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No regrets: Petra Bagust’s clean break

The Breakfast star reveals why she called it quits.
Television presenter Petra Bagust

It was the announcement no-one saw coming – not her colleagues, not the media, not even her three children. But when gorgeous Breakfast host Petra Bagust announced her resignation live on air last Friday, there was one group of people she wanted to tell first – the audience.

“I felt they should be the first to know. As a Breakfast host, you kind of belong to them,” explains Petra (40), who kept her decision secret from everyone, except her husband Hamish and her bosses, until 24 hours before the public announcement was made. “I was dying to tell my kids, I knew they’d be off-the-wall excited, but I couldn’t in case they told anyone at school!”

While Petra has loved the challenges and victories the past two years have brought, she’s refreshingly candid about her experience, and admits it wasn’t all plain sailing. “It’s been an incredible challenge, a big journey, and I’m very glad I did it. But Breakfast is an all-consuming role, and there are ramifications with a job like this,” says Petra, who will leave our screens for now to spend more time with her husband Hamish and their children.

Petra kept her decision a secret from everyone, except her husband Hasmish and her bosses.

“The 4am starts for two years have been huge, and initially Hamish was concerned about the impact it would have on the family. I’ve always been optimistic – and survived pretty well! But for our family right now, the cost of my work is too high.”

Typically for the bubbly and likeable mum, she’s remained loyal to her audience – despite suffering a barrage of criticism from some in the early days – and made sure they knew her plans to leave, as soon as possible. Petra describes her decision as “a giant leap of faith”.

“I’m going camping with the kids for the summer, and I haven’t really thought past that point. Nothing’s set in stone. I’m just going to suck it and see!” she laughs, as her three kids come thundering into the elegant but comfortable family home from school. They’re starving hungry and all talking at once about party invites, school trips and whether they can take the last piece of chocolate.

“I’m an optimist, an opportunist. I’m always the one to rush in and go, ‘Yeah, let’s do that!’ That’s what happened when I first started Breakfast. But over the past six months, I’ve become really aware that the kids are in a new phase of their lives, and I need to be me, not grouchy and grizzly in the afternoon because I’m tired,” says Petra, clearly delighted to see the trio, and dishing out enthusiastic hugs between questions.

“It used to be about changing nappies, feeding, getting the kids dressed. Now when I put them to bed, they want to talk – about friendships, relationships, who’s being mean, who’s doing well. A lot of the big questions come out at night. “Instead of being able to give them my time, I have to research for the next day’s show. I have to tell them, ‘Sorry, you have to go to sleep now.’ There’s no doubt this job has been wonderful, but it’s taken its toll.”

‘For our family right now, the cost of my work is too high,’ says Petra.

While her decision to leave will come as a shock to many, Petra has been discussing the ramifications with Hamish, and listening to others’ experiences, for months now. “I often meet inspirational women, and the work-life balance isn’t an easy decision for anyone. I met one very achievement-oriented woman who admitted she couldn’t really remember when her daughter was six, because it was a bit of a blur. And I realised, I don’t want that.”

There’s no doubt Petra’s unearthly hours have impacted significantly, not just on her but her family. She’s up by 3.50am, and not home until after 11am, when she tries to cram in the day’s calls, emails and errands – and possibly an hour with freelance cameraman Hamish, if he isn’t working. A quick nap, then she’s off to get the kids, do homework and cook dinner, before putting the kids to bed – at which point she starts researching for the next day’s show.

“Hamish and I used to try and hook up for half an hour in the evening, but we had to let it go – there was no time,” explains Petra. “I have to be in bed by 8.50pm, and that’s it. Those precious moments of quiet time, with Hamish, with the kids, are all but gone. You can only absorb so much ‘Mummy, please don’t go to work tomorrow’ before it accumulates.”

Petra puts her heart and soul into everything she does, and Breakfast was no exception. And while the criticism she received as Pippa Wetzell’s replacement isn’t the reason she’s decided to leave the show, she admits it has been difficult. “It’s horrible having anti-Petra stuff on Facebook, to know that people don’t like you,” she says.

“Breakfast was a new discipline for me, and I went into it wholeheartedly, so the small group bagging me was a surprise. “I don’t know if people wanted me to be Pippa or if they felt angry because they thought I’d taken her role, but with three children under five to focus on, I admire her decision to take some time out.

“I’ve always been a bit of an overachiever. It never occurred to me at school or university to aim for anything but an A! Not having full public support for the first time really rocked me. It made me question whether I was a good broadcaster, whether I can do the job. But I guess after three decades of being on TV, I knew the answer was yes, and just pressed on.”

Petra is overjoyed at the prospect of spending an entire summer with Hamish and the kids, without the worry of a job to rush back to.

Any regrets? “I don’t see much value in regret, but I am someone who really wants to get it right,” she admits. “I think if I had my time again, I might be a bit more relaxed. Not try and be what I thought everyone wanted.

“I probably would have gone on Facebook and front-footed the situation. It’s not really the way things are done at TVNZ, but I think it would have been truer to who I am. In the end, what I’ve come back to now is being myself. And that’s a solid place to be.”

After a long career, including 16 years at TV3 and hosting the hit series What’s Really In Our Food?, Petra says she will miss being on screen, but has no plans to return just yet. While she has plenty of ideas for next year, which include getting fit and writing a book with a photographer friend, Petra says it’s time for Hamish to have his turn on the career ladder.

He’s just finished filming Annabel Langbein’s new show in Wanaka, and is currently shooting a new series starring the Topp Twins. “We’re the same as everyone. There’s still a mortgage to pay. This way, Hamish can focus on having more of a career path, instead of taking any job that comes up,” says Petra. “He’s been the primary caregiver for the past two years, and I’m looking forward to taking on that role again.”

But while Petra and Hamish are ready to trade places, both insist there won’t be any more kids in the mix. “We’re done,” smiles Petra, a little sadly. “At one point, we said, ‘Just one more, maybe?’ But, while if it was just up to me, there might be, we won’t have another. We’re in a different zone of parenting. We’ve started to do family adventures, like renovating a caravan, and trips. To take on a tiny baby would just be too full on.”

And for now, Petra intends to enjoy the last few weeks of her time on Breakfast – and she is positively fizzing with excitement about spending a carefree summer with her family. “I can’t even tell you. I can’t wait!” she grins.

Petra says she will miss being on screen, but has no plans to return just yet.

“Camping, kids and no makeup for five weeks. After that? Who knows. I’m sure I’ll miss the people and being there when news breaks, knowing you’re on air when history is potentially being made. At some point I’ll probably even miss having my hair done!

“But just because I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know the beginning and the end of what will happen next, doesn’t mean I can’t afford to do what I think is right. Right now, I’m just looking forward to a recharge.”

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