Celebrity News

20 years of Mike and Paula

Conflict and disasters may be Mike's specialty, but at home, communication is key between Mike and Paula.
Mike McRoberts and Paula Penfold

You’d be forgiven for assuming Mike McRoberts is completely fearless. The 3News presenter is known for travelling to the world’s most dangerous destinations to cover disasters and conflicts. In fact, even if he’s just going on holiday, people rush up to him at the airport and ask “What’s happened?”

But leave it to his gorgeous wife and hard-nosed journalist Paula Penfold (46) to set the record straight. “Shall I tell the story?” she asks her husband of 20 years with a wide grin.

“Oh, no, not this story,” he groans. “Okay, but I’m getting a coffee. I’m not listening to it!” he adds, before getting up to fix himself a flat white. (It turns out Mike has many talents – coffee-making, assembling flat-pack furniture and even whipping up a great pâté.)

“Okay, so Mike’s petrified of heights,” she tells. “It was 20 years ago – I don’t think we were even married yet. There was something wrong with the flue on the fireplace…”

“I’d had a couple of wines by then!” Mike (49) interjects from the kitchen.

“So Mike goes up on the roof to fix it,” Paula continues. “We had friends over, and after a while, I thought, ‘Where’s Mike?’ We went outside and there he is, on the edge of the roof. He couldn’t get back down! Honestly, I don’t know how long it was before we noticed he was gone.”

“One hour and 20 minutes,” supplies Mike. “And it was bloody freezing!”

It’s a bit surprising then, that he’s now planning a skydive. But 2015 is no ordinary year for TV3’s power couple. Mike and Paula are celebrating a slew of personal and professional milestones this year, including Paula’s 25th year of journalism, her new show, 3D, premiering this week, and Mike’s last year before he turns 50 – or as he puts it, “The last year of being not quite an old man.”

It’s a great time to step outside their comfort zones, to accept a few challenges and to reflect. But it’s their 20th wedding anniversary that the pair, who are parents to Ben (15) and 12-year-old Maia, are most proud of. “It doesn’t feel like 20 years, does it?” says Mike.

“Not at all. It feels like it was yesterday,” Paula replies. “We’re lucky. Every marriage has its ups and downs, but we both get each other. We get each other personally as well as professionally.”

This, they say, has been the key. “Over the years, we’ve been really supportive of each other with our work,” nods Mike. “People often ask, ‘What does your wife think about you going off to Baghdad or Lebanon?’ I’ve been incredibly lucky that she has been so supportive and that she trusts I won’t do anything stupid.”

Paula and Mike celebrate some major milestones this year.

“Understanding the work pressures has definitely been a big part of why it’s worked,” agrees Paula. “I’m lucky Mike understands what I do and when I get back, I’m ridiculously stressed and horrible.”

“Never horrible,” Mike says.

“Thanks, darling,” says Paula, smiling. “He’s lucky I get that he needs to go to a war zone!”

That’s not to say she doesn’t worry. But after all these years, Paula has trained herself to not think about it too much, adding that “it comes with the territory”.

“He’s a bit of a disaster magnet now,” his wife says affectionately. “It’s amazing how often he has been somewhere covering a story and then something else will happen – like Nepal last month.”

Mike was covering Gallipoli commemorations when news of the devastating Nepal earthquakes broke – he booked a flight to Kathmandu the same day. The kids are now at an age where they understand the dangers of Dad’s job – making things a little harder when he’s away. But Mike makes an effort to explain why his going to report on war is important.

“When I went to Gaza a few years ago, I remember sitting the kids down. I told them about these bombs that were being dropped on innocent people, and that journalists like me go in to report on what’s happening, and it puts pressure on the two sides to declare a ceasefire.

“As luck would have it, after only two days on the ground, that’s exactly what happened – a ceasefire. I rang home and Ben says to me, ‘Well done, Dad!'” he finishes, laughing. “I said, ‘That’s right, son. Your old man’s got this!'”

While Mike’s known for his incredible coverage of conflicts and disasters, Paula’s forte is investigative journalism – perhaps most notably the Teina Pora case, where she, along with a team of others, successfully campaigned for his innocence to be proven.

“It’s the hardest story I’ve ever done by far,” she nods. “But it’s the most rewarding and the biggest. There were so many people who worked so hard for Teina for a long time.”

“Paula’s probably being a bit modest, actually,” Mike says. “What she did was incredible. I’ve never been more proud of her. I’m in awe. I know I wouldn’t have done as well in my career

if I didn’t have Paula beside me. Correcting my grammar and spelling mistakes!”

The couple say building their gorgeous Auckland home together made their relationship stronger.

Was it their shared passion and drive for telling a good yarn that drew them together in the first place?

“No, she was hot!” laughs Mike, while Paula asks, “Was?”

“Hmm. How am I going to come back from that one?” asks Mike, while Paula laughs.

The pair first met in Radio New Zealand’s Christchurch newsroom in 1993. While his future wife’s beauty might have been the first thing Mike noticed, for Paula, there was just something about Mike.

“He’s always had this presence about him that I’ve loved, even way back then,” she remembers. “He still has it, this compassion. You can see it in his storytelling.”

After two years of dating, they married in 1995 and moved to Auckland to further their careers. Both say there’s really no secret as to why they’ve had such a happy marriage. “Communication is good,” offers Mike, while Paula adds that it helps Mike’s a good cook.

“Actually, not having expectations that are too high!” says a grinning Paula.

“Wow, that’s a bit unflattering, darling!” Mike says, roaring with laughter. “There it is. Having low expectations is the secret to our marriage!”

“There’s an element of truth to it,” Paula says, chuckling. “What I mean is, you can’t go into a marriage thinking it’s all going to be perfect.”

It’s this type of banter that Mike and Paula do best – a perfect antidote to their intense and emotionally draining jobs. On that note, ladies of New Zealand, Paula is also a fan of Mike’s now much-admired silver head of hair. “I think it suits him,” she says, turning to Mike. “But if your eyebrows go grey, that might be another story!”

“They’re natural, by the way,” Mike grins.

Mike turns 50 this year and will be marking the occasion with a skydive – and maybe a tattoo.

Nothing seems too hard for the pair. Indeed, they’ve tackled some of the hardest things couples can do with each other. “We built this house together. We’d never do that again!” says Paula, gesturing around their beautiful Auckland home.

“That’s right. If your marriage can survive building a house, you can get through anything,” agrees Mike.

The couple also worked together for years, with Paula producing Mike on 60 Minutes. “People used to wonder how the hell we did that!” Paula adds.

While life has never been busier for them both – especially when you factor in the daily taxi service to Ben and Maia’s various after-school activities – they try to find time together when they can.

“We don’t go out much any more,” grins Mike.

“That’s the biggest change in our relationship!” Paula adds, “The relationship has grown and changed with us. We’re better at listening to each other than we used to be.”

Mike will be relying on Paula’s support later in the year when he attempts his skydive, as well as the Taupo Marathon in August. “It’s a great time to do stuff like this,” he says of his 50th year. “Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? Paula can kick me out of the plane!”

“His brothers want to buy him a tattoo for his birthday too,” Paula tells.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Mike protests. “Part of me would love to – it’s a ta moko about our family, both of my brothers have the same one. But part of me is scared of needles! And it’s very hard to tell your son he can’t get a tattoo when you have one. Though, it’d be a great way to keep in shape,” he adds. “No-one wants a saggy tattoo!”

In spite of the playful jokes at each other’s expense, the simple fact of the matter is that they’re just better together.

“Maybe it would be easier to just do your own thing,” Paula muses. “But we’re better as a couple than as individuals.”

“It doesn’t really matter if it’s 20 years or 30 or 40,” adds Mike. “It’s the fact we’re together. That’s the most important thing.”

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