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. ”