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Mum & Me: Sally’s rock

They didn’t talk for months, but this mother-daughter bond is now unbreakable.

If you didn’t know any better, you may have thought Sally Ridge was being rude.

“Hey Granny,” she yells down the hallway from her bedroom. “What’s taking so long? Get a move on!”

In the living room, her stylish mum Sue Harrison, who has promised to look at clothes Sally is trying on, shakes her head and smiles. “Goodness me,” she says. “Who raised her?”

The light-hearted, mother-daughter banter is typical of their relationship. They’ve always teased each other and say that, in many ways, they’re more like friends than family.

Reality TV star Sally has a similar bond with her daughter Jaime, and says it’s just the way women in her family are. It’s the same with Sally’s nana – Sue’s mum Ella Coulston, who is 97.

“I think it’s great when you can be mates with your mum and your daughter,” she says.

Unfortunately, the mum-of-four has copped flak from gossip columnists for that attitude.

As we sit in the striking black-and-white living room of the former boarding house in Auckland that she’s renovating, Sally says, “I’ve been bagged for being Jaime’s best friend and I don’t understand it.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be close to your daughter? I’m close to all my kids.”

In the public eye for half her life, Sally (42) accepts that being well-known means people form opinions about her that often have no basis in truth.

“There have been times when the headlines have really got me down,” admits The Ridges star.

“It’s especially hard when it’s stuff that’s not true. Like the stories about me supposedly selling stuff on Trade Me because I was broke.

“It was Jaime selling stuff she didn’t need or that didn’t fit, but she was using my name as she was too young.”

Sue also finds it difficult to read negative things about Sally.

“There have been plenty of Sundays when I have got the paper, thinking, ‘What nasty things are they going to say about her today?'” admits

Sue (65), who runs a bed and breakfast in Tauranga with her second husband, Colin.

“There has been horrible stuff. When it happens, I’ve rung Sally or texted her. All I can say is: ‘You are a better person than that – hold your head high.'”

The unconditional support works both ways. When Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, Sally was there for her mum, although she admits she took the news harder than Sue did.

“I was at the hairdressers when she phoned to tell me,” recalls Sally. “Poor hairdresser – I just sat there bawling.”

“I felt bad about breaking the news like that, but when is the right time?” says Sue, whose cancer was picked up during a routine mammogram.

“My sister Barbara died of breast cancer 11 years ago, so we’re all very aware of a family history. My reaction to the diagnosis was, ‘I don’t have time for this.’ Everyone else was much more upset.”

Sally is in awe of the way her mother handled the experience, which resulted in her having a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.

“She’s amazing,” says Sally, smiling at her mum. “She is so positive and has coped so well.”

“My outlook was, ‘I’ve got this thing, I just need to deal with it the best way I can,'” says Sue.

Driving herself from Tauranga to Hamilton, and back again, for radiotherapy every day for six weeks, gave her time to think.

“I have a completely different outlook,” says Sue. “I’m a much nicer person as a result. Cancer puts things into perspective.”

It helped strengthen an already strong bond, although the pair experienced what Sue describes as a “small hiccup” a few years ago.

They didn’t see eye to eye over Sally’s seven-year relationship with former Black Cap Adam Parore – dad to her two youngest children, Astin (10)

and Mclane (6).

“There was something we disagreed on and we’re both fairly stubborn, so it took a while to sort things out,” says Sue.

“We didn’t speak for eight months, which was really weird,” adds Sally.

“It was heartbreaking,”says her mum, her voice quiet.

“But that will never happen again,” says Sally. “We have learned from our mistakes.”

There were no such dramas when Sally was growing up.

“She was a good girl,” says Sue. “We never had any problems with her. She was so quiet.”

“Quiet? I was practically mute,” chips in Sally.

Sally was shy, but happy, as long as she had paint and paper and could be creative. At school, she did well in maths, art and technical drawing. She left at 16 and modelled, before studying graphic design at Auckland University of Technology.

She always supported herself with part-time jobs, including at Barkers menswear and stacking CDs and records in a warehouse.

“Sally has always understood the importance of hard work,” says Sue. “I always taught her that if you want to get anywhere in life, you have work for it.”

Sally was ready to throw herself into a job as a graphic designer, but fate intervened when she met rugby league star Matthew Ridge at 21 and married him a year later.

“She was young, but I could see they were in love and that he’d look after her,” says Sue.

“I thought of him as a son.”

Sue says she knew marrying someone so famous would change Sally’s life.

“She was in the public eye from the day they got married. And once Jamie came along a year later, it was all go.”

Sally was 23 when Jaime (now 19) was born, and being a mum to her girl, and later son Boston (15), became her main focus. She also started an interior design business, and used her creative talents on TV’s Home Front and Changing Rooms.

Today, Sally – whose marriage to Matthew ended in 2001 – is still shocked about her TV role.

“Being so shy, it was a big deal for me. But it has done a lot for my confidence.”

And Sue couldn’t be happier. “I’m so proud of what Sally’s achieved. She’s done so well.”

“Aww, thanks Granny,” says Sally, slightly embarrassed.

“I’m lucky. I’ve done something I love and spent time with my kids. Family matters most.”

Donna Fleming

Photos: Jae Frew • Hair & make-up: Lisa Matson • Hair colour: Peter Dutton at PDH Salon, Freeman’s Bay, Auckland • Styling: Emma Aubin

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