Christine Rankin has been many things in her 60 years. From a wife (four times), single mum and beneficiary, through to the head of Work and Income, Families Commissioner, business consultant, motivational speaker, TV personality, chief executive of the Conservative Party and now parliamentary candidate, there’s not much she hasn’t turned her hand to.
But ask her which role means the most to her and there’s no hesitation. “Oh, the best thing ever is being a grandmother,” she says. “I can’t begin to describe the love and pride I feel, and the pleasure I get from spending time with my grandchildren. They make you realise what it’s all about and what really matters.”
Many may find it hard to imagine Christine, who is standing in Auckland’s Epsom electorate, as a doting granny. This is the woman who polarised the country when she took the government to court for not renewing her contract as the CEO of Winz and who generated hundreds of headlines about her dress sense, thanks to her fondness for short skirts and large dangly earrings.
Even her two oldest grandchildren, Ella (11) and Samuel (9), recognise that Nanny, as they call her, is atypical. “When Samuel’s school had a grandmother’s day, he said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t come – you don’t really look like a grandmother,’” recalls Christine with a throaty laugh.
Still, she’s the type of granny who changes nappies, goes to school performances and spends hours playing with her grandchildren. She video calls her newest grandchild, six-month-old Sylvie, every night because she’s determined to have as strong a bond with Sylvie, who lives in Wellington, as she does with Aucklanders Ella and Samuel.
Christine, who is mum to Matt (41) and Josh (40), says, “I loved being a mother but I didn’t value it in the way I should have. Being a grandparent, I am older and wiser and I love being able to share that wisdom.”
Christine was just 18 when she had Matt – and became a single mum when her marriage to her boys’ dad ended after seven years. She wishes she’d been able to bring them up with two parents. “I didn’t understand the impact it can have when your mum and dad break up. You just think the kids are going to cope, but it is massive in their lives.
“I always thought that as long as my boys had me, they’d be fine. But I know now that’s not ideal. As parents, we have a responsibility to talk to our children about how precious a relationship is. Even the very best relationships have challenges, and you need to be prepared to weather those, especially if you have children. That’s something I didn’t have regard for when I was younger.”
Matt and Josh seem to have learned from her mistakes, says Christine, and both are utterly committed to their wives and children. “They’ve both been married for 15 years and I think that’s a gift I’ve given them inadvertently. They didn’t want a repeat of what I went through.”
Now married for nearly six years herself to husband number four, builder Kim MacIntyre, Christine never expected to be wed so many times. “It’s shocking, isn’t it? It’s certainly not the way I wanted it to be but then I haven’t done anything by the book in my life.”
There was a “kerfuffle”, as Christine puts it, when the pair got together – she copped flak for marrying him less than six months after his previous wife took her own life – but Kim has turned out to be “the biggest blessing of my life”.
“For the first time, I am truly happy. Kim is a very calm man but fiercely protective of me. He does everything for me. We have a lovely life together. ”
While Christine grew up with parents who stayed together, their relationship was far from ideal. Her father Walter was abusive and everyone in the family – Christine is the youngest of four siblings – was on the receiving end.
“You always felt like you were walking on eggshells. Once, I don’t know why but I pulled his toe and he went crazy. It was one of the biggest hidings I ever got. I was about seven.”
Walter eventually “grew out of” his violent rages, but having suffered abuse during her upbringing left her with a fierce determination to never treat her own family that way.
Trying to reduce our child abuse rates is one of the reasons she’s standing as an MP and although she’s been involved in local body politics for some time, Christine admits she did have some concerns about stepping into the spotlight again.
“I’ve been hated, I’ve had death threats and bullets with my name on them, then I went from being public enemy number one to a celebrity, with people wanting to hug me. I even had people touching my legs. It was weird.”
She’s spent years hearing comments on how she looks but has resolutely refused to change anything about her appearance to appease anyone else. However, Christine says her days of wearing thigh-skimming skirts are over.
“There comes a time in your life when that look is no longer suitable. My knees are wrinkly now so I’ve had to get with the programme and be sensible.”
But she promises the dangly earrings are here to stay.
“I keep lots of earrings in my car, and when I arrive somewhere, I put them on and off I go. I do not get out of that car without them! One day my granddaughters are going to inherit my collection.”
But when it comes to the real legacy she would like to leave her grandkids, it’s that they remember Nanny for being fun and wise.
“I hope they will think that at least I’m interesting. Although I’m always amazed when people think I’ve done things out of the ordinary because really, I feel very ordinary.”
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