Celebrity News

Rachel Hunter’s life makeover

After a break up and surgery, the model mother longs to come home to New Zealand.
Rachel Hunter's life makeover

When Rachel Hunter whipped back to New Zealand last week to raise money for Maori TV’s Rise Up Christchurch telethon she had much on her mind – her future career, her almost adult children and the burning desire she has to reconnect with her Kiwi roots.

“Over the past five years I’ve realised I’m coming home more and more – even though it takes longer each time to recover from the jetlag!” says Rachel (41) from the Auckland hotel room she decamps to every time she’s here, along with her children Renee (19) and Liam (17). “I love being here, my career began here, and I believe New Zealand is the place for me to reconnect.”

The much-loved Kiwi supermodel is facing what every mum faces – the kids are almost grown up and she’s about to start a whole new life on her own. New Zealand, it seems, is crucial to deciding what that new life will be.

“I grew up with New Zealanders just as they grew up with me,” she says. “I want to find the integrity and credibility I had for myself when I first started out here, but I want to connect it to the person I’ve now become, with the knowledge and wisdom that comes with age, in the country I love.”

Single since splitting from ice hockey ace Jarret Stoll two years ago, Rachel is facing the prospect of an empty nest.

“I’m in the twilight years with my kids and although I’m really enjoying my time with them while they are here, there’s a void. It’s a hard situation but it happens to every parent. I need to figure out what I want to do and where I want to be.”

Where once modelling and commercial work filled every spare minute she had, a series of health setbacks made the supermodel slow down.

“When Jarret and I split, it was a choice, but then I had problems with my back and had to have surgery. Then I developed an inflammation around my heart. That was when I realised my situation was no longer a choice – I was pushed into a corner.

“Needing to change was shoved in my face. I was like a cornered mouse. If I tried to work, go out, have fun, something always happened to stop it. So now, my life is a blank canvas.”

Well, not quite. Rachel is a bundle of ideas and enthusiasm for the next stage of her life – even if she’s not sure what direction it’ll take just yet. While the statuesque blonde is still a clothes horse at times – her Warehouse fashion range is going strong – she is testing new roads to see where they lead her.

She’s trying her hand at writing – “not an autobiography, something else. I’m still figuring it out” – and she’s clearly on a drive to get Christchurch back on its feet.

“I was so shocked by what happened in Christchurch – seeing that whole city crumble in front of our eyes was just appalling – and they need our help so much now, almost more than when it first happened,” she says.

“Yes, it would have been great for me to stay and do something to help in LA with [Kiwi actor] Martin Henderson – he’s so passionate about helping. If I can go there and speak to the people who are living and working through it on a daily basis, and do what I can, why wouldn’t I? I’ve got two legs, I’m healthy – New Zealanders have treated me so well over the years. It’s time for me to put more time and effort into giving back and showing real love and care for the place I came from.”

Despite having earned her fortune – and a decent one at that – through her looks, unlike so many of her peers, Rachel embraces age rather than fearing it. “I actually find it better, being older,” she says frankly. “I wish I looked the same as I did at 17 so I could earn the same money, but now I have the maturity to make it work so much better than I did back then. Now, the only person I need to look good for is myself. I want to be healthy.”

While Rachel proudly sports character lines that etch her years of experience, she hasn’t abandoned the thought of surgery later down the track – but she’s not set on the idea either.

“I know I’m going to get wrinkles, but I have good genes – I’ve got Mum and Dad to thank for them!” she laughs.

“I feel a bit sorry for those models who feel what they had is gone, because to me it’s very attractive to see a woman age. Iman and Christie Brinkley are still stunning women. But if I’m honest, I really don’t care. If I have to have a facelift to get rid of my turkey neck or take out wrinkles, I will – as long as I feel good. What I think really makes women feel the pressure is their weight.”

It’s a belief that stems from her low point two years ago. “When I had my back surgery I put on 9kg, and that’s when people beat themselves up,” she says.

But rather than let the illnesses, the empty nest and the body issues get her down, Rachel wants to use her experiences to help aspiring New Zealand models find a niche for themselves – which is why she has agreed to become the Weekly‘s expert modelling columnist for the duration of hit TV3 show New Zealand’s Next Top Model from next month.

“Being a model is such a different beast to when I did it,” she says. “In my era of the supermodel, we were allowed to speak and have an opinion, but now it’s more of a reality thing – the media is a huge part of someone’s success as a model. There are some beautiful girls in New Zealand, and I’m really excited to see the talent pool on the programme. I’m not looking for girls who want to be on a reality show, to be ‘the funny one’ or ‘the quirky one’. I want them to be the genuine article.

“They don’t have to go on about loving modelling – I just want to see someone who can be themselves. Yes, they need to look great in a photo, but my hawk eyes are out for the personalities. And they have to eat properly – there’s no doubt that eating properly follows you through your entire modelling life. I’ll be looking out for the junk-food junkies!”

But while she’s checking out the models, our Rach will make sure she also makes time for her other passion – finding somewhere to live in New Zealand. “I’d definitely like to buy somewhere here now, and I love the idea of island life,” she reveals. “A few years ago I was offered 10 acres on Great Barrier Island for $10,000 – I wonder if they’d like to offer it to me again? That would be fine!”

And if a good Kiwi bloke was on offer, would that be fine too?

“If I meet someone special from here, then great,” she laughs. “But my real draw is coming back home more often.”

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