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Pam Corkery’s dancing with a smile

The outspoken broadcaster credits the man who's kept her on her toes for the past five years.
Pam Corkery

Ask Pam Corkery almost anything, and she’ll answer you with a candid mixture of honesty and humour. She can discuss with great frankness the lowest points of her battle with drug and alcohol addiction like someone else might chat about the weather. But when the Weekly catches up with the Dancing with the Stars contestant and her partner Kerry Fraser, she’s on the verge of tears.

Despite finding herself at the bottom of the show’s leaderboard twice, huge public support has saved her and dancing partner Matt Tatton-Brown from elimination, and she’s incredibly moved.

“I can’t believe it,” she says, eyes wide. “I’m blown away. Kerry had to talk me down yesterday – I got myself into such a state. I didn’t feel worthy of it. People are spending their money to vote me through. Wow.”

Pam and Kerry first met at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting almost five years ago. Now they share a home in West Auckland.

While Pam’s struggling to accept the Kiwi public’s overwhelming support, one person who isn’t surprised in the slightest at her success is Kerry (47). In the five years since the pair met at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting, he’s been both her most forthright critic and biggest cheerleader.

“I’m so bloody proud of her,” he says. “I get pretty defensive, though. I read the negative comments online but I don’t tell her what they say. But it’s not important. I know how much courage it’s taken for her to do this show. None of the other stuff matters.”

On July 4, widely known as US Independence Day – or as Pam (58) wryly and somewhat aptly calls it, “Co-dependence Day”– the couple will celebrate five years together. They’ve had their ups and downs, and there are still daily challenges the pair must meet head on. But they’re happy – incredibly so – and live a wonderfully sober life in their West Auckland home. If you pop in for a visit, you’re sure to be offered a mug of herbal tea and the promise of a great yarn.

“Life is fantastic,” says Pam. “We have options now. We took the time to rebuild, and we’ve taken some real hits along the way. To be where we are now is amazing.”

The relationship didn’t get off to the most romantic start, the pair admit. In fact, Pam wasn’t even all that nice to her future partner.

“You were quite stand-offish, actually,” remembers Kerry.

“I didn’t like the cut of your jib,” Pam tells him. “But then,” she continues, smiling, “he wrote the word ‘wow’ under a picture of me on Facebook, and I thought, ‘You’ll do, son!’ Oh, the romance.”

Eventually, a deeper bond was formed, even though Pam thought “K-Man”, as she calls him, might be a player.

“Probably was,” Kerry says with an agreeable laugh. “The odds were good, but the goods are odd, right?”

“Exactly, baby!” Pam replies.

The pair weren’t actively looking for a relationship – both have been married before, and were focused on getting clean. But since then, the couple have helped each other through their recovery, a process that’s ongoing and one that will always be a part of their lives. It hasn’t all been easy. While daily temptations are no longer a problem – Kerry, who’s a drummer, can happily play a gig in a pub – their past experiences with substances still carry a certain romance.

“The idea of it still pops into my head,” shrugs Kerry, while Pam, a broadcaster and former politician and press secretary, adds she still has dreams that are grim reminders about using alcohol and drugs – and back then, pretty much any drug would do.

But through their shared sense of sarcastic humour, they help each other when the going gets tough.

“We had to learn how to ‘do’ a relationship,” explains Kerry, who is also in his final year of study to become an addiction counsellor. We didn’t know how to be adults, let alone anything else. Once you clean up, you start to wrestle with all of that stuff. You have to learn how to be loved.”

“And that was one of the biggest challenges,” nods Pam. “Learning how to trust.

“Also, we’re both very self-obsessed people. We’ll sit at the same table and both of us will be saying, ‘You’re not listening to me!’ We’re each having a conversation with ourselves.”

Pam and her partner on Dancing with the Stars, raising money for Higher Ground Drug Rehabilitation Trust.

The twosome are very similar in a lot of ways – their self-deprecating humour, their love of international dramas and a mutual loathing of injustice. Pam’s passed on her love of current affairs to Kerry, who is now filling her in on the happenings in the world each day, as she’s too busy training to watch the 6pm bulletin.But while Pam is adventurous, Kerry is more cautious.

“I wasn’t exactly worried when Pam was asked to be on Dancing with the Stars, but I wanted to consider all the factors. We knew there were going to be haters and we had a plan to counter that. So I told her to go for it.”

Pam, who celebrates six years of sobriety next month, and Kerry, who will have his own six-year anniversary in September, say the key to their relationship is their unwavering friendship – and their ability to find fun in almost anything.

“The child is not so far within for both of us!” laughs Pam. “This is the most honest and loving relationship I’ve had. We each have our dramas, and I need my own space, otherwise I get resentful.

But there’s not a day that goes by without a hug and a kiss.”

Long walks and cups of coffee form their usual routine, and date nights sometimes entail a cuppa and an NA meeting. And when they’re feeling especially daring, they’ll rent a movie.

“It’s like the excitement of a kids’ sleepover,” Pam smiles.

While life is definitely a lot tamer these days, excitement isn’t a problem in the Corkery-Fraser household at the moment, with dancing taking up every available second.

She’s drained, exhausted and perpetually aching – “well, I am almost 59!” she grumbles – but Pam is absolutely loving the experience. “I wanted a new challenge – something to take me out of my comfort zone,” she says. “Sometimes I think, ‘Be careful what you wish for!’ But it’s amazing.”

“We love each other too much to get married!” says Pam of her relationship with Kerry.

Not wishing to put any added pressure on her, Kerry has only been to watch Pam live once and instead enjoys the show in the home of her youngest daughter Kerry (39). Despite this, her dance-floor debut hasn’t been without its downsides, as rumours swirl that she’s no longer sober.

“There’s still a stigma about being an addict,” Pam says, trying to shrug it off, but it’s clear the gossip bothers her. “Matt ran into someone the other day who said, ‘She’s back on the drink.'”

“That really annoys me,” Kerry cuts in, his face livid. “People have no idea what it means to be in this place, and to find the joy that is our life now. No, she bloody well isn’t on the sauce. I’d know if she was, even if she tried to hide it!”

In fact, while their relationship is remarkably easy-going, all things considered, they are firm that a relapse would be tantamount to infidelity.

“We couldn’t survive if one of us picked up again,” says Pam.

And while they’re blissfully happy, another trip down the aisle isn’t on the cards anytime soon.”We’ve talked about it,” Pam says thoughtfully. “But, no. We get on so well. We love each other too much to get married!”

Love isn’t a word Pam uses much – she says she’s wasted a lot of it in her lifetime. But she’s getting better at it, and at accepting happiness, something both she and Kerry have struggled with.

“You know, an old-timer in a meeting once put it really well,” she tells. “‘You’ve saved your life. It’s time to experience everything else, because what do you have to lose?’ And that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

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