Tracy McLean always suspected her son would become a journalist and when Matty McLean landed a job behind the scenes at TVNZ, she knew it was only a matter of time before her outgoing eldest made it onto the telly.
"From the age of 12, he said it's what he wanted to do," she recalls. "I remember he was working on the assignments desk in Wellington on his 21st. He was gorgeous! The studio was quite small and when they did live crosses to the reporter there, you could see Matty in the background – it was like he strategically placed himself so you could see him. His father, my husband Steve, did a speech at the party, saying he'd be in front of that camera in no time!"
Now, after nearly 10 years entertaining audiences on screen, Matty's mum has flown up to Auckland, from their hometown of Queenstown, to celebrate – and say goodbye for a little while, as he heads off to London for his OE.
"Luckily, she's had some experience saying goodbye," says Matty (29), who at 17 carried out what has become a family tradition – doing a year abroad as part of a Rotary exchange.
It's something Tracy (53) started when she spent a year in South Africa on the exchange, and both Matty's siblings, younger brother Rob (27) and sister Mikayla (19), followed suit.
With all three children now living away from home, Tracy says she is used to saying goodbye.
"Plus, it's easier these days," she admits. "My mum was Welsh and came out here in the '50s on a teaching scholarship for three years, supposedly, but then she met my dad and stayed. She wrote to her parents each week, but it wasn't until 12 years later, when I was four years old and had two older siblings that she saw them again! Whereas now, I can Facetime or Skype the kids – I can see Matty and talk to him while he's on the tube."
In fact, she thinks they speak now more than ever, keeping in touch over numerous platforms.
"And we have a family chat that we're all on together in Facebook messenger," adds Matty.
"Oh, yes," laughs Tracy, "And I know the kids have their own one, where they take the mickey out of Mum, saying 'Oh, my God, have you seen what she's done this time?'"
"She thinks it's worse than it is!" pleads Matty. "We do have a chat for just the three of us and Mum is sometimes the topic of conversation, but in a loving way!"
It's obvious the duo are a tight unit.
"Mum and Dad are the first people I go to for advice, always," admits Matty, who says they helped him make the decision to leave the job he loves, his friends and great lifestyle, to try a new challenge abroad.
"I'd toyed with the idea for years. It just got to a point where if I didn't go now, I probably never would."
It's been a hard decision. He loves working at TVNZ – and the viewers love him too, particularly after he endeared himself by earning a reputation as the guy who said yes to everything in his first onscreen role as a quirky reporter on Breakfast.
"He's always been like that – you can ask Matty to do anything and he'll do it," laughs Tracy.
It made for a number of funny onscreen moments – but one in particular jumps out as being the most peculiar.
"I'd somehow talked about how I owned rollerblades and was quite good at rollerblading, so my producer said, 'Right, you're rollerblading on the show tomorrow!'" Matty laughs. "But then the next day, they asked me to do a story about the best New Zealand bird competition and to emulate some of the bird noises on the show. 'But I'm rollerblading today,' I said, and my producer said, 'Do the bird calls on rollerblades.'"
And so Matty found himself making bird calls while roller-blading around Wellington on live morning TV.
"After that, I thought, 'This is perhaps the most bonkers job in the entire world.'"
"I'm really going to miss seeing him on the telly," sighs Tracy, but she knows she'll see him soon enough.
She and husband Steve have been doing a fair bit of travel in recent years.
"I had Matty when I was 23, so in a way, I feel like we grew up together – and now we're enjoying doing our OE!"
Last year, the family holidayed together in Spain and the year previously, Matty joined his mother in New York to run the marathon together.
"Who knows where we'll meet next time," smiles Matty, "but I'd love to show Mum and Dad around Austria, where I did my Rotary exchange. I don't have a lot planned – no job to go to, no house to move into, but I'm very excited about what's ahead."
Words: Alice O'Connell
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