Pippa Wet­zell – lov­ing life in her 40s

At 41, TV pre­sen­ter Pippa Wet­zell is one of the new gen­er­a­tion of “mid­dle-agers” – women who defy past ex­pec­ta­tions and live life their way. The Fair Go star talks to Emma Clifton about her slid­ing door moment, the crazi­ness of fam­ily life and why she’s h

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - Pippa WET­ZELL

It had been one of those weeks for Fair Go’s Pippa Wet­zell; a home ren­o­va­tion, help­ing out with a school fair, work, home com­mit­ments, a busy life in gen­eral. It was only a mat­ter of time un­til some­thing fell through the cracks. And so it was that, af­ter drop­ping her three kids off at school one morn­ing, she for­got her car. Well, where she’d left it. We’ve all been there, but when you’re Pippa Wet­zell, in­fin­itely recog­nis­able from more than 17 years on tele­vi­sion, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. “There were a cou­ple of mums out­side and I said to them, ‘I’ve com­pletely for­got­ten where I’ve parked the car,’ and I walked off in one di­rec­tion. It wasn’t there. So I came back – had to walk past them again – and then joked, ‘Oh, it’s def­i­nitely down this way.’ And then it wasn’t, so I had to come back and walk past them a third time. One of them fi­nally said to me, ‘There’s just no room in your head for sim­ple things like where the car is.’ For­tu­nately” – she starts laugh­ing – “the only thing I for­got was where my car was and noth­ing more im­por­tant.”

At 41, Pippa is smack-bang in the mid­dle of a new kind of gen­er­a­tion, where she has age­ing par­ents – both turn 70 this year – and young-ish chil­dren (her youngest, Taj, is seven). But 41 isn’t what it used to be, just as 70 isn’t what it used to be. Her par­ents still both work full time and are al­most busier than she is. Back when they turned 40, she re­calls, “You’d get a mug that said, ‘Over the hill at 40’,” whereas now it’s not nearly such a scary prospect. The idea of dress­ing for your age isn’t re­ally as much of a “thing” any more ei­ther:

Pippa turns up to our in­ter­view in black jeans, a black woollen turtle­neck and a sky blue coat, an out­fit that looks just as chic at ei­ther 20 or 60. She does have a fail­safe barom­e­ter or two when it comes to en­sur­ing she still looks fash­ion­able: her two daugh­ters and her 24-year-old half sis­ter. “One of my aims is to try and have some­thing on that she wants,” Pippa ad­mits.

GREAT AGES

Pippa and her hus­band, Tor­rin Crowther, are well aware they’re in the par­ent­ing sweet spot when it comes to their three chil­dren. “They’re all at those ages now where their lives are so busy but they still re­quire me in their lives, which is a great thing.” It does mean that a lot of the time Pippa is in the chauf­feur role, but she loves it. “We have a few crazy af­ter­noons where every­one’s hav­ing din­ner at dif­fer­ent times – some­one’s hav­ing it in the car, some­one’s hav­ing it at 3.30pm. But it’s so much fun. They’re such great ages.”

Brodie, 11, their el­dest daugh­ter, loves danc­ing and read­ing, Cameron, nine, is very cre­ative, and Taj is “a lit­tle bit of a joker”. On a re­cent fam­ily trip to Samoa – Pippa is part-Samoan – Taj de­cided he wanted to be a fire dancer, a change of heart from his pre­vi­ous goals of ei­ther rock star or fire­fighter. His mother has sug­gested he com­bines all three – prac­ti­cal, in case some­thing goes wrong, she sug­gests. Pippa her­self has man­aged a spec­tac­u­larly good ca­reer tra­jec­tory with­out ever hav­ing any kind of plan. I ask her when she knew she’d be a broad­caster – she laughs and ad­mits she fell into it when she started work­ing at TVNZ 20 years ago. But from the word go, the news­room made sense to her. “I liked the re­search, I liked the busi­ness, I liked that it was col­lab­o­ra­tive and that you could also bring a cre­ative side to it. It’s a re­ally nice com­bi­na­tion of left and right brain.”

The first role she had is one of the leg­endary make-or-break TVNZ roles: the overnight shift on the as­sign­ments desk. It’s where the newbie sits, by them­selves, and mon­i­tors all the in­com­ing news and po­lice re­ports and alerts and de­cides what’s a big deal and what isn’t. Think of all the in­ter­na­tional news that breaks overnight, and then imag­ine be­ing the 19-year-old who has to make that

3am phone call to their bosses… Two decades on, Pippa can still re­mem­ber what it was like to be at the quiet end of the re­porters’ ta­ble. “I look back now, when I was a ju­nior in the news­room go­ing to meet­ings, and you’d have these more ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ists go­ing, ‘Oh, this is like that case we had back then,’ and you’d be sit­ting there think­ing, ‘I was barely born then…’” she laughs. “And now I re­alise when I’m talk­ing to some of the young ones, that they’re the same! There are peo­ple in the news­room who were born in the late 1990s – how is that pos­si­ble?!”

A BIG CALL

Pippa has had a range of roles in her time at TVNZ. She’s been co-pre­sent­ing Fair Go since 2013 and the show, which also turned 41 this year, is still a na­tional favourite, with some of its strong­est rat­ings yet. “It’s nice – it is a pro­gramme for the peo­ple, so it’s good to know we’re reach­ing out in the right way.” But it’s her old pre­sent­ing role on Break­fast that pro­vided the real “what if” moment in her ca­reer, as she puts it. The morn­ing show, which in a nice piece of sym­me­try is cel­e­brat­ing its 21st an­niver­sary, has al­ways been a spring­board for new tal­ent. When she was of­fered the co-host role back in 2007 op­po­site Paul Henry, it was just six months af­ter giv­ing birth to

Brodie, and she and Tor­rin – a cor­po­rate lawyer – had de­cided it would be Pippa who was go­ing to

stay at home. “It was my hus­band who said, ‘I just don’t want you to re­gret that you didn’t take this op­por­tu­nity.’ He saw it was some­thing pretty amaz­ing,” Pippa says. “I look back on that now and do see it as a kind of slid­ing door moment – if I hadn’t taken that op­por­tu­nity, what would I be do­ing? It was a re­ally big call and I can re­mem­ber be­ing heart­bro­ken that I wasn’t go­ing to be there in the morn­ings with my baby, be­cause that cer­tainly wasn’t how I had pic­tured my life go­ing.”

Ob­vi­ously it worked out for the best, and Pippa be­came a firm favourite with Break­fast view­ers, as well as go­ing on to have two more chil­dren while in the role. She can still re­mem­ber what it was like to have to bal­ance baby life with work life; which is one of the rea­sons that she, like so many Kiwi women, is thrilled with the prece­dent Jacinda Ardern is set­ting. “It’s so cool,” she says. “Hav­ing daugh­ters, I love [see­ing] it. But fun­nily enough, when it hap­pened and I would go on about it, they sort of shot me down a lit­tle bit, as if to say, ‘She’s just hav­ing a baby, Mum.’ I was like, ‘This is a big deal!’ and then I re­alised that ac­tu­ally, yes, she’s just hav­ing a baby and yes, she’s Prime Min­is­ter. How cool is it that they don’t think it’s a big deal? Be­cause, ac­tu­ally, that’s more sig­nif­i­cant. For there to be that fun­da­men­tal shift in a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time.” (The shift is so strong that Taj re­cently asked his mum if boys can be Prime Min­is­ter too. “I said, ‘Yes, dar­ling, boys can do any­thing girls can do.’”)

In her own child­hood, Pippa says, she grew up with “the most sup­port­ive and pro­gres­sive” par­ents, which made her feel like ev­ery­thing was pos­si­ble, and it was al­ways her hope that her own chil­dren would feel the same way. “I never felt like I had any bar­ri­ers grow­ing up, I never felt that there was any­thing I couldn’t do… I’d like to think my girls don’t, and cer­tainly when they make com­ments like that about Jacinda, I guess that’s the proof. I love that they’re grow­ing up in an en­vi­ron­ment where any­thing can hap­pen, where any door is open.”

With her el­dest daugh­ter, Brodie, al­most knock­ing on the door of ado­les­cence, there are a few signs of the teenage world that lies ahead. There is some “very man­aged” so­cial me­dia use, Pippa says. “It’s how they com­mu­ni­cate – she put for­ward a good case for why she should have it, so she has that with quite a few re­stric­tions on it… I don’t want to ban ev­ery­thing be­cause kids al­ways find a way, and I’d rather she could talk to me about stuff, rather than go­ing be­hind our back. I don’t how far to go or if we’ve gone enough – I mean, as par­ents, you’re just mak­ing it up as you go along.”

CHAR­ITY SUP­PORT

Pippa is very close to her par­ents, and she re­cently signed on to be­come a full-time am­bas­sador to the West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter, partly due to her fa­ther’s his­tory with the char­ity. “Back in the early 1970s, Dad used to work on the res­cue he­li­copter when they were based in Piha, where he was a surf life­saver, and I al­ways re­mem­ber grow­ing up hearing sto­ries about his time work­ing on the he­li­copters.”

That per­sonal con­nec­tion is also what’s be­hind her other char­ity sup­port – Pippa is an am­bas­sador for Bel­ly­ful, a not-for-profit ser­vice where vol­un­teers cook meals for fam­i­lies deal­ing with a se­ri­ous ill­ness, and for new mums. “I know first-hand what a dif­fer­ence it can make when you’ve got a new­born – or an ill­ness – in the fam­ily.” The me­mory of hav­ing three very young chil­dren is firmly etched on her brain. “I re­mem­ber bump­ing into some­one in the su­per­mar­ket, back then, who had older chil­dren and she said to me, ‘Oh no, it only gets harder.’ And I had the three of them in the trol­ley and I was like, ‘No, no, no, it can­not get harder than this. I have three chil­dren un­der five and that one’s about to pull a jar of olives off the shelf…’ So I al­ways make a point of say­ing to peo­ple with younger kids, when they’re in ‘that’ place, that it does get eas­ier. I mean, I can’t judge what hap­pens in the teenage years and I’m sure they’ll of­fer up their own de­gree of con­cern…”

She laughs and quotes a bit of ad­vice she’s hold­ing on to: “I re­mem­ber read­ing a while ago that the key with teenagers is to keep them busy and keep them poor. I thought that seemed like good ad­vice.”

MUDDLING THROUGH

In her 40s, with a great ca­reer and a healthy, happy fam­ily, Pippa is very aware of how lucky she is. Al­most too aware, she says drily. “It’s at the point where the kids now mock me. Like, ev­ery time we drive past the water, I say it so of­ten that they’ve now started say­ing it to me [high-pitched voice], ‘Oh, we’re soooo lucky.’”

But she does be­lieve our great­est strength – as par­ents and as peo­ple – is when we share our foibles, rather than our wins. “There are not a lot of peo­ple out there wav­ing a flag around like they’ve got some sort of per­fect life. I mean, no one does,” she says. “It’s quite nice when you see some­one rolling up to net­ball on a Satur­day morn­ing, who’s clearly had one of those morn­ings, be­cause we all do, and every­one ral­lies around them.”

So even though life is busy, and cars some­times get mis­placed, Pippa is quick to point out that like most of us, she’s just try­ing to do her best on any given day. “I’m just muddling my way through with ev­ery­thing. Hap­pily! Hap­pily muddling.”

“I al­ways make a point of say­ing to peo­ple with younger kids, when they’re in ‘that’ place, that it does get eas­ier.”

LEFT: Pippa and Haydn Jones, the cur­rent hosts of TV’s Fair Go, which has been run­ning for 41 years. BE­LOW: With Break­fast co-host Paul Henry. Be­ing of­fered the ear­ly­morn­ing role in 2007, when she had a young baby, was a major turn­ing point in Pippa’s life.

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