It's been just over a month since Amanda Gillies signed off from The AM Show after five years of early starts – and she looks amazing. Gone are the designer outfits, and studio hair and make-up, and instead there is a relaxed woman in a simple black singlet dress, with her hair tied back in a classic, smooth ponytail and if there is any make-up on, it's what beauty editors call "the natural look".
She looks like a woman who has had a wonderful night's sleep and woken up to all the joys of the world. Which she agrees is true after five years of getting up in the middle of the night.
"I had been waking up at 3.30am in the middle of the night for five years and I was pretty sure it would take me weeks to get back to a normal sleep pattern, but it took – oh – one day. I left work on the Friday and by the Monday my body was saying, 'Yep, we're good to go.'"
After what she describes as a "crazy" year, the journalist finds herself pleasantly surprised to be in such a peaceful place.
Last year, when she celebrated 20 years as a journalist at Three (now Discovery), she made the decision to move on from *The AM Show* and the early starts, and return to the job she loves – good, old-fashioned journalism where she can file long-form stories and get back to the job she started doing two decades ago. As a Newshub National Correspondent, she'll be covering and breaking stories.
"To be honest, I'm a bit nervous about going back out into the field. I'll certainly have to rein it in. There will be no dancing and singing, and there will be a lot of relieved people in New Zealand about that!
"I loved being out in the field with a passion and did it for Three for 15 years, but I still feel like going back is as terrifying as hell. I know I'll get the hang of it and my bosses told me it will be like riding a bike as soon as I get back out there."
Amanda, 45, says that in June of last year she knew that her five-year anniversary at The AM Show was coming up and that there would be changes being made to the programme by its new owners Discovery, so she went to see her boss and said she needed a change.
"We had just had a doctor on the show who told us that doing shift work, and especially the hours we were doing, which was basically getting up in the middle of the night, did put us at risk of developing illnesses and put a huge toll on our bodies, so that was a big motivation for me to get back to a normal life," she explains.
"I'm also at the menopausal age when sleep is everything! My boss came back to me in September, suggesting I get back to reporting, and I was happy. I start in February and it will be good to be working with crews again, working my contacts and getting back to what I love and why I got into the game in the first place."
She is grateful to her colleague Patrick Gower, who she says has paved the way for journalists like her to leave a presenting job and get back to reporting.
"He shifted from being a really busy political editor and we've had some chats about this. We can both now work on stories where we can dig a bit deeper rather than turn it around in a hurry for the news that night."I'm so delighted that I can get back into current affairs, go behind the scenes, travel a bit more and also do a bit of fill-in presenting if they need me to."
Amanda admits that when she started on *The AM Show* five years ago, she wasn't ready to let go of her "serious journalist" side.
"I probably fought that for the first two years I was on the show," she recalls. "I wanted to be taken seriously and be very grown up. But then I let go of that and the minute I stopped caring so much about being taken so seriously, that's when I found my feet on the show and I started enjoying it, giving my actual opinion and being the real me. Nothing was off limits and it was quite liberating."
The team at The AM Show was like a family for Amanda from day one with Mark Richardson, Duncan Garner and then new host Ryan Bridge.
"The alarm would go off at 3.15am, then I'd finally make it up by 3.30am and the hardest part was getting from the bed to the bathroom. Some mornings I would drive along Tamaki Drive swearing my head off because it was tough some days. But once I was at work, we had the coolest little team and I loved it from day one through to the final day.
"It sounds naff, but we were like a little family because we had to be. When you get up at 3.30am, you are tired, you can be intolerant and grumpy in the middle of the night, and there's a lot of pressure to do that three-hour live show. It's all on and you can't have an off day because no one wants to see or hear that," she says.
"There were moments where we would be in tears of frustration or tears of laughter. It's just like when you come around the dinner table every night or in our case every morning. You will fight and bicker, and laugh and crack jokes and be honest and real. I think the whole environment was just bloody cool and I loved it.
"I feel sad at the thought of not going back this year, but it has come to its natural end and it's part of someone else's adventure now."
As a relaxed Amanda talks, it's hard not to notice that she hasn't stopped smiling. Not once. Perhaps it's because of something which happened just before Christmas – her engagement to journalist and co-editor of Newsroom.co.nz Tim Murphy.
"It's probably fair to say I haven't stopped smiling," admits Amanda. "Hand on heart, I was not expecting it. It was a very cool and a very lovely end to a crazy year."
The couple have been together since the beginning of The AM Show and Amanda says that Tim has never known her not to be out of bed in the middle of the night.
"He's had the TV remote to himself from 8pm every night, so that's taking some adjusting, and my fear is he's going to roll over in the morning and say, 'Oh, you're here again!'"
The couple had a big year with Amanda's job change, buying a family holiday home in Whangamatā in December, then there was all the stress that Covid has brought and so it was a lovely way to end the year.
"I did notice that he waited until a week after I had left the AM show to propose, which was obviously a deliberate strategy not to have the news broadcast all over the television," she laughs.
This is Amanda's first wedding and the second for Tim, a father-of-six from his first marriage.
"Tim probably knew that I'd love to get married and it was something I always hoped for, but it wasn't there and then when it happened, I was like, 'Holy hell, yes!'"
The couple plan to have the ceremony this year, Covid willing, and it will be a "private, very family-oriented event". But she adds, "I would like to say small, but we both come from big Catholic families, so it will be small in a big Catholic family way."
Weekly readers will know Amanda's mother Betty, who hand-sewed all of Amanda's dance costumes when she was a teenager. So how happy was Betty?
"She was beside herself with excitement and just like her daughter, one of the first questions she asked was, 'What am I going to wear?'"
Amanda says they spent a few weeks in Gisborne with her parents after the engagement was announced and did some minor wedding plans, which was a lot of fun.
As for Amanda's wedding dress, after five years of wearing some of the country's best outfits every morning, she thinks she might not go too over the top.
"I said to Tim that because of being dressed up every day for five years, I feel like I have had so many beautiful moments that I think I'll be very relaxed and go to the other extreme. He looked at me, raised an eyebrow, then said, 'Yeah, sure.'"
Amanda says she loved working with AM Show stylist Sarah Stuart, admitting, "It was like Christmas every day for a girl who loves clothes."
She would put all five outfits on Instagram at the end of the week to share her love of the clothes. And when she left her wardrobe at the studio for the last time, she said goodbye to some of her favourite outfits, reserving just a couple in a very small wardrobe for when she does fill-in presenting.
"Some will be rehomed to other presenters and, to be honest, the outfits weren't always a huge success. Some days the bosses would look at me and say, 'We're not sure we should see that one on you again.' And Duncan, Mark and Ryan would look at them and go, 'Okay, so this is your outfit for today?' And I'd say, 'Damn right it is!'"
As Amanda heads into this new year, she feels it will be a time of joy.
"Toward the end of last year, I felt like it was the end of something with 20 years at Three, the end of The AM Show, all these milestones, and I thought, 'Oh, is this all wrapping up for me, what does that look like?'
"But now I feel like it's another chapter being started. And I love that I'm a 45-year-old woman still out there in the industry doing my stuff and not hiding away."
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