Enduring male friendships – ones that share deep, emotional moments and a seemingly infinite capacity for mocking each other – aren’t often talked about.
Unless you’re broadcasters Mike McRoberts and Ryan Bridge, whose loyalty to each other is right up there with the affinity of other famous TV “bromances” like Kirk and Spock from Star Trek or Joey and Chandler from Friends.
Despite a 22-year age gap and never working together onscreen, when it came time for Mike to choose a best man at his wedding to partner Heidi Ettema last month, it “wasn’t a hard decision” to pick Ryan.
“From the moment we started hanging out socially six years ago – which was a pretty pivotal time in our lives when we were both at a crossroads personally – we became best friends,” reveals the Newshub Live at 6pm anchor.
“One thing I said in my wedding speech was that Ryan’s friendship is something I’ll always treasure.
“Because at that time when I was feeling pretty low, he made me laugh, he made me have fun again and love again, and I don’t think I would have been in a position to have met Heidi or be where I am today if I didn’t have that friendship.”
“Of course, I was bawling my eyes out when he said that,” chimes in Ryan. “And likewise, when we’d just met, I was coming out of a relationship and didn’t have any strong male friends in Auckland.
“We both enjoyed talking about media and politics – rugby, not so much – over a drink and it’s been a really awesome bond that we’ve both relied on a lot over the past few years.
“Plus, I’ve always wanted to do some volunteer work, so I feel like I’m doing my bit for Age Concern when I hang out with Mike.” (This makes the latter laugh uproariously.)
On a sunny Saturday, when the Weekly meets the pair at a restaurant on Auckland’s Westhaven Marina, Ryan, 35, and Mike, 57, are animated as they reflect on their camaraderie and the challenges in the lead-up to the wedding.
At the eleventh hour, the ceremony and reception took place at The Glasshouse in Morningside after the couple’s original venue was cut off due to the Auckland floods. During the week prior, Mike and music publicist Heidi, 37, also had no power or water at their West Auckland home.
“But on the big day, everything came together, and me and my other equally important groomsmen [son Ben and brothers Kerry and Jayson] all got ready at Ryan’s place, which was cool.”
It was the first time Ryan had ever been asked to be involved in a wedding party and, feeling honoured, the former political journalist took his duties seriously.
“The night before the wedding, Mike came and stayed at my place,” recalls Ryan. “Our colleague [Newshub’s entertainment editor] Kate Rodger grabbed my arm that day at work and through gritted teeth said, ‘Do not lead him astray tonight.'”
“Yeah, I was under strict instructions not to drink any alcohol,” says Mike. “I must have had a dozen text messages that night from friends asking, ‘Are you in bed yet?'”
Nor was he kept awake worrying about what stories the cheeky AM presenter might divulge in his best- man speech.
“I actually made a point of not sharing anything embarrassing,” tells Ryan. “There was nothing scandalous in there. I wanted it to be as much about Heidi as it was about Mike, because she’s my friend as well.”
Smiles Mike, “Ryan was bizarrely nervous about MCing, but he was amazing. It was a wonderful speech and just such a great day.
“The only little bit of concern I had was about Ryan’s penchant for losing things, so I made sure to only give him the wedding rings 10 minutes before the ceremony.”
Mike, who was previously married to journalist Paula Penfold for 20 years, first met Heidi back in 2017. They were introduced by mutual friends at a gig. Ryan also met his partner (who prefers to remain private) around the same time and the four quickly became firm friends.
“I got to know my partner at Mike’s house first actually,” says Ryan. “He knew a friend of ours, so he would come over if there was a pot-luck dinner. Now the four of us do weekends away and love each other’s company. It’s very interchangeable in that sense.”
As well as sharing a strong passion for their careers, the affable duo can’t help but heap doses of good-natured ribbing on each other. Nothing is off limits for comic fodder.
When discussing how Mike overcame having a stutter from the age of 11 to 16 – which he says instilled in him a humility that’s helped when covering the biggest news stories – Ryan teases, “Yeah, can you imagine how big his ego would be now if he hadn’t had that stutter!”
This causes Mike to laugh so hard, it brings on a coughing fit.
“Ooh, I hope the stutter doesn’t kick in again after 40 years,” quips Ryan with mock concern. “You’ve got to take the mickey out of each other. For me, it’s how I show affection.
“Well, you must really, really like me!” concedes Mike.
But then their banter quickly swings from sarcasm to a more serious note of how they appreciate each other’s support at work.
Although they’re in different roles at different ends of the day, the pressures of live television are the same.
When both broadcasters were covering the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019, Ryan remembers Mike giving him good advice.
“He told me, ‘Take care of yourself because you’ll really feel this in two weeks.’ Obviously, at the time, you’re running on adrenaline, but weeks afterwards, I was still processing it and talking about it in terms of trauma,” explains Ryan, who also recently covered the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle in Hawke’s Bay.
Adds Mike, “Those stories and the impact they have on you do hang around a while.
“Normally, I would have loved to have been in the field reporting on it too, especially as I have whakapapa back in Wairoa, which was hugely affected. However, with my te reo study, I’m studio-bound this year.
“There’s a term in Māori called ahi kā, which translates to keeping the home fires burning. So that’s what I’m doing. My goal is to be fluent in te reo Māori by the end of this year and I’m looking forward to what I can do with that in my role or maybe other roles in the future.”
Mike, who is of Ngāti Kahungunu descent, has a Pākehā mother and Māori father. Last year, he turned his cultural journey into a documentary called Kia Ora, Good Evening. Mike revealed he used to feel shame and guilt because he was a Māori who didn’t know his language.
When he first started reading the 6pm news, he experienced anxiety about even saying “kia ora” in case he got it wrong.
“Before the documentary aired on television, we had a private screening,” shares the father-of-two. “Ryan and his partner, and Kate Rodger, came along and afterwards we stood bawling our eyes out.”
His “amazing” adult kids, Ben, 22 and Maia, 20, also appeared in the documentary.
“One of the things I’m so proud of Mike for,” mentions Ryan, “is despite feeling whakamā [ashamed] about it, he’s always the consummate professional, so you wouldn’t know that inside he’s battling with anxiety using te reo.
“I also found it really relatable because I struggled badly with something to do with my identity – being gay – for so many years. I don’t want to equate culture with sexuality, but there is a common struggle we both understand.”
When Ryan was accidentally outed live on air, Mike remembers being in Japan covering the 2019 Rugby World Cup. There were subsequently a few “emergency calls” made to him overseas.
“We spent a long time on the phone,” says Mike. “I felt really upset for Ryan, knowing how upset he was, but then thrilled that the public’s reaction turned out to be a positive one.”
Unafraid to show their emotions, the close duo agree that being vulnerable through life’s hard times and having open-hearted exchanges has cemented their special bond.
“Not long after we met, we had a really close friend at Three who took her own life,” tells Ryan. “I can remember one night in particular we were both quite emotional because it was a really tough time and it was nice to have a friend, a whiskey and someone to talk to about it.”
Mike continues. “It was then, when we both hosted her wake, that I realised how important mine and Ryan’s friendship was. We don’t hear enough about guys’ friendships. And it’s so important. I certainly don’t take ours for granted. We’ll always have each other’s backs.”
In the lead-up to his wedding, was Mike a groomzilla?
Ryan: No, he wasn’t. He just said, “Wear a black suit and a white shirt.” I didn’t tell him but I stole his black newsreading tie from the wardrobe room. Our racks are next to each other – mine is closer to the door because I’m more important. But I don’t have ties because I don’t wear them on AM.
Has anything ever threatened your friendship?
Mike: Well, the bromance very nearly came to an end when Ryan discovered that I’d become a vegan three years ago.
Ryan: That’s right! I was like, “What? That’s treasonous!” But even though he’s vegan, whenever my partner and I go to Mike’s house for dinner, he cooks me a lovely beef cheek.
You’ve done a team Ironman event together – are you training for another one?
Mike: We did the whole Ironman thing, but it’s really hard to have a chat when you’re swimming or running. Our goal is to learn to sail and do a regatta, which we’ve been talking about for a year.
Ryan, if you ever get married, will you ask Mike to be your best man?
We’ll see. I’ve got options! I haven’t given it any thought, but I think there’ll be a high chance and I definitely don’t want to be paying an MC, so he can have that job.