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Wilhelmina Shrimpton reflects on her biggest year yet

After grieving her old life, the broadcaster’s started a new business and is excited for what lies ahead

On New Year's Eve as the clocked ticked over to midnight, Wilhelmina Shrimpton counted down with friends, enjoyed a toast and later, quietly, had a cry.
It was the realisation of making it through the hardest year of her life – where she "met both the saddest and happiest versions of herself", coupled with an appreciation of coming out the other side.
"If you had said to me at the start of 2023, 'So, this is what's going to happen…' I would have said, 'You're insane!'" smiles the award-winning journalist.
"Within eight months, I lost my job, separated from my husband, went to India to work, launched my own business, met someone special and had to find a new place to live. Everything that could've changed, changed. They say variety is the spice of life. Well, I've been keeping it pretty spicy lately!"
As Wilhelmina welcomes the Weekly team into her Auckland home, her new partner, rugby referee Ben O'Keeffe, arrives at the same time, back from a run in the muggy heat.
While they're not ready to share all the details of their budding relationship, she does reveal it stemmed from "a simple follow" on Instagram, before they exchanged messages and went on a first date.
"We hadn't met each other before, but we kind of knew each other existed [through Ben's younger brother, Newshub presenter Michael O'Keeffe]," grins the 33-year-old. "All I can say is that we're both really, really happy."
Ben with his Newshub brother Michael.
Now based in Auckland, Ben, 35, was in Paris as part of the 2023 Rugby World Cup referee squad – where Wilhelmina met up with him amid the closing rounds – and also works as a locum ophthalmology registrar when he is not on the field.
Since then, the gorgeous pair has shared loved-up summer holiday snaps on social media.
"New Years was a really reflective time for me," tells Wilhelmina. "I have so much gratitude for how things have worked out and being able to meet Ben. I'm feeling really positive and excited for what's ahead after such a weird, intense period of life-change."
She's found new love with Ben. "We're both really, really happy."
In fact, the last time the Weekly caught up with the popular broadcaster, we were celebrating her new "dream job" as investigations editor and host at Today FM.
However, on March 30, the day after the magazine went to print, the station was abruptly taken off air.
"It was tough having the article come out, but I still mean everything that I said about my role. I had the best time working there and it really built up my confidence."
Only days after the station shut down, Wilhelmina had four nominations at the New Zealand Radio Awards in three different categories – they're now proudly hanging in her home office – and she went on to win Best Long Form Video for her documentary High and Die: The Fentanyl Problem, as well as Best News Journalist.
It was undoubtedly a bittersweet career highlight.
Wilhelmina's first day doing talkback.
Then, several weeks after being out of a job, Wilhelmina and her husband of five years, Mike Sanders, also decided to separate. Even though it was an amicable parting, she describes that time as
the lowest point of her life.
"I went to ground and I grieved," she says candidly. "I've had some massive setbacks before, which I thought were the lowest points of my life, but this by far surpassed those moments.
"My mum Wendy was a massive rock for me, along with my best friend Tess Woolcock, who had also been through a separation and launched her own business. She was a wonderful sounding board for me.
"There were lots of phone calls, tears, panic attacks and lots of scary, hopeless moments for sure… And days when I thought, 'I don't know if I'm going to get out of this?' Or, 'How am I going to pay rent and bills?'
"Mum kept saying, 'You can do anything you put your mind to.' Tess told me, 'I've been through it before, it will be okay. The opportunities will come, the money will come.' I didn't believe her at the time, but retrospectively, she was right. It has been okay."
Going out on her own professionally had always terrified the former Newshub newsreader. When she left Today FM, she was determined to find the next full-time broadcasting role. But after talking to multiple newsrooms around the country – many with hiring freezes – they only had a budget for freelancers.
Silencing the voice in her head – "You know, that naysayer telling you you're not good enough" – Wilhelmina found the courage to launch her own business mid-year, called Wils & Co. Media.
"I've always been a go hard or go home kind of gal."
While journalism and storytelling will always be her true passion, diversifying her skills became key.
"I've always been a go hard or go home kind of gal, so I hired a graphic designer and built a website, and became my own IT and accounts team." (She jokes that her cat Florrie and pup Albie are in charge of HR and workplace culture).
Short-term PR, podcast and writing contracts soon started rolling in, and she was approached to design and run a media training course along with emceeing gigs.
It also coincided with an unexpected request to go to India for a month, working six days a week with an international news network and its journalists in preparation for the G20 Summit in Delhi.
"I got a message through my LinkedIn page, telling me about a contract in India in the lead-up to G20 and asking if I'd consider going over," explains Wilhelmina. "My first thought was, 'Have I been hacked?' And, of course, I was expecting a follow-up message saying, 'Please deposit $3000 into this account!' But it was all legit.
"It was such an amazing opportunity, it didn't seem real. And it couldn't have come at a better time for me to be in a whole new environment, working alongside new people – the likes of who were war correspondents and BBC newsreaders. It was such a pinch-me moment!
"I was able to meet international correspondents who I did interviews with on Today FM. India was never a place that was on my must-do travel list, yet now I hope I get another contract there because I'd go back in a heartbeat. I made friends for life."
Taj Mahal beauty! Wilhelmina in India, where she worked with an international news team.
Since launching her company, Wilhelmina has relished the nonstop work, including some new irons in the fire like event planning and hosting her first Saturday afternoon shift on Newstalk ZB recently.
It was a fresh challenge, well outside of her comfort zone, as she explains she'd always been "hideously afraid" of doing talkback – "because you can't plan talkback and I'm such a meticulous planner".
"But thankfully, I didn't have to use the 'dump' button [used when a caller utters swear words] and it was really, really nice to be back on the airwaves again."
She also received a number of texts from people, saying, "It's so good to hear your voice again", which she didn't expect.
"One caller goes, 'Wilhelmina? Shrimpton? You were on Newshub, right?' I replied, 'Yes.' He says, 'Well, this is embarrassing, but I had the biggest crush on you!' I said, 'Oh, I'm so flattered... Now what are your views on…'"
Reflecting on the tumultuous roller-coaster ride of 2023, she says she's discovered all of those overused clichés people spurt about life appear to be true.
"Everything happens for a reason… Big risk equals big rewards… The universe only gives you as much as you can handle…" she lists off, joking that she's become unashamedly "woo-woo".
"But honestly, I've found the biggest growth comes from the toughest times. Growth doesn't come from being in your comfort zone, it only happens when change is thrust upon you.
"I never ever imagined grabbing the bull by the horns and creating my own business. It was the leap I'd always been too scared to make. Too afraid to fail, too afraid to know when and how to start, and definitely too afraid of accounting!
"It's been a wild ride, but I've learned I'm more capable than I thought. It's going to be an epic 2024. I can't wait!"

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