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Rachel Smalley’s hearbreaking journey

After covering the Christchurch earthquake the TV3 presenter is back home and coming to terms with the decision that has utterly transformed her own family.
Rachel Smalley

Having just spent two harrowing weeks presenting evening news bulletins from behind the cordons of devastated central Christchurch, TV3 presenter Rachel Smalley is back home and coming to terms with the decision that has utterly transformed her own family.

Though she appears calm and lucid, the star presenter is still reeling from the break-neck speed at which she has changed from late-night news host to anchor of the brand new breakfast show Firstline. It’s an exhausting regime that means the hard-working mum will spend time away from the two most important men in her life – her husband Luke Johnson and their little son Finn.

Thankfully, Rachel’s small but supportive family is right behind her.

“Finn is two now, so the move to Firstline allows me to spend more time with him and Luke,” says Rachel (39) of her toddler son, “but ultimately the decision was a career one. It was a chance to really throw myself into what I love to do and my husband totally backed me up. Even as I was umming and ahhing, he was saying, ‘Do it, do it, do it.’ He thought it was a fantastic move.”

While she’s currently based in the studio, Rachel admits that as an experienced foreign correspondent, being out in the field is her first passion, and she hopes to be able to front the show live on location once she’s settled in her new role.

For now, she’s enjoying the adrenaline surge of her current challenge. “I love the speed at which I have to operate.

This morning, I was signing off from one interview and in my ear piece I was being told I was about to speak to the prime minister,” laughs Rachel.

This morning, I was signing off from one interview and in my ear piece I was being told I was about to speak to the prime minister,” laughs Rachel.

While her time on Sky News UK saw her covering some heart-wrenching stories, Rachel admits that since becoming a mother she’s found it much harder to cope with some of the tragic tales. “It was really tough in Christchurch,” says Rachel of her coverage of the earthquake in her home town. “I never thought I would be in an environment like that in New Zealand. The city is broken and it’s changed forever. What I found most distressing were the stories about the babies who died.

“I don’t know how mums and dads come back from that. I find it impossible to fathom that level of trauma and distress.”

For this busy mum, when the cameras stop rolling, the suit comes off and it’s time to face the same daily challenges as every other working woman. “once I get home I’m just focused on organising my day around Finn. We go to swimming lessons, music classes or spend time at the beach. He’s really active these days, so I have to keep up.”

Dividing her time between the demands of working and parenting is a balancing act, and Rachel admits that

looking after herself can sometimes fall by the wayside. “It’s on my to-do list,” jokes the striking star, who these days is lucky to snatch enough sleep each night, let alone focus on fitness or diet. “Like most mums, everything else in life comes first.”

And though she knows that her new job will take her away from the family at times, right now she’s treasuring the new opportunities it allows for her to spend time with Finn. “one of the great things for us at the moment is that we’re all at home at 5pm, which is a situation we haven’t had for a while. I get to read to Finn before he goes to bed, which I love, and then Luke and I get to have dinner together,” says the presenter.

Meanwhile, the seasoned TV star is relishing the chance to deliver the type of show she believes New Zealand has been crying out for.

“Moving home last year, having worked in the UK and Ireland for several years, I did notice that we can be a bit removed from world events and global issues. Delivering straight, hard news is what I love. I like that I don’t have to do any entertaining – it’s all about informing. I think New Zealand has been missing something like this. I didn’t know how it was going to feel before I started, but for me, it feels right.”

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