Sean Plunket is certainly not the man he was when he first met his partner Tara Merriman. For starters, he’s a full 20kg lighter. The often polarising talkback host is now healthier, fitter and has a new outlook on life, largely brought about by Tara’s loving influence.
It’s just as well, given the energy he needs for his new role, hosting Prime Time with Sean Plunket 9.35pm Fridays on Prime in Auckland, whilst juggling his Wellington-based RadioLive morning talkback show each weekday.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Sean, workwise and personally. Taking a breather at home with Tara, with whom he’s been in a relationship since December, the couple is fresh from a trip to Fiji (the first proper holiday Sean can remember taking!). And they’re a couple who clearly love to share a laugh.
It didn’t happen overnight, but they had seen each other around at MediaWorks, where Sean hosts his show and Tara is an account manager.
“My desk isn’t far from Sean’s studio, but I’d never paid him much attention,” admits Tara (44). “I didn’t particularly even know who he was!”
But Sean (49) had noticed her and remembers her quick response when he once stepped out of the studio, throwing one of his trademark, off-the-wall questions to his team: ”How would you describe Labour right now if it were a car?”
“A powder-blue Austin Princess!” chorus the happy couple now, remembering Tara’s prompt reply.
But it wasn’t until they were both at a client event that they talked properly for the first time. “We ended up going for dinner in a big group and Sean and I talked for a long, long time – hours and hours,” recalls Tara. “By this stage, it was quite late in the night and he turned to me and said something along the lines of, ‘Let me know when I’m allowed to fall in love with you.’
“And... actually, can I say this part, Sean?” she asks, turning to her partner, who, with a laugh, encourages her to continue. “Go on,” he says. “It’s funny!”
“I said, ‘Never! My God, you’re fat! You need to lose some serious weight!’ Isn’t that terrible? I guess it’s honest, though,” she says, cringing. “I then said, ‘You need to go to the gym because you’re an amazing man and I would hate for you to die. And that actually might happen because you’re bloody unhealthy!’”
As fate would have it, the CEO of gym Les Mills was also at the table, and offered Sean a free three-month membership. And so began a friendship between Tara and Sean.
“We didn’t go on dates or anything,” says Sean. ”We just went to the gym together three times a week with a trainer, and built up a solid friendship. I’d never liked exercise before, but with her, I was enjoying going to the gym, having incredible conversations and going out with her to walk the dog, Pax, who has even lost 10kg himself thanks to her!”
“That friendship is still the base of what we have,” agrees Tara. “I think I probably fell in love with Sean at the very beginning, I just didn’t know it. He has enormous intelligence and what people probably don’t realise about him is that he has an incredible ability to think broadly.
”And his sheer kindness!” she continues. “I’ve learned a lot from him and I love that. He’s a beautiful man.”
Sean says Tara has taught him to spend less time focusing on work and more time striving for balance in life. It started with their exercise pact and progressed to Tara buying Sean scuba-diving lessons for Christmas, as well as taking their children, Tara’s daughter Tatyana (12) and Sean’s son Joseph (15), on holiday to Fiji.
“About 98% of the travel I’ve done has been for work, on assignment somewhere, and I always had something to file or a deadline to hit,” admits Sean. “To stop and be in the moment was quite a different thing, and something I’ve learned from Tara.“
While he has found a greater work-life balance, Sean is very much enjoying his new Prime show, which he describes as ”assessing the big topics leading into the election, grilling the politicians, but keeping it accessible".
It’s a role that complements his radio talkback job, he says, although it has its differences, including the fact his mother is unlikely to call in on Prime. “Yes, Mum does occasionally call through to the radio if she’s unhappy about something or what someone has said to me,” he chuckles.
Although she’s never gone as far as calling in herself, it’s a sentiment Tara can understand. “I do find it a bit hard to listen to the debate sometimes. I think, ‘How dare you say that about Sean? He’s a lovely man!’ But I also realise that it’s just the way it works,” she says, smiling at Sean. “We’re really pretty lucky, aren’t we?”
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