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Karen’s sunny outlook

After more than two decades on our screens, the weather presenter bids adieu

Karen Olsen is, by nature, a glass half-full kind of person. She always tries to look on the bright side and find the positives in any situation, no matter how negative it might seem. That’s a trait that has stood her in good stead over the last few weeks, since restructuring at TVNZ led to her having to make the difficult decision to leave the weather-presenting job she’s held for more than 21 years.

Changes to the weather role meant she would be doing a lot more weekend work, and Karen knew that wouldn’t work for her family. “I didn’t want to sacrifice time with my children,” says Karen, who is mum to Amelia (16) and Campbell (14). She turns to smile at her kids, who are sitting alongside her on the sofa. “They’re teenagers now and I’m not going to have them around for much longer – they’ll be off to university before I know it. Our weekends are precious.”

While putting her family first was obviously the right thing to do, deciding to leave TVNZ still brought heartache. “It came out of the blue and it wasn’t a decision I wanted to make – I love my job. I’m such a weather nerd that it was perfect for me. So it was quite sad.“Plus, I love the people I work with. We are all parents and our families have grown up together. We get on really, really well and I will miss them very much.” Karen (49), who presented her last weather bulletin on November 16, looks emotional as she says this, and pauses for a moment to compose herself. Then her positive outlook kicks in as she describes the benefits of moving on from the job that has been such a huge part of her life.

“The great thing is that I am going to get to spend so much more time with my kids, which is going to be especially good over summer. I can’t wait to hang out with them – we’re going camping, which is something we love to do as a family. And I’m going to get to go to all of their sports games!” However, their soccer games can be quite stressful, thanks to the fact that both Amelia and Campbell are goalies.

“They are both fearless – they come running out of the goal as the opposition is charging at them, and throw themselves at people’s feet. I almost can’t watch!” Her children are as excited as she is about having more time together. “We can’t wait to have Mum all to ourselves,” says Amelia. “We love hogging her.” Karen and her husband Roydon, an airline pilot, have always managed to juggle their busy schedules to make sure that one of them is around for the children, but it will be nice, in the meantime at least, to know that she can be there

all the time.

She will be looking for other work opportunities, perhaps after the summer holidays, and is confident – thanks to her inbuilt positive streak – that there is something out there that will be perfect. “This has all been quite sudden, so I haven’t really had much time to look into anything else, but I really do believe that when one door closes, another one opens. I would quite like to stay in TV, though – it’s an environment I really enjoy.” Last year, she worked on a documentary about the sinking of the Wahine as part of the Descent From Disaster series

“It was a whole new way of working for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. So I would love to do more of that sort of thing. But we will see what is out there. I could end up doing something that I would never have considered before.”

In fact, heading off in unexpected directions has been something of a theme when it comes to Karen’s career path. At school, she wanted to be a microbiologist but had a change of heart when she got to university and became a meteorologist instead. She worked for the Met Service and had some great experiences – including being the first female staff member to be stationed on remote Raoul Island recording weather patterns.

Back in New Zealand, part of her job involved supplying information to TVNZ weather presenters Jim Hickey and Penelope Barr. When she was among staff from the Met Service invited to audition for

a presenting job with TVNZ, naturally shy Karen thought she might as well give it a go. “I went along to the audition thinking, ‘There is absolutely no way I’m going to get this,’ and I was so relaxed about it that I think that’s what helped me to get a second audition. Then I got nervous! “Being on TV was not something I had ever thought about, but after spending a year on Raoul Island, I was looking for another challenge and the TV job seemed exciting. I couldn’t believe it when I got it.”

Karen started at TVNZ in April 1994, and says her first time on air was “absolutely hideous”. “I had done a couple of pre-records but you can’t practise doing live bulletins. You just have to get out there and do it. At first, it was quite traumatic for me. I found it really hard. I pity the viewers – it would have been very hard to watch me when I first started! My mum used to close her eyes when

I came on TV!” It took her about a year to feel comfortable in front of the cameras and she admits before that, she considered throwing in the towel thanks to negative feedback she initially got.

“I would pick up a TV listings magazine and there would be a letter saying, ‘Karen Olsen is terrible. Get rid of her.’ It was pretty horrible and it got to the stage where I thought, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.’

“But then, I thought, ‘No, I’m not giving up.’ I’m quite stubborn and I knew I would always regret it if I walked away. I had to work at it, especially getting over my nerves. I did things like accept invitations from organisations, such as Probus to go and speak to them. I had to force myself, but speaking in public helped me bit by bit.”

She has had to develop a thick skin over the years and accepted that people like to share their opinion when it comes to anyone in the media spotlight. “People really like to comment on all sorts of things – they’ll say, ‘That jacket doesn’t look very nice,’ or ‘What is she doing with her hair?’ I’ve learned that the best thing to do is not to take any notice of the bad or the good – just do the best job that you can do.”

Naturally shy, Karen is surprised she ended up on TV.

There have been times when things have gone wrong during live broadcasts – like the occasion when an autocue fell over so she had no words to read – but you just have to improvise, says Karen.

One major onscreen hiccup happened during a trip to Antarctica. “I was doing a live cross from outside Scott Base and was in the middle of talking to Wendy Petrie when this blizzard came barrelling around the corner. It was white-out conditions and we lost the link.

I could hear Wendy going, ‘Are you there, Karen? Karen?’ That’s what happens when you get to go to places like Antarctica. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever done and the highlight of my time at TVNZ.” Other memorable assignments have included going on manoeuvres with the air force and flying with the Red Checkers aerobatics team. And then there are the people she’s been able to meet. “I am a huge Star Trek fan and I met William Shatner when he was here recently, thanks to Wendy asking if we could have a photo with him.”

She also had an encounter with Robbie Williams when he came to New Zealand about 12 years ago and appeared on the Holmes show. He was in the studio waiting to go on while Karen was in there pre-recording a weather segment. “I thought, ‘Robbie Williams is watching me – don’t stuff up!’ Luckily, I didn’t, and when I got to talk to him afterwards, he was really nice.”

Her colleagues – past as well as present – have helped to make the job special, and Karen feels privileged to have worked with inspirational broadcasters like Jim Hickey and Judy Bailey. She was particularly close to newsreader Angela D’Audney, who mentored her in her early days in the job. “Angela was a kind and generous woman with a great sense of humour, who didn’t suffer fools. But she took me under her wing and gave me pointers on how to appear more natural on air.”

Years later, when Angela was dying of a brain tumour, Karen was among a groupof Angela’s close friends who cared for her in her final days.Karen says she will be forever grateful to TVNZ for the experiences she has had over the last 21 years, and she is not bitter at the way things have turned out.“I understand that TVNZ is a business, and it has to constantly change and update itself. It was really good while it lasted, but now it is time to move on.”And Karen can’t help herself from looking on the bright side again. “I have such good memories of my years there. It is sad that it is over, but you know what? A lot of people are dealing with some terrible things and I feel so lucky that I have a happy family, a good marriage, healthy kids and now the chance to try something else. It’s exciting to think about

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