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From Breakfast to bliss: why Petra Bagust’s life had to change

Since bravely quitting TV, she has never looked back
Petra Bagust

Rewind three years and it was a typically hectic day on TVNZ’s Breakfast, but behind the scenes, upbeat co-anchor Petra Bagust wasn’t her usual chirpy self.

“I was going through a hard time,” recalls Petra. “I was exhausted and stressed about work. Suddenly, Colin Mathura-Jeffree came up to me and said something like, ‘You’re great.’ It was such a little thing, but it was like a sprinkle of fairy dust. Colin’s just delightful like that and I’m sure he never knew what a lift he gave me at the very moment I needed it.”

It’s the perfect example, says Petra, 43, of how a little bit can go a long way. And since she decided – together with her husband, freelance cameraman Hamish Wilson – that it was time to adjust her work-life balance and become a one-income family, she’s used to turning less into more.

And boy, does she feel like she has more! More connection with her children, Venetia, 12, Jude, 10, and Theo, eight, as well as more enjoyment in life, more time, better health …

“I said to Hamish after I’d resigned from Breakfast, ‘I’m not going to do anything for six months. I’m going to have a sabbatical to be with the family and breathe,’” recalls Petra. “At the end of the six months, I thought, ‘This is sensational. I’m going to do it for another six months!’

“The truth is, more money does not make you happier. Of course, you need to be able to pay the bills or you’ll suffer physically, emotionally and mentally. But after a certain point, money makes no material difference. I’ve felt wealthier since I’ve been at home, not working. I was surprised by it, but it’s the honest truth.”

It’s three years since the TV star, whose first broadcasting job was on Ice TV at age 22, vanished from our screens. Apart from running a busy household, she does MC work and has stepped up her charity commitments.

It’s her involvement with new charity My Droplet that has Petra giving more thought to making a little go a long way. The brainchild of Auckland entrepreneur Shannon Walsh, the organisation assesses the effectiveness of charities competing for New Zealand’s donation dollar. Only those meeting strict criteria about how they spend donors’ money are listed on My Droplet’s website, so people who may have been hesitant to give can donate online. “It can be as little as 50c,” says Petra. “That’s the philosophy – even just a droplet like that can make a difference.”

Shannon (left) and Petra (right)

She can’t wait to have a serious chat to her kids about giving, which she says has been proven to benefit the mental health of people who give as much as those on the receiving end. Petra explains, “We have a system at home where the kids do 10 jobs each a week to get pocket money. They get to spend some, save some and give some. But to tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve done a very good job so far of teaching them how to give.

“My eight-year-old is saving for an iPad and all his money is going towards that. We have this giving jar and he’s like, ‘Mum, can I just give $2 this week instead of $3?’ With My Droplet launching, I hope the kids will start to engage more. They can go on the website and decide which charity means something to them.”

Petra is relishing her long conversations with her kids since quitting Breakfast, which involved 4.20am starts. She recalls, “When I took the role, I thought I would be a fantastic parent in the afternoons, but I was a grouchy mum. I was grumpy, tired and distracted. My head was in the news.”

Finding her joy

“Maybe other people are able to separate things, but I got to the point where I thought, ‘The ledger’s not balancing.’ During my time on the show, the kids stopped running and jumping into bed with us in the morning. It sounds like a little thing, but that’s the essence of life you’re missing out on right there.”

These days, Petra cycles with the kids to school every morning, then goes for a 30-minute run before working on other projects, including abstract art. If she is ever grumpy, her kids say, “Hey, Mum, go for a run!” Petra laughs.

“Being at home has taught me many valuable lessons about being present. I’ve had to learn not to be too addicted to Instagram. One of my sons said a while ago, ‘Mum, you spend too much time on your phone,’ and I said, ‘I think I do too. Don’t worry – I’m working on that one!’”

It’s a fab new life for Petra, but she hasn’t given up on broadcasting forever. “If something fun or really engaging came along, I’d do it,” she insists. “Totally!”

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