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The evolution of Indira Stewart

How the beloved Breakfast star learnt to embrace her culture

When Breakfast host Indira Stewart started out in broadcasting, she tried everything she could to be more like the people she’d seen on TV growing up. That meant trying to tone down her Tongan accent and straightening her “beautiful island curls” to conform to society’s Western beauty standards.

Two years on, however, and firmly ensconced as a newsreader on TVNZ 1’s morning show, the 37-year-old mum-of-four is doing things differently. Her hair straighteners have been binned and Tongan-born Indira, who is also of Fijian heritage, is determined to show young brown girls that they too can make it in mainstream media.

“I started to feel like I was straightening my culture out,” she says, speaking to us on a wet, wintry Auckland day. “But it took a while to gain my confidence and realise just how important it is to be proud of who I am – and to embrace it. When I was growing up, there was no one who looked like me on TV, so I love the idea that young brown girls can turn on their screens in the morning and see that it’s possible.”

Indira is talking to us today by video call in her car. She’s parked outside the home she shares with her husband Hayden Stewart and their blended brood of children, Jedeiah, 14, Iszak, 13, Caysha, 13, and Noomi, five, waiting for a break in the rain to make a run for the front door.

“It was raining when I got up at 3am and it’s still raining!” she laughs.

Getting married to Hayden in 2016.

It’s been a big few weeks for Indira and her Breakfast colleagues after the show hit the headlines over the sudden departure of host Kamahl Santamaria. But today she’s feeling positive that the team is moving forward, determinedly focusing on the show’s 25-year anniversary this week.

“It’s definitely been a tricky time,” she says, choosing her words carefully. “We work so hard to put out three hours of live television every day. So much goes into it and we all love what we do, so for the show to be under a shadow like that was hard. But we’re OK! We’re more resilient and closer as a team now.”

Indira loves her job, but there’s no doubt the hours are gruelling. Her alarm goes off at 3am and she sneaks out of the house long before anyone else wakes up. She’s got used to the “constant tiredness”, but Indira admits that as a night owl, she needs to get better at early nights.

“I don’t want to miss out on bedtime cuddles with my kids, so I stay up later than I should,” she says. “But I really don’t mind the hours too much because Breakfast is such a fun show to work on. It’s fast-paced and intense, and that mix between serious news and entertainment really keeps me on my feet.”

Indira came to the role two years ago from RNZ. Making the move to TV was daunting at first, but she credits former Breakfast host and broadcasting legend John Campbell as being an important mentor. His departure four months ago hit the team hard, but he’s still a regular visitor to the studio.

Indira laughs, “He’ll pop his head in and say, ‘Love you, motherf**kers!’ He’s so supportive. We know he’s always in our corner.”

Getting the Breakfast buzz with (from left) Jenny-May Clarkson, John and Matty McLean.

Indira is proud of her career, but it’s motherhood that comes first. The talented singer – who first graced screens 15 years ago on NZ Idol – had her children Jedeiah and Iszak in her early twenties, spending the first few years of their lives as a solo mum.

After meeting her now-husband, head chef Hayden, in 2014, together they welcomed little Noomi to the fold three years later.

“It’s been such a cool journey – she’s sort of seen as everyone’s child,” says Indira. “She’s the queen of the house, and the teenagers are at her beck and call. I love being a mum. It’s definitely the best part of my life. We might have another baby one day. Who knows?!”

Indira was the runner-up in the 2006 season of NZ Idol.

Indira is a woman with many strings to her bow – accomplished musician, devoted mum, broadcaster and now also a part-time law student. It’s a lot to take on, but Indira is constantly inspired to strive by her own parents’ sacrifices.

“Migrant parents give up so much for their children’s futures and I’m absolutely pushed by that knowledge,” she says. “You never want to take opportunities for granted.”

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