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Heather du Plessis-Allan’s personal source of strength

Nobody’s more delighted to have her back home than her Mum.

Heather du Plessis-Allan is not the kind of person who can sit still for very long.

The political reporter-turned-TV presenter strongly believes in hard work and the power of getting stuck in and just doing things. And you only need spend a short time at her family home in Auckland’s Pukekohe to see exactly where the Story host gets it from.

When the Weekly arrives at the home of Heather’s mother, Elizabeth, things are already going full steam ahead.

It’s an orderly, tidy home with unmistakable South African touches – Elizabeth’s home country – including a full zebra skin stretched across the living room floor.

But, as she now considers herself half-Kiwi, there’s also a giant portrait of All Black Christian Cullen on one wall, which Elizabeth’s husband picked up at a charity auction, swiftly put together by a speed-artist in a matter of minutes.

“It’s hideous, though, right?” says Heather, laughing.

She then confesses that owning polarising paintings of Kiwis is perhaps a family trait – she has an unusual portrait of Judith Collins hanging in her own living room. And she says that most people who lay eyes on it describe it as “scary”.

“My husband Barry [Soper] isn’t a fan of it either, but I love it – I think it’s hysterical. Although it is kind of strange that I know the woman and she’s hanging in my lounge!”

It’s been a busy 12 months for Heather. Last year, she took on a new role on TV3, hosting the much-anticipated 7pm current affairs show Story.

It meant not only making a shift from the rival network, but a complete physical move for Heather (31), who had previously been working in Wellington where she lived with Barry (63), a Newstalk ZB political reporter.

Renting a small studio in Mt Eden, she commuted between the two cities, spending three nights a week in Auckland before hightailing it to the airport to get home on the last flight at 8.30pm each Friday – just one hour after she came off air.

“There were definitely some close calls!” she laughs.

Now, Barry is spending more time in Auckland in the inner-city home the pair recently bought, and Heather is only returning to Wellington on the odd occasion. And nobody’s more thrilled to have her closer than her mother.

“It’s beautiful having her back here in Auckland,” Elizabeth smiles. “I’m so glad we’re all in the same place again, finally!”

The Pukekohe home is where Heather grew up. She was 12 years old when her family, including her two younger brothers, Ian (now 29) and John (24), moved across the world to nearby Tuakau.

When Elizabeth’s marriage ended a few years later, she opted not to return to South Africa – despite no longer having a home nor a support system here – and through her own grit and determination, got back on her feet.

She quickly found a job in real estate and eventually bought the treasured Pukekohe home Heather loves. Elizabeth, who works for Barfoot & Thompson, proudly declares she’s been their number-one agent in the area for 11 years.

“I think that’s the best thing I’ve learnt from my mum,” tells Heather. “I grew up knowing that if you work hard, nothing can stand in your way. Mum’s had the strangest things happen and some unfortunate circumstances, but she’s ended up successful because she’s found a way around those obstacles and has worked very, very hard.

“You showed me, Mum,” she says, turning to her mother. “I knew that if I studied hard and worked hard, I could do anything.”

Turning back she adds, “Rather than her telling me I could do it, she showed me, which is so much more powerful.”

Elizabeth nods, smiling. “I wanted her to believe she could do whatever she wanted if she set her mind to it. My goal was for my children to be well educated and well-equipped for life.” Which gets a mock gasp from Heather. “But then Mum made us pay our own way through university!”

“Yes,” says Elizabeth. “As you should. It’s a privilege to be somewhere where you have access to education and student loans and these things. If everything is too laid out for you, it becomes too easy!” The pair like to stir up and challenge each other on occasion, but are very, very close, and check in with each other often.

With Duncan Garner, her Story co-host.

For Heather, one of the most difficult phone conversations the pair has had was when her mother called to ask what was happening after a story she did led to her being investigated by the police.

For months, the investigation was hanging over her, after she looked into a flaw in the system for purchasing guns by mail order. The police have since decided they won’t be pressing charges.

“I really respect the law and I know my mum really does too, so that knowledge that I was under investigation was very difficult,” Heather tells. “And when my mum called to ask what was going on, that was difficult. I really didn’t like that it was a situation that worried her.”

But her mother had her back and says, like always, she just wanted to talk through the conundrum with her daughter.

“I wanted to call to make sure she was all right and to encourage her. I can sense her thought patterns and the way she thinks things through, so I like to hear those. She’s very rational and logical – I know her job involves investigating things, and she’s very good at it, so I like to encourage her.”

“Thanks, Mum,” says Heather. “That’s one of the things that is so great about her – when she calls me to say, ‘Heather, was that a good idea?’ she listens, lets me explain my reasons and says, ‘Okay, I see where you’re coming from.’ She trusts my judgment and that’s something I really appreciate.”

Heather and her husband Barry Soper, a political reporter for Newstalk ZB, are happy to be spending more time in the same city.

And now, they both love that these conversations can take place over a meal more often, rather than being restricted to phone calls.

“We are the kind of family who are in each other’s pockets,” admits Heather, which has made her more permanent move blissful.

“Mum, of course, helped us buy the house in Auckland – she was conducting all sorts of negotiations I didn’t even know about. That first night Barry had to go back to Wellington, so Johnny, Mum and her husband came over with some furniture and take-out, and I realised how nice it really was to be back with my family.”

As if on cue, her thought process is interrupted when her nearly three-year-old nephew jumps up to ask for help to put together a puzzle. Her brother Ian’s son is staying with Elizabeth as just the night before, his family welcomed their second child.

“That’s another reason it’s so great being here. I got to meet the baby within hours – I don’t think I met this little guy for weeks!” Heather says.

Elizabeth says she loves looking after her grandchild on occasion, and jokes that she and Barry have already decided they’ll be the ones who look after Heather and Barry’s children, while Heather will work. Still playing with her nephew, Heather says having kids is a topic that comes up a lot.

She even wrote a newspaper column about it once, declaring that her New Year’s resolution was to not have children.

It’s not that she doesn’t want a family of her own, it’s just that it becomes a frequent topic of discussion, particularly as there is a fairly significant age gap between Heather and her husband of six years.

“But then I do the same thing myself,” she exclaims. “I ask people, ‘But when are you going to have babies?’ Or a friend tells me she’s never going to have children and I go, ‘What?!’ and then I hear myself and am horrified!”

She says she made a deal with herself about a year ago that when she’s ready to have babies, she will – she’s just not there yet.

“I actually had a dream that I had a baby, but I had to give it to my brother because I wasn’t ready yet. My dream spoke to me! I want to be a really good mum and I’m not ready for that yet.

“There are only two people for whom it matters when we actually have a baby – my husband and I – and I think it’s just about making sure we’re both in the right place for it. I’d like them one day, though.”

And with that, it’s time to go – Heather’s got a story to work on and more errands to run before she gets into the office.

But you get the feeling that whatever is on Heather’s plate – or whatever she wants to be on it – she’ll easily achieve it.

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