Celebrity News

Judy Bailey: ‘I am so much happier out of the limelight’

The 'Mother of the Nation' opens up about being shy and taking time for family.

Currently living at Judy Bailey’s four-bedroom Auckland villa are four adults, two children, a baby and three dogs.

When her son-in-law Sam began renovating the house he shares with Judy’s daughter Gemma, Judy understood the disruption they and their three children would be facing – her own husband, Chris, had done the same when Gemma was a baby.

“It was the wettest winter on record and we had holes in the ceiling of every room!” she says, recalling the chaos with a laugh.

So Judy came to the rescue and invited the young family to live with them while the rebuild was being done.

This good nature is getting her through the disorder that has descended on her home. The newly covered lounge suite is wearing peanut butter “and God knows what”; five-year-old Mila has a mattress on the floor in Judy and Chris’ bedroom; and two-year-old Macy has a bedroom to herself but inevitably ends up in her parents’ bed, where four-month-old Billie sleeps in a bassinet beside them.

As a result, Judy’s days have been filled with washing and cooking, playing with Mila and Macy and cuddling her “scrumptious” youngest granddaughter – and she says she couldn’t be happier.

It’s been 11 years since Judy left our television screens, but her voice is like that of a family member, her familiar tones locked deep in the subconscious from years of bringing the day’s news into living rooms around the country.

While still lauded as a celebrity figurehead by New Zealanders and “the mother of the nation”, Judy says she is actually much happier behind the scenes, being a mum of three and grandmother of six in her own family.

“I’m quite shy,” she says, an admission that might surprise many. “You’ll find that in lots of performers, because we can assume a persona in our work,” she explains.

“I am so much happier out of the limelight.”

But she says news is in her veins, and every now and then she gets an itch to be part of it.

“When the big stories hit, like John Key resigning and Donald Trump being elected, I do feel the need to be in there, knowing what’s going on. I don’t miss the day-to-day stuff though. I think it has changed enormously and it must be even more relentless now with social media,” she says, confessing she is also a bit of a social media phobe.

“I am on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn – but I must be the least linked in person on there!”

Judy says she is in her element being ensconced in family life, working for her charities of choice and writing for The Australian Women’s Weekly, and her New Year resolutions for 2017 reflect this.

Her year will began surrounded by family in her bach in Flaxmill, where the “kids” still jockey for the best bedrooms.

“They all love it there. Chris and I ended up in the tent last year because we thought we might get a bit of a sleep-in, but no, they came down the lawn – you could hear them coming, the pitter patter of tiny feet in the morning,” she says, grinning and tapping the table.

Some nights there were 20 around the table and they have an annual long Italian lunch. When they’re all together, they vow to do those big family dinners more often, but it’s a promise that inevitably gets broken in the busy year ahead.

This year, however, Judy plans to keep that resolution. Family is her number one priority – both in the immediate sense and in a broader capacity in her charity work. As a trustee of the Brainwave Trust she is passionate about the importance of nurture in a child’s early development, and she wants young families to be better supported so they can provide that. In 2017 she would like to see the government approve paid parental leave for at least six months – ideally a year.

“I know it is expensive,” she says. “But can we afford not to,” she adds, more statement than question.

“The social budget is much more productive if it is spent in the early years. Then you avoid a whole bunch of spending on social welfare, justice, policing, health and mental health later on.”

Judy and Chris, who is the general manager of South Pacific Pictures and currently producing 800 Words, may be busy with their own projects but are passionate about finding time to support their children in raising their families.

They have been married for 46 years and, as well as Gemma’s family, there is son James and his wife Deirdre, who have Harry, 10; and son Sam, who is married to Maya and they have two children, Sadie, six, and Hudson, three.

Sam and Maya both work in the film industry, and when they are in the midst of filming, Judy and Chris are regulars in Sadie and Hudson’s lives.

“We make an effort to go up to their place and clock in with the kids and give them family cuddles when Sam is away and Maya is working late.”

This year she wants to spend even more time with her six grandchildren.

“I think it is really important to give young parents a break because it is so hard.

“I am a much better grandparent than I was a parent, but it is easier to be, because you are not trying to peel the spuds, think about work, clean the house and feed the baby all at the same time – you can just focus on the child.”

She feels she has now developed an enhanced relationship with her children.

“I think as they get older they understand you a lot better than they did when they were kids, and certainly when they have their own kids they understand why you were so frazzled from time to time!”

This year will see Judy continue her work as a patron for the Women’s Refuge, an organisation she is passionate about.

“We need to be kinder to each other,” she says of society. “We need to care about other people in this country of ours. There are way too many families where violence is the norm. It is everybody’s business – if you think somebody may be being abused, you have to do something about it, talk to them, point them in the direction of Women’s Refuge.”

Her reasons for working with Refuge are intrinsically connected to her work at the Brainwave Trust.

“Refuge’s work is about getting women out of violent situations and keeping children safe. Often women say, ‘It’s okay, he is only hitting me, the children are fine,’ but if a child is growing up in violence and chaos, the brain will adapt to accommodate that, so you often end up with a child who is wired for fight or flight and they can either become dissociated from what is going on around them or they can become overly aggressive.”

She is ardent about getting people to look out for children in their community.

“Some children might have only one positive contact in their life and that might have been the person who smiled at them on the way to school. That shows you even a perfect stranger can make a difference.”

Politically, she wants to see more fairness.

“I would love to see a narrowing of the gap. I’ve just done a TV series called Decades in Colour for Prime and it is a snapshot into our history. The second series covers the 1940s to 1980s and when you look back at how we were living in the 50s, 60s and 70s, it was quite a simple way of life and, I don’t know whether this is just me being nostalgic for my childhood, but I wonder if we were a happier nation then.

“Sometimes I feel a bit like a dinosaur but I think the simple things are really important and the older I get the more I believe that.”

On the work front, Judy is looking forward to more travel writing. On the agenda is a trip to see the gorillas in Uganda.

“That is big on the bucket list! I have enjoyed travel writing enormously. It is my dream job really – travel and words,” she says.

“I love going off the beaten track and discovering new things and challenging myself. So they tend to be places like India, Cuba and Africa. I am drawn to these places because I travelled quite a bit with World Vision in the early days. The people are incredible. They can teach us a lot about finding joy in the simple things and about finding a sense of community.”

Part of the appeal is travelling with Chris, who she affectionately calls Bails.

“I am so lucky. He is really extraordinary,” Judy says of her husband. “He is clever and funny and he makes me laugh. We have such a great time together, we really do. He is also a crazy do-it-yourselfer and always has projects on the go. It drives me insane but it keeps him off the streets! He has very much bonded with his son-in-law over power tools,” she says, laughing.

Like many of us, Judy also wants to concentrate more on her fitness in 2017.

“I have two dogs, so I walk every day, but I love Pilates, and would like to be more consistent with it. I seize up otherwise, and I like to be able to get down on the floor and mess around with the kids.

“Sixty is the new 40 you know!” she says of being 64. “I just think it is all a state of mind really – if you are interested in the world and people around you, and if you are reading and connected, then age doesn’t matter. As long as you can be healthy, that is the greatest gift – so it’s a really good reason for exercising, eating reasonably and not drinking too much.”

But she says everything in moderation, including resolutions.

“I said to Bails on the weekend, ‘I don’t think I am going to have anything to drink this week,’ and on Monday night I said, ‘Where’s the chardonnay?’”

Words: Nicola Russell

For more from The Australian Women’s Weekly, see the February issue. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

Related stories

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.