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Broadcaster Heather du Plessis-Allan shares her motherhood secrets

She may have lost herself a little, but the radio star’s embracing life with Iggy
Photos: Emily Chalk

Broadcaster Heather du Plessis-Allan has learned from experience that her mother Elizabeth is often right. And over the past couple of years, since becoming a parent herself, Heather has also come to realise what an amazing role model she has been.

“I think I may be turning into her actually,” laughs Heather. “And she’s turning into my grandmother, so I can see where I’m heading.”

During her career as a broadcaster, Heather has become known for being strong and fearless. But motherhood is changing her and in ways she hadn’t expected. On air every weekday hosting Newstalk ZB’s Drive show, she’s still businesslike and assertive. In the privacy of her Auckland home, however, a different Heather emerges. One who isn’t afraid to admit that coping with a busy job and a lively toddler has been far more challenging than she ever imagined.

“As an idealistic young woman, I thought that a baby wouldn’t really interrupt my career and maybe I wasn’t as kind as I should have been about women who choose to stay at home,” admits Heather, 39. “Now I fully understand why some women stay home for years on end when they have kids. Because it’s tough to juggle a job and a baby.

“I don’t understand how many mums do it… I don’t always understand how I do it! It’s harder than we let on, and probably we need to be more honest with other women and admit that it can grind you down.”

“Iggy can be quite stroppy. I think he gets that from me!”

Son Iggy has turned two and is a bright, happy boy who brings Heather and her husband, Barry Soper, so much joy. Much as they adore him, she’s grateful to have plenty of support and says family has become increasingly important.

When we had Iggy, we were living in Wellington and Mum told me that we were making a mistake – we should be around family,” recalls Heather. “At the time, we didn’t really have much of a choice. Then we moved up to Auckland and suddenly it was a thousand times easier. Iggy loves his cousins and gets so excited when he sees them. And I love having Mum around, just seeing her every week and going for a walk. It’s really important.”

Friday morning is their regular time for a catch-up. Elizabeth drives into town from her home in Pukekohe, and the pair head off for some exercise and a good, long chat.

“The great thing about family is they accept you for who you are,” says Heather. “You don’t have to worry whether they like you or not, because they don’t get a choice! They’re used to you and they love you… So it’s nice to have a lot more people in my life that I can be completely relaxed around.”

Her family has always been close, heading away together every year for summer holidays to the Coromandel. And Iggy is particularly attached to Elizabeth, or Oumie as he calls her, which is a play on the Afrikaans word for grandmother, ouma.

Sharing the joy! Having mum Elizabeth so close has been a game-changer for Heather.

Elizabeth moved to New Zealand from South Africa when Heather and her two younger brothers were children. A few years later, her marriage ended and she juggled raising her kids with a highly successful career as a real estate agent.

Heather credits her mum with passing on a strong work ethic, along with characteristics like determination and competitiveness, which have served her well in her own career.

“Mum was always loving but firm,” recalls Heather. “If I stuffed up, all it took was a look and I’d know I was in trouble. The same thing happens now with Iggy. If he’s acting up, I’ll look at him and he’ll stop because the difference between a happy mummy and a not-happy mummy is quite stark. I watched Mum with my brother Johnny at his age and now I just do what she did.”

Looking after such a high-energy little boy can be physically as well as mentally challenging, as both his mum and his oumie have discovered.

“When we’re out, if he’s a little bit ahead and starts running, I’ve got to run really fast to catch up,” says Elizabeth.

Heather’s learning from the best. “I just do what she did.”

“He’s a bolter,” agrees Heather. “I think he’s going to be a sprinter.”

Now that he has reached the talking stage, Iggy brims with laughter and chat. He also demonstrates determination and possesses a clear sense of his own mind.

“He can be quite stroppy,” admits Heather. “I think he gets that from me.”

Not that she is quite so stroppy nowadays. Motherhood has mellowed Heather, making her less judgemental. She now appreciates that you can never know what’s going on in other people’s lives.

“But I’m not going to lie – it’s also made me more boring,” she says. “I went out with my girlfriends the other day and I had no chat, nothing at all to say, partly because I was exhausted, which is your constant state when you’ve got a toddler, but also because my whole life is this little guy.

“I’m not unhappy about that because I love him. But while I might find it super-exciting that he’s done a wee in his potty, nobody else is interested. So, motherhood has made me more tolerant but less fun to be around.”

She may have less sparkling conversation, but Heather is starting to edge back towards having a social life. She and Barry are enjoying the occasional dinner out together, and recently she’s been out to watch the Warriors.

The little “bolter” keeps his oumie on her toes!

Barry, who is Newstalk ZB’s senior political correspondent, has five adult children. Heather says he’s a very loving, hands-on father to Iggy, heading out for a long walk with him every morning, and is always happy to take care of the dinner-and-bedtime routine if she needs time to herself.

“He sent me a message yesterday out of the blue saying how much he loves having a baby in his life and how lovely Iggy is,” she says fondly.

Last year, Barry’s life was saved by surgery after a blockage was found near his heart. It was a shocking and tough time for the family, but Heather is happy to report that he’s doing well.

She says, “It’s been a slow progression, just because of how bad he was – he nearly died. But he’s feeling much more confident now and can push Iggy up the hill without a problem.”

A second child is on Heather’s radar, but she’s not taking anything for granted.

“I’d like Iggy to have a sibling. I don’t want him to be a little prince, but falling pregnant at my age isn’t always a given, so we’ll have to see what happens.”

This year, she will be turning 40, however, the milestone isn’t something Heather has had much time to dwell on.

“I always imagined that in my thirties I’d start to become the person I wanted to be and be more confident in myself, and that has happened as I expected,” she says. “But I’m not sure what to expect in my forties.”

Heather would love Iggy to have a sibling. “I don’t want him to be a little prince.”

There are certainly no plans for a birthday party. Heather is far more excited these days by the idea of a relaxing massage.

“I was talking about this on the radio the other day. I don’t take drugs, I take vitamins. My drink of choice is orange juice. It’s just a phase, it’s what my life is right now and it’s better to enjoy it rather than resent it.”

Elizabeth takes pride in everything Heather has achieved. From the prizes she won as a schoolgirl to her dedication in her career and her management as a parent.

“She’s good at whatever she does, so nothing has surprised me too much,” she says.

They’re now looking forward to seeing what sort of person Iggy is going to grow into.

“Someone said to me that every single stage they go through is better than the last, and I think it’s true,” says Heather. “Iggy was drinking his milk today out of my jug at the table and I was laughing at him so much that he said, ‘More milk.’ He loves positive attention and making me laugh.”

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