The for­mi­da­ble politi­cian shares the story of her im­pres­sive wardrobe and ca­reer with Jes­sica-Belle Greer, all while she’s in the makeup chair.


The for­mi­da­ble politi­cian talks us through her clothes – and her im­pres­sive ca­reer

Hav­ing re­ceived her or­der of a flat white, dou­ble shot, Ju­dith Collins is sit­ting at a glass ta­ble, which may as well be ma­hogany it’s so cov­ered in makeup. She’s one of New Zealand’s most well-known – and per­haps feared – politi­cians, but this morn­ing Collins is on set with Sim­ply You and at the mercy of our makeup artist. Hav­ing been told by Collins not to worry about go­ing too bold, he be­gins to cre­ate her look as she starts to tell her story.

The Na­tional MP, who turns 60 next year, grew up on a farm near the small set­tle­ment of Wal­ton in cen­tral Waikato. Of her child­hood, the youngest of six says: “My broth­ers and sis­ters all thought I was spoilt but I thought I was just fine, thank you very much.”

Her mother had im­paired hear­ing and when she was old enough Collins would stand in for her at events. “She used to find sit­u­a­tions with a lot of peo­ple quite dif­fi­cult to deal with, so I’d of­ten trot along, which is pos­si­bly why I was al­ways quite precocious.”

A lawyer for 20 years, 10 of them in her own prac­tice, Collins held po­si­tions as pres­i­dent of the Auck­land District Law So­ci­ety and vice-pres­i­dent of the New Zealand Law So­ci­ety be­fore tak­ing the de­ci­sion to move into pol­i­tics.

“Look­ing up?” Collins asks makeup artist Chay as he sharp­ens the eye­liner. She doesn’t flinch a wink as it’s ap­plied and con­tin­ues with her nar­ra­tion.

She joined the Na­tional Party in 1999, when it was clear they were on their way out of Par­lia­ment – “I liked their poli­cies but I thought they needed some help.” Af­ter run­ning in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles for a few years, Collins stood for the Auck­land seat of Cleve­don in 2002 – and won. “It’s about tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­ing open to things, be­cause I never thought that would hap­pen.”

Six­teen years on, Collins is still in the fold, hav­ing worked for Na­tional both in gov­ern­ment and in op­po­si­tion. When Par­lia­ment is sit­ting, she’s in Welling­ton, meet­ing the other MPs in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­bat­ing cham­ber from 2pm till 10pm.

When she’s back in Auck­land a typ­i­cal day could com­prise a TV ap­pear­ance (she’s on The AM Show ev­ery Fri­day), clin­ics in her Pa­pakura elec­torate, at­tend­ing spe­cial events and hold­ing meet­ings on var­i­ous so­cial is­sues. “One of my mantras in life is: what­ever I’m thrown, I’ll make some­thing of it. That’s why I’m still a chirpy lit­tle thing.”

Chirpy she may be, but Collins is also dread­fully busy. Af­ter-hours she’s study­ing for a grad­u­ate diploma in health and safety at Massey Univer­sity. “It’s a big is­sue for busi­ness so that’s why I de­cided to do it. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to know more than a lot of the peo­ple I deal with. And I like learn­ing; it’s good for the brain.”

She’s had to weather po­lit­i­cal scan­dals and neg­a­tive press – in­clud­ing when she stood down as Min­is­ter of Jus­tice in 2014, be­fore her name was com­pletely cleared of al­legedly feed­ing in­for­ma­tion to a con­tro­ver­sial blog­ger – but she takes it in her stride.

“There’s no point wor­ry­ing. It’s fish and chip pa­per even­tu­ally,” Collins re­marks. “The worst thing in my busi­ness is not be­ing known. There are 120 MPs in New Zealand and I say to peo­ple: ‘Name 10.’”

When asked for the se­cret to her stay­ing power in Par­lia­ment, she can list a few things. “One is to never give up. And two is to al­ways have fun. Be­cause it’s a priv­i­lege. It’s a huge priv­i­lege.”

Now we get to the topic of Collins’ con­tro­ver­sial nick­name, The Crusher, which was given to her when, as Po­lice Min­is­ter in 2009, she in­tro­duced a law al­low­ing boy rac­ers’ cars to be crushed to com­bat il­le­gal street rac­ing. “Peo­ple have an im­pres­sion of me be­fore they meet me so that can be use­ful,” she says of the so­bri­quet. “Sud­denly they are a bit more care­ful.”

Collins cer­tainly does things dif­fer­ently. Her first over­seas trip was at the age of 26, when she mar­ried her hus­band, David Wong-Tung – they eloped to Hong Kong via Bali. The cou­ple now live in cen­tral Auck­land with their adult son, James. Dis­play­ing his mother’s abil­ity to jug­gle mul­ti­ple roles, he works while also study­ing soft­ware devel­op­ment.

Their home, which they share with their old Jack Rus­sell, Holly, and cat Min­nie, is eclec­tic – “clas­sic with a twist”. The fam­ily en­joy col­lect­ing “a good smat­ter­ing of an­tiques” along with more mod­ern fur­nish­ings. Hav­ing down­sized to their city pad re­cently, they’re now feel­ing the squeeze. “Quite a lot of it’s in stor­age. But we can’t bear to part with it.”

Find­ing a place for ev­ery­thing is a prob­lem. “I have the whole bed­room as a dress­ing room as I don’t have enough room in my wardrobe. But I do have to share it with my hus­band be­cause he loves clothes, too.”

Trelise Cooper, Ar­mani and Verge are go-to la­bels for her. “I want to look as though I care,” she ex­plains. “That is re­ally im­por­tant be­cause I think it’s a mark of re­spect.”

She doesn’t have an off-duty style, she says, be­cause she’s never off-duty. “I go walk­ing in my walk­ing clothes but even then I have to be aware.”

This year, Collins is fo­cus­ing on her health. She has started work­ing out with a per­sonal trainer, as has her hus­band. There’s not much time for hob­bies, given her work and study sched­ule. “It’s not like I’m not able to re­lax. I sleep very well nor­mally,” she adds.

The makeup artist, Chay, has moved on to ap­ply­ing a brick red lip­stick but Collins man­ages to keep on talk­ing as he does this.

She re­veals she was given her very first lip­stick at the age of nine. Af­ter she caused a stir by try­ing on her oldest sis­ter’s makeup, her fa­ther walked into the lo­cal chemist and asked for help – and came out tri­umphant with a pow­der and some lip­stick. “My dad didn’t want us ar­gu­ing so he went and did that. Wasn’t that lovely?”

These days, Collins has ex­panded her own beauty kit to in­clude eye creams, night creams, serums, mois­turiser and an SPF foun­da­tion – for the lat­ter, L’Oréal is her favourite. She’s had skin can­cer on her face and is very aware of the need to cover up.

A hand­held mirror is lifted for her to see the fi­nal results. “Gosh,” she says, “that’s fan­tas­tic!” ■

“One of my mantras in life is: what­ever I’m thrown, I’ll make some­thing of it. ”

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