It may surprise people to know that at the age of 46 Hilary Barry is now the oldest woman presenting the TV news in New Zealand.
As the matriarch of onscreen women, Hilary accepted a challenge made by The Australian Women’s Weekly. Will you let us photograph you without any make-up on? The answer was an immediate “yes” because it turns out Hilary likes a challenge. So, fresh from her early-morning job on the Paul Henry Show, she turned up at our studio without a skerrick of make-up on her face. “This is me,” she said, grinning. “Take it or leave it.”
And so we took it. One picture of Hilary as she wakes up in the morning untouched by make-up, and one picture of Hilary as she appears on our screens early in the morning and on Newshub at night, fully made-up.
“When I saw those pictures side by side I was amazed,” says Hilary during our interview. “You assume that make-up is going to enhance your looks, make you younger and even out your skin tone to the point where you look like a teenager again, and yet it’s almost the opposite. It’s been an incredible eye-opener for me.
“There is something real and honest about that photo, and while I’m used to seeing it, I know other people who will be picking up the magazine aren’t, so it’s sharing something quite intimate with them, which is a little nerve-wracking.
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“Hilary Barry the broadcaster wears make-up and tidy clothes, but the private side of myself wears no make-up, and kicks off her shoes at the end of the day. I don’t share that side of me with many people. Now I’ve just shared it with the whole world – dear God!” But Hilary has no regrets.
“It was a really cool thing to do. How fantastic would it be if none of us had any hang-ups about the way we look, the way we do our make-up? If I can encourage other women to say, ‘What the hell, I’m not going to wear make-up today and not worry about the way I look; I’m just going to be my authentic self,’ then I’m very happy.”
Hilary is the first to admit that make-up is not something she spends a lot of time worrying about. She grew up as a tomboy and on her recent six-week holiday with her husband Michael and sons Finn, 16, and Ned, 13, she didn’t touch make-up the whole time.
“Actually, I think I did put lipstick on once, but when you’re wearing make-up for work twice a day, it was so nice not to bother.”
Hilary spent her childhood dressed in jeans and a rugby shirt, just like her older brother.
“I had short hair as a teenager and I’d often be taken for a boy. I did play with dolls but I just never gravitated towards frilly things.”
Which was a challenge for her mother, Fay Pankhurst, who is a very stylish woman.
“Mum always wore make-up – she is a fantastic seamstress who made all her own clothes and made me dresses and pinafores. But I think I reacted to that and wanted bought clothes, and those were the jeans and rugby shirts my brother was wearing.”
Fay was the sort of woman who dressed up to go into town and was desperate for her daughter to be more of a girl.
“When I was a teenager she took me along to Kirkcaldie and Stains to get the women there to show me how to wear make-up. She had my colours done and bought me a book on make-up. She did everything right to encourage me to be a girly girl, but then I’d just slouch off and put on my jeans and rugby shirt.”
Hilary’s mother now enjoys visiting her glamorous daughter and going through her wardrobe to borrow her clothes.
“She’s 71, teeny and fit – such a great inspiration to me as I age,” says Hilary. “I think the older we get the more self-conscious we are about the way we look. I was looking down at the iPad and saw this image looking back and didn’t recognise myself. The jowls! Now I only look at my iPad when I’m lying down.”
But Hilary says she is relaxed about ageing, although she does resent being constantly bombarded with pictures and images in the media of young gorgeous, svelte models.
“Those images are unattainable for most woman,” she says. “Do I feel pressured to be young? No, because I’ve never been that person.”
And she loves it when Judy Bailey fills in for her at TV3 when she’s away.
“What a wonderful thing for women everywhere to see. She’s in her 60s and here is a professional, fantastic newsreader who is a wonderful communicator with a sparkle in her eyes, and age has absolutely nothing to do with it because she’s still got it. She’s on TV and she’s nailing it.”
Hilary says as she gets older she’s come to realise that a lot of the way women present themselves is for other women.
“I could put on a sack and the blokes in my household wouldn’t notice because they’re engaged with me, the person. You think you’re doing it for your man but you’re not because they don’t actually notice. But I’d be really worried about my girlfriends who might say I’ve let myself go and that I’ve gone feral.”
And she has found an advantage to ageing – that of finally being able to be herself. Viewers may have noticed that in recent months Hilary the class clown has emerged, posting social media updates of herself doing more and more hilarious stunts.
“That is actually who I am,” she laughs. “I’m a total goofball.”
She says she’ll also speak up and say she doesn’t agree with something on social media, or wade into an argument, simply because now she feels she can. That said, she’s not one to jump onto the latest social trends, or to let her teenage boys do so simply because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Neither of her sons has a cellphone, which Hilary admits is not a popular decision in the family. And while they are welcome to go online, they must do it on the shared family laptop, which lives on the bench in the kitchen so that their parents know what they are accessing.
“It is unusual, but I say to them, ‘What’s the point of a 21st speech if you haven’t got some material to throw at your parents?’
“I’m worried about kids’ exposure to communication – I don’t know how this is going to work out. For kids growing up now we don’t know what the effects are going to be in 10 years time.
“You go out to dinner and see whole families on their devices – when do they learn to make conversation? And driving home I see people standing at busy street corners waiting at the lights and 99 per cent of them are standing there looking down at their devices.”
At work, Hilary says she was encouraged to go on social media and be a bit more conversational, rather than just being a face reading the news.
“At 46 I’m comfortable with that because confidence has come with age, and with all the years of experience behind me I just don’t care,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve enjoyed the golden years of broadcasting and now it’s changing. And, you know, they didn’t hire me for my looks – they hired me because I had a sparkle in my eyes, and now that’s developed into a full-on goofball!”
Hilary says although going six weeks without make-up was one thing, she does still get her hair dyed. However, she would consider going back to her natural brown colour if she was no longer appearing on television. And she does shave her legs and underarms.
Would she consider taking up another challenge – of not shaving her underarms?
“Well, some quite high-profile people have been letting it all go under there, but I’m not about to do that anytime – that would be a step too far right now, but secretly I’d love to do it.”
Would she consider not shaving her legs, maybe just for winter? Hilary pauses for thought.
“I would like to do it, that is the way we are built and I do live in a very hairy house.” She pauses again.“You’re on,” she says with a triumphant smile. “I’d better go and warn Michael.”
Words: Wendyl Nissen
Watch: Hilary Barry can't stop laughing while reading the news
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