane farm in South Africa and came to Milton with Paul when Sam was 16 months old and Clin­ton was four years old. “She was re­ally de­ter­mined. I would put them in woollen hats, a Swan­ndri and boots and just let them go in the gar­den.”

Paul, who grew up in Milton, met Sheena dur­ing a 12-year stint away from the lit­tle town. The jovial, en­gag­ing man, who is hap­pi­est in the out­doors, says it took some ex­tra ef­fort to keep young Sam safe dur­ing their reg­u­lar bush ex­cur­sions. “We used to dress Sa­man­tha in a lit­tle red-checked jacket that Sheena had made and we had a har­ness with a snap link on the end of it – to stop her plung­ing off steep bush tracks into the river!” says the 66-year-old re­tired log­ging con­trac­tor, with a hearty laugh.

“We would take the kids up the back of the forestry where I used to work, find a shunt road with good deep snow on it and plonk the bar­be­cue right out there in the snow and cook sausages.”

“Peo­ple thought we were daft,” Sheena, 61, says with a grin. “Paul would tow the kids in a ca­noe be­hind the car.”

“Sam was al­ways the spokesper­son if they wanted to go and do some­thing,” Paul con­tin­ues. “She would come and eye­ball us and say, ‘It is time to go on a ‘nic­nic’ (pic­nic).’ As soon as the van started up it would fill up with dogs and kids. We went off to the beach once with some­one else’s child! We got half­way there and I went, ‘Who the hell are you?’ and they went, ‘This is such and such’– we had to take the lit­tle bug­ger back.”

The house was al­ways full of an­i­mals – there were the family pets and Paul would bring home wild an­i­mals from his hunt­ing ex­cur­sions for the kids to play with.

“Some­times we’d catch lit­tle pigs, and I’d bring home young pos­sums and rab­bits. We had a cou­ple of goats too, but they would tear up the gar­den and bug­ger the roses!”

Then there were the horses on the farm. “I re­mem­ber the first time we put her on a Shet­land pony called Taffy,” says Sheena. “We were down by the hay barn and she took off with Sam cling­ing to her – she just hung on.”

That was the be­gin­ning of Sam’s love af­fair with horses. “She was five or six when she started com­ing up here,” says So­nia, 70, who ran chil­dren’s horse camps on the farm for 20 years. “She was very quick to learn how to ride. She was a bril­liant help; she could go out with a bunch of chil­dren and know ex­actly what horses they’d need. The kids loved her – she has this rap­port with them and is able to re­late to any age. My grand­chil­dren just adore her.”

Sam says that re­la­tion­ship with horses shaped her child­hood. “They teach chil­dren re­spon­si­bil­ity,” she says. “You can’t slack off one day be­cause you can’t be both­ered – horses need to be fed and they need the right cov­ers on.”

So­nia gave Sam her first horse, Bal­le­rina, at seven and Sam took it upon her­self to visit all the neigh­bour­ing farm­ers to ask if she could ride her through their pad­docks. “I know how to shut the gate,” she told them.

There have been many oth­ers since – “Danny Boy, HighJinks, Pepsi, Zach, Jemima, Ca­lypso, Dawn, and Spud (show name Leonardo),” she reels off.

Sam has a spe­cial bond with So­nia, who is like a sec­ond Mum. “So­nia is amaz­ing. She doesn’t take any shit but she is one of the kind­est, most ex­tra­or­di­nary women I know.”

Be­cause of her ex­pe­ri­ence, Sam was of­ten given the most dif­fi­cult horses to ride. Al­though she took on the task with gusto, she ad­mits to feel­ing some­thing very dif­fer­ent. “I don’t know if I have ever told any­one this, but for years I

Mum and Dad al­ways said, ‘ You can do any­thing if you put your mind to it,’ and I guess I heard that enough times that it sunk in.

was ter­ri­fied of horses. I feigned be­ing con­fi­dent – I used to get so ner­vous at break­fast think­ing, ‘I’ve got to ride Whit­ney and Whit­ney has just had her foal weaned and she kicks other horses and I might fall off,’ but I would just get on and do it.”

She says the ‘fake it till you make it at­ti­tude’ got her through. “Mum and Dad have al­ways said, ‘You can do any­thing if you put your mind to it,’ and I guess I heard that enough times that it sunk in.”

It is tes­ta­ment to her par­ents’ sup­port that her mother en­cour­aged Sam’s hobby de­spite be­ing al­ler­gic to horses her­self. “She spent my en­tire child­hood with me down at the pad­dock, at one-day events, at the showjump­ing and dres­sage champs. She was amaz­ing. She’d get re­ally stuffed up and take an­ti­his­tamines – it can’t have been pleas­ant!”

Sam says it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine bring­ing up her own kids in the city. “It is ide­al­is­tic, but if I have kids I want them to have the same up­bring­ing as I did. Maybe I need to buy some land out west [Auck­land] and com­mute.”

As well as the farm, there were outdoor ad­ven­tures city kids can only dream of. “When I was in pri­mary school, my Un­cle Richard would drop Dad, my brother and I in Fiord­land and fly away (in a he­li­copter). Dad would say, ‘Just fol­low me, don’t stand on any twigs, try not to make

noise,’ and he would shoot a cou­ple of deer and then we would sit on the side of the hill and wait for Richard to pick us up. Dur­ing that time Dad would talk to us about the dif­fer­ent trees, na­tive birds, and what you might do if you were stuck out here overnight.”

It’s yet another con­trast that Sam, who could beat all the boys at school in shoot­ing and was a fab­u­lous fish­er­woman, be­came vege­tar­ian at 10 or 11 – she says that was born from the deep re­spect for liv­ing crea­tures her dad in­stilled in her. “Dad be­lieves if you are go­ing to shoot some­thing then you’d bet­ter be eat­ing it – it is not okay to be shoot­ing some­thing for the sake of it. If he gets a few trout, he’ll smoke them and take them to peo­ple around town. He is al­ways fill­ing up peo­ple’s freez­ers.”


AL­THOUGH WORK DE­MANDS mean Sam must be in the city, she’d love to live ru­rally. “I have to be in Auck­land be­cause that is where the stu­dio is, but if I could beam the news up from some­where in South Otago I prob­a­bly would do that.”

And while she is ded­i­cated to her ca­reer, she has on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions dropped ev­ery­thing and flown to her family. She was at her fa­ther’s bed­side when he was di­ag­nosed with can­cer, late 2014 (he has since re­cov­ered) and when her Un­cle Ross (So­nia’s hus­band) died from can­cer she left TV3 for weeks to be with her family.

She got the news while at Cape Kid­nap­pers do­ing a story on a takahe breed­ing pro­gramme. He’d been sick for some time, and Sam had been man­ning the Dunedin of­fice for TV3 as much as pos­si­ble so she could spend time with him. But the news still came as a deep shock.

“We were com­ing down off the cliffs when my phone started beep­ing and I had this news that Rossy had passed away. I opened the door and jumped out of the mov­ing ve­hi­cle, sat in the ditch and just lost it.” She stops, chok­ing up at the mem­ory. “My poor cam­era­man took me to the air­port and I came straight here. TV3 was amaz­ing be­cause I didn’t go back to work for two or three weeks.

“Rossy would have loved this,” she says of our mag­a­zine team vis­it­ing the farm. “He would have loved that the farm he spent his whole life work­ing on was be­ing show­cased.”

She ad­mits her emo­tions run close to the sur­face, a trait that an­noys her, but re­minds her she’s stay­ing real.

“As much as I get frus­trated that I get up­set so eas­ily I don’t ever want to change that, be­cause it is who I am and it is my mea­sure that I haven’t be­come hard­ened.”


IT’S EASY TO LOOK at Sa­man­tha Hayes, with her beauty, brains and poise and won­der what she can’t do. Add in her com­po­sure on na­tional tele­vi­sion, her al­ready im­pres­sive back­ground in news and cur­rent af­fairs at just 32, and the stun­ning out­fits she is seen wear­ing in the so­cial pages – and it’s hard not to feel a lit­tle in­fe­rior. You might even won­der if there is a hu­man be­hind that wellpol­ished ma­chine.

Un­til you meet the off-air, away-from-the-spot­light Sam – the warm wo­man who laughs eas­ily and makes self­dep­re­cat­ing jokes, the sen­si­tive per­son, the down-to-earth, horse-mad girl who de­scribes her­self as be­ing a ‘coun­try bump­kin’ when she came to Auck­land at the age of 22.

“I have many, many weak­nesses,” she says. “I don’t do enough ex­er­cise, I drink too much at times (not to the point that it is dan­ger­ous or any­thing, but you know!). And I have a to-do list as long as my arm with things that have been there for six months.

“If you look at peo­ple’s life on pa­per – or on their so­cial me­dia – it is re­ally easy to think, ‘Oh wow, doesn’t ev­ery­one have a fab­u­lous life.’ That is not the case. Ev­ery­one has days or weeks that are not go­ing to plan, and quite of­ten things get de­railed.”

The com­ment is poignant be­cause Sam has re­cently bro­ken up with her long-term boyfriend, cam­era­man Hay­den Aull. She speaks highly of Hay­den and wants to be re­spect­ful of his pri­vacy – but she ad­mits the break-up was tough, and she leaned on her friends and work.

Work? How does one get in front of the cam­era when feel­ing frag­ile? That’s when we glimpse the wo­man who left home and school at 16 to do a jour­nal­ism course and dur­ing her in­tern­ship at TV3 got a rock star to ad­mit to be­ing an al­co­holic in her first on-air in­ter­view.

“We all have our good days and bad days, and some­times the last thing I feel like do­ing is sit­ting in the stu­dio in front of that cam­era,” she says. “But I’ve learned over the years to treat the door­way into the stu­dio as a sort of por­tal and I just leave ev­ery­thing else at the door.”


MANY OF SAM’S FAMILY are present dur­ing our day on the farm – her 14-year-old cousin Jake is zoom­ing around on a farm bike, the pic­ture of ru­ral free­dom, and another cousin, Na­dia, 16, is spong­ing up the work of the pho­tog­ra­pher and make-up artist, won­der­ing if she would like to do that sort of work one day.

“It is so sur­real, in a way, to be back at the farm at 32 cre­at­ing these pho­tos,” says Sam, who has been pos­ing for our ‘glam­our in the pad­dock’ shots in a full-length gown, sit­ting on a horse. “I think if I could have told my­self when I was Na­dia’s age that this might hap­pen one day I just would not have be­lieved it – be­cause be­ing on tele­vi­sion is not what I dreamed about.

“They used to say at high school, ‘What are you go­ing to be?’ and I thought, ‘I’ll be an ac­coun­tant,’ be­cause I was okay at maths and I had no idea what the op­tions were.”

I get frus­trated that I get up­set so eas­ily, but I don’t ever want to change that… it is my mea­sure that I haven’t be­come hard­ened.

Sam says Toko­mairiro High School’s small size con­trib­uted to her suc­cess. “If I’d been at a mas­sive school, I don’t think I’d have had the op­por­tu­ni­ties or one-on-one time with my teach­ers, who re­ally cared about us. When op­por­tu­ni­ties came up you gen­uinely had a shot at them.”

Like the week-long jour­nal­ism course at Ao­raki School of Me­dia that sparked her in­ter­est in broad­cast­ing. Her teacher sug­gested she try it and the tu­tors en­cour­aged her to ap­ply for the full diploma the fol­low­ing year.

Her par­ents said, no way, she was too young to leave home and she had to com­plete sev­enth form, but with some per­sua­sion they agreed that if she was ac­cepted (an un­likely pos­si­bil­ity given it was mostly for post-grads) she could go.

“I got in and, bless them, they stuck to their word and

If we have a chat in a year or two, then I might tell you I feel like the six o’clock news­reader, but right now I feel like I have to earn my stripes.

let me go – that in­volved leav­ing home and get­ting a flat in Dunedin at 16,” Sam re­calls.

Paul ad­mits it was hard when Sam first left home, as he missed their ro­bust con­ver­sa­tions and shared hu­mour. He also says it was nerve-wrack­ing when he first watched his daugh­ter on the telly. “Yeah, you think, ‘Woo, what’s that kid do­ing on there, don’t stuff it up!’”

Sheena, how­ever, had no qualms. “I loved it – I knew she was ca­pa­ble of it!”

Sam’s de­ter­mi­na­tion is per­haps best summed up in a horse tale. She re­calls a child­hood horse-rid­ing cham­pi­onship where she just had to com­plete the cross-coun­try course to win. But it was a wet day, and her horse Leonardo (Spud) was scared of the up­com­ing wa­ter jump. “We came to­wards the wa­ter com­plex and he slipped and crushed my foot into the ground. I thought he had bro­ken my bone. Be­cause it wasn’t near a fence I was still clear and didn’t get any de­merit points.” Un­able to put her in­jured foot in a stir­rup, she got back on and rode with just one. “The next jump was the wa­ter com­plex and I thought, ‘I am def­i­nitely go­ing to end up drenched,’ but he went through it! We won, but I wasn’t there to get my prize be­cause I had to go straight to A&E. Mum had just bought me new boots and they had to cut them off, be­cause my foot was so swollen.”

It’s this abil­ity to face her fears that has got Sam through crises of con­fi­dence and seen her tackle one chal­lenge after another. When she first started at Night­line in 2007, Mike McRoberts asked her what she wanted to do, and she said, ‘Cur­rent af­fairs.’

“He said, ‘You can do that,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, I ab­so­lutely can’t do that, I would have no idea how to!’”

Six years later when she was of­fered her first cur­rent af­fairs role on 3rd De­gree, she turned the job down – still con­cerned she couldn’t do it.

“[Jour­nal­ist] Mel Reid bailed me up in the carpark and said, ‘I heard you turned down the job on our show,’ and I said, ‘Mel, I don’t know how to do what you do! I am too young.’ She said, ‘Don’t you tell me that you are too young,’ and gave me a right telling off. The next day I called and said, ‘Okay, I am go­ing to do it.’ I was still ter­ri­fied but I thought, well, if they are go­ing to let me give it a try I am go­ing to sponge up as much as I can from these peo­ple.” A year later she was co-presenting the show.

Now she has come full cir­cle to sit next to vet­eran Mike in the six o’clock news hot seat. This feels like I am do­ing what I have been work­ing to­wards for a very long time.”

But she says while read­ing the news feels nat­u­ral, there is a long way to go be­fore she will feel the cov­eted ti­tle is fully hers. “If we have a chat in a year or two, then I might tell you I feel like the six o’clock news­reader, but right now I feel like I have to earn my stripes. Hi­lary has left in­cred­i­bly big shoes to fill and it is go­ing to take time to feel I be­long in the role and that the au­di­ence thinks I’ve earned it.”

At home, her family are cer­tain she is up for the chal­lenge. “She’s never backed off,” Paul says of his daugh­ter. “If a prob­lem con­fronted her and it was some­thing she wanted to do, she would never take the easy way out.”

His nerves have sub­sided now when he watches Sam present the news. “I will turn to Sheena as she signs off and say, ‘Nailed it!’” he says with pal­pa­ble pride. “She didn’t put one foot wrong.”

Pre­vi­ous page: Sam on He­bron Holly. The mare

is named after the farm, which is called He­bron. Op­po­site page: Sam strides out, lead­ing Woody. Right: (from left)

So­nia, Sam, Sheena and Paul. Over­leaf: The ball of fluff in Sam’s arms is Tilly the chicken.

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