It came as a huge surprise to Pippa Wetzell and Gordon Harcourt to discover that for the past decade, they had been leading parallel lives.
The two TVNZ stars hardly knew each other when Pippa joined the Fair Go team three years ago.
They were sitting side by side in the make-up room, about to shoot their first promo for the show, when the uncanny similarities between them began to emerge.
“For a start, we got married on the same day, at the same time,” reveals Pippa, as the pair celebrate Fair Go’s return to our screens over a bite to eat and a couple of glasses of bubbles.
“Yes, at 4pm on February 11, 2006, I was getting married in Wellington and Pippa was tying the knot in Whangamata,” says Gordon. “That’s a pretty weird coincidence.”
But wait, there’s more. Then they proceeded to have three children in the same order – two girls, then a boy – and at almost the same time.
“His are each three months older than mine,” says Pippa. “So I joke that he can tell me what the future looks like. But actually, we do have the same sort of home life – like sports every Saturday morning. It’s nice when you’re going through the same things.”
Pippa’s children are Brodie (almost 9), Cameron (7) and Taj (5). Gordon is dad to Bella (9), Maddie (7) and Billy (5). But that’s not all – Pippa’s husband Torrin Crowther works as a lawyer and that is how Gordon’s wife Louise Makgill used to earn a living.
They may have mirror-image lives, but as they’ve got to know each other better, Gordon and Pippa have realised their personalities aren’t so similar.
“One of the reasons we work so well together is that we have different strengths,” says Pippa. “I think it’s fair to say that Gordon is more serious and intense than I am... perhaps that’s because I’m not intense at all! He’s incredibly smart and a real consumer crusader who is passionate about the stories he’s working on.”
“We’re very different,” agrees Gordon (49). “I like a fight, while Pippa isn’t so keen on confrontation – she is more calming. While I love the work, Pippa loves the people. She’s got that gift – for instance, she’s one to always remember everybody’s birthdays when I can barely recall my own! She brings a warm energy to the Fair Go team.”
Since that team is made up of a group of well-seasoned journalists, their meetings can be loud and opinionated.
While she tends to be the quietest member of this noisy group, Gordon reveals it is very important that potential stories pass “the Pippa test”.
“Sometimes she has to have her opinion drawn out, but I can sense when Pippa isn’t on board with a story,” tells Gordon. “Often she’ll bring up something the rest of us haven’t thought of, so getting a story past the Pippa test is quite a hurdle.”
Fair Go is one the longest- running shows on New Zealand television and has always been a part of Pippa’s life.
“Next year, both the show and I turn 40,” she tells, “so I’ve literally grown up with it. Even so, I don’t think I appreciated how rigorous the journalism is on the programme. The team is really passionate about being fair and mindful, and giving both sides of the story.”
Since starting work on the consumer-affairs show, Pippa has had a personal experience of how easy it is to get caught up in a scam.
She and her husband were booking holiday accommodation online and out of the blue, they received an email saying a house they’d looked at was available at a 40 per cent discount.
“It seemed a good deal,” says Pippa, “but there was a tiny something nagging at the back of my mind that seemed not quite right.”
Sure enough, when they contacted the owner, through the website rather than the link in the email, it was a scam – and quite a sophisticated one as the accommodation website had been hacked.
“Not only would we have lost our money but we might have ended up arriving for the holiday and having nowhere to stay. Given my job, wouldn’t that have been embarrassing?”
Since Fair Go is often about battling ratbags, it’s pretty important that its presenters are squeaky clean. So have either of them ever cheated or broken the law?
“I’m a real goody two-shoes,” laughs Pippa. “I never even wagged school. Yes, absolutely I cheat, but only when I’m playing board games!”
“I may have stolen a Milky Bar from a dairy in 1976, but I can’t think of anything else,” says Gordon.
It was shortly after this minor misdemeanour that Gordon, who is a member of New Zealand’s Harcourt acting dynasty (his mother is Dame Kate and his sister is Miranda), made his first appearance on our TV screens.
“I was in Close to Home when I was a kid,” he reveals. “I guess there was an inevitability about me acting. Luckily, I realised I wasn’t good-looking or talented enough to crack it, so I flagged it and decided to train as a journalist instead.”
While he still has an unfulfilled urge to be a war correspondent, Gordon confesses Fair Go is one of the best jobs he could imagine doing.
“You get to fight bullies. And I’m never happier than when I’m investigating some malefactor and chasing him down the street. I love it.”
Both he and Pippa get a buzz out of being able to help people.
And while sometimes they despair at the number of rogues they come across, this is balanced out by the generous offers of help that often flood in from members of the public after a story has screened.
“Fortunately, there is far more good than bad out there,” says Pippa. “I don’t think you could do the show for very long otherwise – it would be soul-destroying.”
Words: Nicky Pellegrino
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