When reaching a milestone birthday, most people have a few things they’d like to tick off the bucket list. But for The Breeze Breakfast co-host Robbie Rakete, putting himself in a cage for a staring competition with some cold-blooded, sharp-toothed fish was definitely not on his agenda for turning the big 5-0.
Yes, the Weekly team did a double take too. How could Robbie Rakete be 50? Robbie – whose milestone was last week – can thank his friends at The Breeze, namely co-host Jeanette Thomas, for the honour. She set him up for a shark dive at Auckland aquarium Kelly Tarltons.
The radio star could do nothing but laugh at his predicament, noting the close relationship he shares with his fellow announcers on the station means he struggled to say no.
Scroll down to watch Robbie swim with sharks
“I’ve known Jeanette for years and Robert Scott [his former Breakfast co-host] for about 20 years. I basically turn up every morning to work with my mates. I’m so lucky. If you’re having a bad day, you know your friends will always be there to help you out."
He pauses, however, when he realises those are also the same mates that will be throwing him to the sharks.
“Yes,” he laughs, “but then there’s also the fact that they would probably be the only ones to be able to go and put me in a shark cage for my birthday when they know I have a big fear of sharks and the water.”
Turning 50 is an occasion that would make even the most confident and age-defiant of us reflect on life led so far. Since 1989, Robbie has graced New Zealand screens and airwaves, carving out a career entertaining Kiwis.
From hosting RTR Countdown and TV debate State of the Nation, to sitting in the breakfast chair for Mai FM before making the move to The Breeze 10 years ago, Robert hasn’t sat still.
“You do look back on your life and I just feel incredibly lucky with the opportunities that have come my way, and the people I’ve met.”
And you have to say, those opportunities have been incredible. He lists interviewing the legendary Quincy Jones, Beyonce and the Dalai Lama as some of his top life highlights.
And don’t get him started on the time he was at the Indy 500 to witness Scott Dixon’s win – a dream for this motor-racing buff.
“Of course in every life there are highs and lows,” he adds. “I mean, this is my second marriage and anyone who’s gone through that with a family knows it’s incredibly tough.”Robbie and wife Nikki married in Rarotonga in 2011, bringing their two families together – Robbie’s children Emmy (24), Isabella (17) and Oliver (11) from his first marriage, along with Nikki’s two children, Finn (15) and Paige (12).
“The wonderful thing is we’re all still good friends. I went to my first wife’s wedding when she remarried and Nikki’s former partner came to our wedding.
“We are that true modern family. You try to think what is important for the kids is that everyone gets on.”
Over the years, his priorities have profoundly changed – he had a trip to New York and owning a 1966 Mustang on his list to achieve before turning 30.
“They are really shallow things now but I guess it’s important to you when you’re 20,” he reflects. “But since I’ve turned 40 and so on, I have this same conversation with myself and now it is just to be happy.
“I know that sounds lame, but that’s it. That doesn’t mean having lots of things. It means having a happy, healthy family, a beautiful wife who I love and a job that I go to every day that I love. All of that makes me happy. I just try to aim for that every day.”
Robbie is drawing the line after the shark dive for this milestone birthday, however, taking the rest of the week off work to escape any other surprises his workmates have in store in favour of making this week all about family and friends.
He plans to have a dinner with longtime friends he has known for more than 20 years and to join up his celebrations with his dad, who is marking his own milestone of 70.
“Some people from the class of ‘66 who I’ve spoken to aren’t happy about turning 50. And you can’t help but notice things change. My body has changed, my face has changed and my hair is definitely greyer.
“It’s a bit slower getting out of bed too,” he laughs. “I found these compression stockings I bought years ago as a joke and put them on my knees – and they felt good! Then my kids saw me and they were like, ‘Dad... you know that’s what Granddad wears.’”
Despite all the change, Robbie wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m happy,” he says. “I’m really comfortable with turning 50.”
WATCH: Robbie Rakete swims with sharks on his 50th birthday