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Tamati Coffey: Mum’s love set me free

The TV presenter and his mother talk about their special bond.
Tamati Coffey

Few mother-son bonds could be stronger than that of charming TVNZ weatherman Tamati Coffey and his gorgeous mum Rangi. The pair has a strength of love many families would envy – and it comes from them facing one of life’s biggest challenges together.

As a confident 15-year-old, Tamati made the difficult decision to tell his parents he was gay.

Then a popular high school student in Wellington, the Breakfast presenter knew that to live a happy and full life, he had to be honest with his parents and himself.

“We live in a world where heterosexuality is the norm, and when your child comes out and says, ‘Actually, I’m not like that’, parents don’t know how to react – that’s the turmoil my parents faced,” says Tamati (31) in a New Zealand Woman’s Weekly exclusive.

Rangi says the news was a huge shock both to her, and Tamati’s father Gerald.

“I went through the emotions of not being happy and not liking it. But at the end of the day, he’s my son,” she says.

“As a mother, once you get past the emotions, it’s actually not that bad.”

Hearing his mum talk about that moment, Tamati reminds her of the advice she gave him that changed his life.

“I remember you saying you loved me no matter what, and if you didn’t support me then you’d lose me, and you didn’t want that. That’s when things changed for me. I came out, and I felt like my life had started.”

Rangi and Gerald loved and supported Tamati wholeheartedly, even when he decided to take his boyfriend at the time to his high school ball.

Today, Tamati’s confidence has helped him become one of New Zealand’s most loved TV personalities. Although camera-shy herself, Rangi was caught beaming in the audience when her son sashayed his way to victory during the fifth season of Dancing with the Stars.

Rangi couldn’t be more proud of the man her son has become and now she is excited about the new development in his life – his engagement to his partner of four years Tim Smith (31).

“The fact he’s getting married means there’s another exciting chapter in his life,” she says.

Tamati met Englishman Tim – a music teacher who moved to New Zealand to play in a brass band four years ago – at an Auckland bar.

Tamati was living in Christchurch at the time as a roving presenter for kids show What Now. He says there was an instant attraction between them.

“I thought he was hot,” says Tamati, who completed a politics degree before starting his TV career. “He’s intelligent and sexy, and those two qualities are awesome.”

Tim says he saw how Tamati treated his group of friends, and felt the urge to introduce himself.

“Tamati was talking to his mates. He had them laughing and they were captivated with the stories he was telling,” says Tim.

“I thought he was charismatic and very good-looking, with a huge smile.”

In fact, the pair’s union may have been written in the stars.

Tim explains, “I saw a psychic who told me I’d meet a man with olive skin, who worked outdoors and wasn’t bound to a desk. A month later, I met Tamati.”

For six months the couple continued their relationship long-distance. But when Tamati was offered the spot on Breakfast, their future was set. They eventually bought a house and planned their future.

Tamati says he’d wanted to propose to Tim for a long time but had some misgivings. “I didn’t know how I felt about the civil union thing. It’s like a substitute for marriage – a special category for the gays – and I wasn’t sure I liked that.”

But Tamati’s desire to publicly celebrate his relationship won out.

“When you commit to somebody, you want to do something special. A civil union is the best way we’ve got

and that’s what I wanted,” he says.

“But I’m calling it a marriage because saying, ‘We’re getting a civil union,’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.”

The next challenge was the proposal. Tamati wasn’t sure what the tradition was for a gay couple. “I didn’t know the rules,” he says. “A lot of girls dream about their big day all their lives. Guys, not so much. So for gay guys, it’s even more rare.”

In the end, Tamati decided he could make up his own rules, and proposed to Tim, not with a ring, but with a glass pendant made from recycled bottles.

“Many people have these romantic engagement stories but ours wasn’t like that,” he laughs.

“We got home from a good night out, we were sitting upstairs, and it just came out. I asked Tim to marry me.”

The pair are so in love that every morning Tim gets up at 4am to cook his partner breakfast and drop him off at TVNZ for his 5am start.

Since announcing his engagement, Tamati says he’s been getting enormous support from Breakfast viewers and people on the street.

“I’ve never talked about Tim on air. Suddenly everyone knows who he is – his name and what he looks like.

That’s a bit weird sometimes, but it’s a great feeling.”

Tamati says there has been some negative feedback about the engagement but he believes those critics are a minority.

“I realise that you’re never going to please everyone all the time,” he says.

In fact, Tim and Tamati have discovered their openness has helped others who are struggling with their sexuality.

“I’ve had parents telling me their sons are gay. one father told me his young boy is gay and he doesn’t mind at all. Hearing things like that means a lot to me.”

Tim, who is a music teacher, says he often has students approaching him about their own issues with their sexuality.

“I’m proud of who I am,” he says.

“When young people feel comfortable approaching me about their own issues, I think that saves lives.”

Just like any excited engaged couple, Tim and Tamati would love to become parents one day. The law – as it stands – prevents them from becoming parents in a same sex relationship.

“I guess it’s a bit of an anomaly. If we want to adopt now, I can, but we can’t as a couple,” says Tamati. “I love kids, and every day I’m meeting other people’s kids, picking them up and giving them hugs and having photos with them. I would love to be a dad. We’ll be great parents. Hopefully it will happen one day.”

The idea of becoming a grandmother again excites Rangi, who is still amazed by her son. She remembers Tamati as a shy baby, who wouldn’t leave her side. She sent him to drama classes as a child to build his confidence. It worked – Tamati’s teenage dream was to become the prime minster. He grew to be such a confident and well-balanced teenager that he was one of the youngest contestants to appear on the game show Wheel of Fortune, when he was only 16.

“Everyone asks me how I got him to be so successful, but he did that by himself. I had nothing to do with it,” says Rangi. “He had sheer grit and determination from a young age.”

As Rangi and Tim posed together for the Weekly photoshoot, Tamati couldn’t stop smiling.

“I’ve always surrounded myself with people that I love – my mum and my boy – and I’m not shy in acknowledging the big part they have played in my life.”

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