It’s nearing the end of our Woman’s Day photo shoot with broadcasting star Ali Pugh and her gorgeous wee daughter Theadora, and the usually serene bub is beginning to get a little tetchy.
“I know what that means,” says TVNZ’s 1 News reporter and former Breakfast host, perching herself on the end of the bed and taking Thea in her arms to give her a long-awaited feed.
It’s a peaceful moment in what’s been a somewhat chaotic day for Ali, 30, and baby Thea. As the proud mum gently tucks her daughter’s little curls behind her ears - “she’s definitely got her father’s hair!” she remarks - Ali shakes her head at the fact her baby girl is about to celebrate her first birthday.
Now based back in her and fiancé Jo Barus’ hometown of Christchurch, Ali is blissfully content at how things have panned out over the past few months – including her departure from the Breakfast couch for good, making room for ex-TV3 star Hilary Barry and her friend Jack Tame.Farewelling the top job for Thea was an easy sacrifice and Ali’s quite happy to admit she doesn’t miss the high-profile and high-stress role one bit.
“No, not at all!” she says. “I couldn’t imagine doing that job right now. I mean, it was very cool for the stage of life I was at, but I’m much happier with the set-up now. I’ve watched the show, I think it’s great, and it’s really cool seeing Jack and Hilary on there. I feel almost blessed with how it worked out. I think I’d said to someone a few weeks before it all happened, my dream job would be three days a week, in Christchurch.”
And that’s exactly what has transpired, with Ali very recently returning to her former reporting role part-time.
“I’ve done my first three days back and I’m absolutely knackered!” she confesses.
“It was a huge shock to the system. I’ve been away for a year – you forget what it’s like to do a nine-hour shift.”
While it’s a return to her roots for Ali, she confesses that for the first couple of days, she felt like the new kid at school.
“Yeah, it was about 10 past nine and I had to yell out, ‘Um, so how do I turn the computer screen on?’” she laughs, shaking her head. “And I forgot my swipe card, you know, so all the usual first-day nightmares!”
But the step back into the working world was a welcome one, says Ali, admitting she didn’t realise just how much she’d missed her job and her colleagues.
“It’s such an amazing job,” she enthuses. “I really enjoyed getting back into it. Far more than I thought I would, actually.
“It’s like re-entering the adult world, I think. It’s very refreshing to be back having adult conversations and not picking toys off the floor. Although, for the first day or two, it did feel like a part of me was missing. I mean, I was with Thea day and night for almost a year, so it was a huge adjustment to take a 10-hour break. I did feel like a limb was missing.”
Pulling out of her driveway on her first day back was especially tough, says Ali, a situation made all the more emotional with little Thea standing at the window,waving Mum goodbye.
“It broke my heart a little bit!” she smiles. “I thought there would be tears, but somehow I managed to move fast enough to not let it get to me too much. And the Christchurch newsroom is like a family, so it’s nice heading there.”
Ali’s mother Helen is looking after Thea in the mornings while she’s at work, with Jo, who plays bass guitar in Dave Dobbyn’s band, taking the afternoon shift. Grins Ali, “It’s actually been really good with Jo – he has a great appreciation for what I do when I’m at home with her now! There’s always a lot of balls in the air and he understands why the house isn’t immaculate and there isn’t a huge roast with all the trimmings in the oven!”
While she’s only a couple of weeks into the new routine, Ali’s loving her new life, saying she has a perfect balance between work and mum time.
“It’s quite funny how different my workdays are from my home days ... It’s an achievement when you have a shower before midday while you’re at home! But it’s not that chaotic. I mean, I look at Pippa [Wetzell], who has three kids, and Toni [Street] who has two.”
The biggest struggle is fitting in breastfeeding Thea around her work schedule, which changes every day.
“Mum’s bringing her in at lunchtime, which is great, and my bosses have been really supportive,” she explains. Ali is a huge advocate for breastfeeding – she’s spoken in the past of being fed until the age of seven. “I’ll do it for a few more months while she adjusts.”
Being back in Christchurch is also a welcome relief for proud Cantabrian Ali, with the bulk of her and Jo’s family and friends living in the Garden City. And while it’s been great to be near those closest to them – especially now, when the need for babysitters has definitely grown! – it has also allowed Ali and Jo to buy their first home.
“There was no way we could have afforded a house in Auckland,” she tells. “But now, we absolutely love being back and we’ve been able to buy our dream home. It’s a real family house, with a nice big backyard, a massive kitchen ... It’s great.
“Though,” she continues, “I’m not a very good baker. I tried to cook pikelets the other day. Have you ever tried doing that? It’s tough. I just couldn’t get the consistency to flip them. Too gunky!” she finishes, furrowing her brow in frustration.
Their dream home is the perfect place to watch Thea grow up. Ali beams with pride as she recounts her little girl’s triumphs – she’s taken a few steps, five is her record at the moment, and she says “Mama” and “Dada”. It also seems she’s inherited her dad’s love of music, with her biggest grins and squeals a result of Jo’s impromptu performances of nursery rhymes.
“Although,” Ali laughs, “we’ve also just started to make up songs on the spot about random stuff.”Demonstrating, Ali pops Thea down on the floor and starts to sing, “Here, Thea, crawl over here, pick up your biscuit, good girl!” with Thea screeching in delight as she claps along, then goes to grab her biscuit. “Whatever works,” Ali remarks, grinning.
And while she’ll be working on October 23, Thea’s actual birthday, Ali can’t wait to mark the occasion – just a few days early, perhaps.
“We’ll fudge it a bit – she won’t know,” she says. “I just can’t believe it’s been 12 months. It makes you realise how quickly time has flown by. Everything happens for a reason, you know. It’s been an amazing year!”
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