As she celebrates a whopping 25 years on our screens as “the Briscoes lady”, Tammy Wells is counting her many blessings, relishing the quiet life she leads on a rural Christchurch dairy farm and working through her newly formed bucket list.
Helping out her sharemilker husband Michael in Canterbury – where she says she loves nothing more than getting into her “grimmest” clothing and losing herself in the gardening – is a world away from the make-up chair and glitzy photoshoots of her other life.
Tammy has been married to Michael since she was 22 years old – another of her long-lasting relationships – and they began dating when they were just 14 and 15. The pair have two sons, Cameron (21) and James (23), and, much to Tammy’s delight, both are currently earning a crust at Briscoes!
Cameron is studying in Wellington, where he works on Saturdays behind the counter at the Taranaki Street store, while James, an aspiring actor, tops up his income with a regular job as a storeman in Auckland.
Looking remarkable at 52, it’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years this month since Tammy arrived on our screens, as she seems to have barely aged a day. Tammy’s quick, though, to give all the credit to an “amazing team”.
“I have someone doing my make-up, they’ve dressed me in lovely clothes, you’ve got a fabulous photographer, and then – perhaps the best part of the team – there’s the lighting guys!” she explains.
“There have been times when I’ve been up half the night crying for a pet we’ve had to put down, but those guys work out where to put the lights and make me look good.”
People, though, often have a different reaction when they meet her in real life. “They’ll often say, ‘Oh, you look so young on television!’” she says, dissolving into laughter.
Six years ago she didn’t play much of an active part on the farm and actually had a fear of cows, but after the recession hit and they sadly had to farewell their farm worker, Tammy began to pitch in with the work.
“Michael won’t let me do things like putting the cups on the cows in case they kick me in the face or something, but I’m out there moving the cows, teat spraying, changing the electric fences or washing down,” she tells. “When I was thrust into it, I realised just how wonderful these creatures are and I just love the cows now.”
While she’s certainly had much to smile about in her life, there have also been testing times that have made it a challenge to spend all day smiling for the camera.
Her younger half-brother was killed in a car accident 17 years ago and, three weeks later, she found herself on a shoot. “You have to tune into your professional side and let go of what’s in your mind,” she says. “I just go into character – it’s an acting role, really.”
Tammy was dealt another challenge when her father died, followed by her mother, to whom she was very close, 18 months later. “I went through huge grief, and it still comes at the most random times,” she confides. “You always think they’re going to go on for ever; I always thought she would.”
Her mother’s death prompted Tammy to take stock of her life and make some big changes. “I’ve realised how short and precious life is, so I’ve started my bucket list.”
First up was painting lessons, which she loves but finds “incredibly frustrating and difficult at times”, and she’s also started yoga and joined a book club.
The biggest item on the list, though, is yet to come. When she and Michael began dating, he warned her that he wanted to be financially secure before doing any travel, advising that he’d wait until his fifties. “Well, suddenly we’re here!” laughs Tammy.
It’s going to be a big change for the pair (Michael usually gets up at 3.30am!) but they’ve decided they have worked their last winter. Next year, they hope to begin travelling.
“Our son Cam has just been to Spain, Greece and Croatia – places I’ve never been – and now I’m so looking forward to it. Michael is really ready for a break; I love seeing him so excited about it.”
Luckily for Tammy, Briscoes can often work around her schedule and she hopes to carry on being the face of the brand. “I’d love to do it for as long as I continue loving the work – and, of course, as long as they still love me!”