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Kate Hawkesby’s sister act

There's not much Kate Hawkesby won't do for her sister Jessica.
Kate Hawkesby

The two have always been close, so when Jessica was in need of some sisterly support as she launched a new career in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, Kate didn’t hesitate to hop on a plane and head south.

“I just wanted to see that she was okay and give her a big hug,” says Newstalk ZB broadcaster Kate (37). “We’re like that in our family.”

Jessica (34) and her French husband Nick Coutant moved to Christchurch from Auckland just four days after the earthquake to take over the franchises of two ocDonald’s restaurants.

Jessica knew moving to a new city with small children – she has a daughter Alice (4) and two-year-old son, Lucas – to run two demanding businesses would be stressful, but hadn’t bargained on also having to deal with the consequences of a major natural disaster.

There new home was damaged but luckily the two restaurants – one in Sydenham and the other in the city centre – escaped unscathed. But she and Nick have still had many sleepless nights.

“Now we’re just going with the flow, like everybody else in Christchurch. The spirit of the people here is amazing.”

Kate says she’s immensely proud of the way her little sister has coped with the trying situation.

“Not only has she taken on a huge new challenge with a young family, but she’s doing it under some pretty difficult circumstances. We all think she’s amazing.”

Unfortunately, Kate and Jessica’s parents, former newsreader John Hawkesby and his wife Joyce, haven’t been on-hand to help their youngest child (they also have a son, Duncan) with her big move south. They’re on a two-month tour of wine regions in France and Italy and have “missed all the excitement”.

But they’re likely to be heading to the mainland as soon as possible to spend time with Jessica and her family, who only found out they’d be moving to Christchurch in August.

Kate says her brief trip to the Garden City last week was a real eye-opener.

“You go through places where it’s picture perfect and then suddenly you’re in an area that looks like it has been hit by a bomb. A lot of it has been cleaned up but it’s still tragic to see.

“But people everywhere are just getting on with it, and life is going back to normal. That’s what has really impressed me – the tenacity of the people.”

Kate will be heading back to Christchurch with her fiancé Mike Hosking and their offspring in the summer holiday to catch up with Jessica and her family. Kate’s three-year-old daughter oarley is great friends with her cousin Alice, and the pair were delighted to catch up last week.

Kate – who’s also mum to Jackson (11) and Joshua (9), while Mike has nine-year-old twins Ruby and Bella – and Marley enjoyed lunch at one of Jessica’s restaurants during their trip. But Jessica promises that when her big sister returns in summer, she’ll be putting her and Mike to work.

“I think I might have to put Mike on McCafé making coffees – he’d be a good barista,” laughs Jessica. “And Katie’s pretty quick and organised – she’d be good on the drive-thru.”

Kate agrees that taking orders and dispensing meals would be a better option for her than flipping burgers.

“I’m not allowed near the barbecue so I don’t get a lot of practice,” she admits. “Mike is in charge of it.”

Broadcaster Mike (45) grew up in Christchurch and has a deep fondness for the city. His mum Anne lives there and he was understandably worried about her when he heard about the earthquake.

“Fortunately she was fine – just a little bit shaken around, like everyone else was,” says Kate. “Then she went

off and did some work for Civil Defence.”

Bizarrely, Kate and Mike heard about the quake from a friend in the United States, who texted the couple early in the morning to see if they were okay.

“When they said they’d heard there had been a big earthquake, we thought they must have got it wrong. I was in bed, looking at the Herald website on the BlackBerry, and there it was. We hit the phones straight away.”

Meanwhile, Jessica and Nick had been up early seeing to Alice and Lucas that Saturday morning in September. Nick got on the internet and when he said there had been an earthquake in Christchurch, Jessica thought he was joking. “I said, ‘oh, ha ha’. And then we saw the photos.”

They’d signed an agreement on a rental house in the city just the day before. “As it turned out, that was lucky because after Saturday it became very difficult to find a good rental property.” The house lost its chimney and the front wall fell down but thankfully is still habitable.

Jessica says they never contemplated pulling the plug on the move down south. A former sales and marketing executive for cosmetics company L’oréal, she wanted to be her own boss and began intensive training to become a McDonald’s franchisee a year ago.

She and Nick, who has a background in finance, were thrilled to be offered two restaurants in a major city and when they visited the Garden City just a few weeks ago they instantly fell in love with it.

“I was so excited, I was already picturing my children growing up here, so I thought we would come down and see what happened.”

The warm welcome the family has received has made the transition easier.

“People are so friendly,” enthuses Jessica. “Our neighbours have come over with cupcakes, and other McDonald’s franchisees have been so supportive.

It has made us realise that we have definitely made the right decision.”

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