It turns out there’s a secret to getting babies to laugh on cue for a photo shoot.
Breakfast host Ali Pugh is standing in front of our camera with her five-month-old daughter Thea on her hip and both girls are laughing their heads off. On the other side of the lens, Ali’s fiancé Jo Barus is waving his arms in the air and bouncing up and down as he belts out “The Grand Old Duke of York”, before transitioning into an upbeat tune called the “Hot Dog Dance”.
“It’s from The Wiggles,” says Jo, 40, his hands on his knees as he tries to catch his breath.
“No, it’s not,” Ali calls out in between Thea’s delighted squeals. “It’s the song that plays at the end of The Mickey Mouse Club. You’re thinking of ‘Toot Toot Chugga Chugga Big Red Car’.” Shaking her head as she shifts Thea to her other hip, 29-year-old Ali smiles and adds, “This is our life now!” But the stunning presenter admits she wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the five months since she’s become a mum, aside from developing a very impressive repertoire of baby tunes – Ali’s favourites are the classics from her childhood idol Suzy Cato – her world has been turned completely upside down by her bouncy, bonny bub.
“She’s just awesome,” Ali says, flashing her trademark grin. “I’m obsessed with her. I actually can’t tear myself away from her. Half the time, when we’re in the car and Jo’s driving, I’ll sit in the back seat just so I can look at her. It drives Jo nuts – he wants me to sit in the front like a normal person so it doesn’t look like he’s a taxi driver.”
Bubble of love
So besotted is the proud mum, Ali has even delayed her return to the Breakfast couch because there’s no way she can be parted from her daughter just yet. “When I said I would be away for six months, I had no idea what being a mum would be like or what to expect,” she explains. “But as it turns out, I totally adore motherhood and the closer Thea got to the six-month stage, the more overwhelming it all seemed. At that point, she’ll be starting solids, we’d have to relocate from Christchurch back to Auckland, she’d have to sleep through the night and learn how to take a bottle – and I’d be starting work again!
“So all of those things together just seemed a little too much for us. That’s why I thought I’d buy myself a little more time, so those things aren’t all happening at once.”
Going back to work, which Ali now has planned for July, will be a massive adjustment for the mum, who’s relished the time she’s spent away from the nation’s TV screens getting to know her precious wee girl. “It’s definitely the right decision,” she nods. “I feel this huge sense of relief at being able to spend more time with her. And when I do go back on the show, Jo is going to be a stay-at-home dad, which will be lovely.”
It’s not hard to see why both parents are so enamoured of Thea. The almost-six-month-old giggles, laughs and, in the spitting image of her mum, smiles her way through her photo shoot, before finally falling asleep in Jo’s arms as the last shots are taken.
“She’s right where she should be,” Ali tells us. “We went to visit the Plunket nurse the other week and Thea’s exactly in the 50th percentile for all of her measurements. So, the nurse says to me, ‘Oh, she’s Little Miss Average!’ I said, ‘Ah, I think you’ll find she’s Little Miss Perfect!’
“She’s developing a personality now – she’s really smiley. She loves music, just like her dad, so she’s always laughing when we’re singing her songs, though she is quite particular. She doesn’t care for ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ or anything like that, but when the ‘Duke of York’ song is sung to her, it’s party time. She’s great to sing to, though – she’s a very captive audience of one!”
And whenever Ali feels a pang of longing for her former baby-free life, in between taking her daughter to music group or to the local pool for a swim, she simply turns on the telly. “Because I still watch the show, I feel like it hasn’t disappeared out of my life!
I’ll switch it on, and there’s Nadine [Chalmers-Ross], Rawdon [Christie] and Sam [Wallace], and it’s all still there. I just happen not to be in the studio – I’m sitting on the couch at home in my track pants, feeding my baby!”
See more gorgeous photos of Ali and Thea here