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Simon and Wendy: 'Our 6pm secrets'

Newsreaders Simon Dallow and Wendy Petrie spill on a decade of tears, triumphs and sleeping in taxis!

It wasn’t exactly the easiest of starts. To begin with, Wendy Petrie and Simon Dallow had never actually sat down and read a bulletin together before their first night presenting TV One’s 6pm news – now an impressive 10 years ago.
Adding to the nerves, Wendy had a five-week-old baby at home, plus there was the overwhelming pressure that came with replacing Judy “Mother of the Nation” Bailey, who had been a much-loved fixture on our screens for decades.
“In the end, I think it was quite good I’d just had a baby, because it was a good distraction!” laughs Wendy (44). “There was terrible pressure. But I was more worried about Liv feeding and sleeping properly, so I couldn’t focus on what was being written in the papers about us.”
But despite the pressure – and some interesting wardrobe choices (“They had us both in pinstripes!” quips Simon) – the first night went off without a hitch and they’ve gone on to become one of New Zealand’s most-watched TV presenting teams.
While Wendy admits that time of her life is a bit of a blur now – “I really was a bit sleep deprived, but I got through it!” – they can both clearly remember the intense scrutiny.
After Judy Bailey left TVNZ, the 6pm news returned to a two-presenter format. In their pinstripe suits, Simon and Wendy made their debut on TV One in 2006.
The stepping down of Judy, which came during a time of upheaval at TVNZ, put the pair in the spotlight – and the reception they received wasn’t always glowing.
Wendy and Simon (51) are firm in their collective beliefs that the news isn’t about them.
“Yes, it’s an interesting job, but it doesn’t make me a celebrity,” says Wendy, reflecting on her 10 years in the role. “I think of myself as a vehicle for the news. It’s my job to get the messages across. That’s something Simon has always been very firm on too.”
“The news is sacrosanct,” he nods. “Like any product, there’s a whole chain of people it takes to make it. I think it’s important not to put colour or spin on things.
“Well, it’s what I try to do, but I had a nasty email overnight from someone who said I was doing the exact opposite.”
He may have been doing the job for many years now, but Simon will admit he “gets down” reading the negative comments.
“That single email I saw last night took the shine off my day,” shrugs the father of Paris (17) and Joel (14).
The news set may have changed, but the TV anchors, pictured in 2010, look like they have barely aged over the years.
“The thing about the news, though,” he says, leaning in, “is that we’re directly compared to our competitors at TV3 – and they’re really nice people. But increasingly society, particularly thanks to social media, is tribally generated. You’re either this side or that side, either they’re great and you’re awful, or vice versa. It’s hard to take.”
It’s perhaps magnified for Simon because he’s in no way a fan of the spotlight.
“I do like to keep my privacy,” he says, even going so far as joking during the Weekly’s photoshoot that he found his dentist appointment that morning more enjoyable.
But Wendy says, unlike Simon, she rarely gets noticed in public.
“I have naturally very frizzy hair and I don’t wear make-up, so I never get recognised,” she says. “But Simon, he’s 6’ 5” [1.98m] and unmistakable. Everywhere he goes, people notice him.”
Simon prefers not to dabble in social media and gets his information from reputable sources and news outlets.
“Some newspapers basically wouldn’t have a publication if it weren’t for Twitter,” he admonishes. “All those stories... ‘Look, a celebrity tweet!’ I’m really not interested in celebrity or that side of things.”
He’s also quite sensitive – “I’m a people pleaser,” Simon says, but it’s part of what makes Wendy trust in him and why she loves having him beside her on the news desk.
“He also knows everything,” she tells. “You never have to google anything with him around.”
Plus, she knows he has her back.
“I’ll always remember this time, a while back, when I had a car accident on my way to work. I rang Simon to let him know I wasn’t going to make our meeting – and I probably sounded a bit upset. Five minutes later, he turned up to make sure I was all right and to take me to work. He’s like that, though – quietly considerate of you and what’s going on in your life.”
As much as she’s happy to be sitting behind the desk with him, it’s the stories Wendy’s left the newsroom for that have been the most memorable over the last decade.
“Being in London for Prince William and Kate’s wedding, that was incredible – to be present during the buzz of that time,” she says. “And going to Gallipoli last year for the 100th commemoration of World War I. It was a completely different experience, so sombre and moving.”
For Simon, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake is the defining story of his career.
“I spent a month there and it was an eye-opener. I made it there that first day – we slept in a taxi van we’d hired from Ashburton.”
It also challenged his ability to separate himself from the news.
“It became really personal. People came up to me – I guess because of the recognition factor – who saw me as a sort of face of information. They’d ask, ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’”
He says at first, his answer was to promise to find out more information, but eventually, he was opening his wallet and saying, “Here’s $20. Get a taxi to this place – it’s safe. There’s a centre set up there.”
Wendy, who is mum to Addison (12), Liv (10) and Zach (6), says for her, it’s anything to do with children that gets her choked up.
“Sometimes, it’s when I’m driving home that the emotion will hit me. Lately, it’s been kids in our own backyard here who are suffering, as well as children in Syria – there’s so much injustice in the world and I look at those stories and think, ‘What can I do?’ They definitely get to you and hopefully they get to other people too, and make a difference.”
Despite the tears, Wendy says the role is still her dream job.
“I’m so lucky that I can take Liv to swimming in the morning and then take the kids to school each day.“Who knows what the next 10 years will bring? Maybe we’ll be 60 and still reading the news together,” she laughs.
We put the duo to the test to see how much they really know about each other:
Simon on Wendy
How does Wendy take her tea or coffee? I don’t drink hot drinks, so I don’t know.
What’s her go-to karaoke song? She has a real pop-music sensibility. Wendy loves Justin Timberlake and Kanye West. I’ve heard her sing Kanye’s Gold Digger.
What’s her signature dish to whip up in the kitchen? Wendy doesn’t cook – she subscribes to all those services, such as Jess’ Underground Kitchen, My Food Bag, any of those... she has the whole lot.
What’s the last movie she saw? I’m not sure... I’ll have to pass.
What would she spend her last $20 on? Something for her kids.
Her international celebrity crush? Someone I mentioned earlier or... let me guess... it would be [rapper] Fetty Wap.
Who would she most hate to be stuck in an elevator with? Me!
Wendy on Simon
How does Simon take his tea or coffee? He doesn’t drink tea or coffee. He’ll sometimes have a hot chocolate. I’m a coffee fiend.
What’s his go-to karaoke song? It would have to be something old school – maybe a bit of AC/DC. He’s got a very good memory for songs.
What’s his signature dish to whip up in the kitchen? I know that he hates coriander, so he’d never serve that. His skills have definitely stepped up in the last few years – I’ve even heard of a chicken broth he made, which I was most impressed by.
What’s the last movie he saw? Star Wars – we were invited to the premiere, so we rushed after work and literally jumped into his car at 7pm.
What would he spend his last $20 on? He doesn’t like shopping or buying clothes, so I’d say a beer! But after the bulletin, of course.
His international celebrity crush? There are a few good-looking news anchors that I’d say he probably would think are quite nice. There’s a woman that a lot of men in the newsroom have a crush on called Ginger Zee. The name is enough to tell you she’s very good-looking. I don’t know if he’s a fan too, but I imagine he is.
Who would he most hate to be stuck in an elevator with? I have a feeling it would be a boy band. His daughter was very much in love with One Direction, so I think that would probably be it – Harry Styles maybe?
Words by: Alice O'Connell

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