TV

Toni Street reflects on an amazing career in broadcasting

'I've just been blown away that any of these amazing jobs were even possible for me.'

By Sophie Neville

When Toni Street sat down for this exclusive interview with Woman's Day earlier this month, she knew a big announcement was coming. After four years in the job, she and co-host Mike Hosking were about to announce they were leaving Seven Sharp.

She dropped clues throughout the interview. She talked about her "amazing" career. The buzz she still gets from television. The struggles she's overcome. But most of all she talked about family.

Here, Toni candidly discusses the reasons that led to her decision to leave.

When broadcasting belle Toni Street first hit screens as an eager sports reporter back in 2005, she thought she'd hit the jackpot. Being paid to talk about sports was "the pinnacle of my life", Toni tells us and she never dared to dream that she might go even further.

But viewers and TV bosses alike soon spotted a very special talent in the down-to-earth star - that amazing ability to connect with us at home while still owning the airwaves. Soon she was hosting Breakfast, before being elevated to Seven Sharp, alongside broadcasting legend Mike Hosking, where she's won a legion of fans over the past four years.

"I've just been blown away that any of these amazing jobs were even possible for me," admits Toni, fresh from her stunning beachside photo shoot.

"When I got to host breakfast TV, I just thought, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm in this realm.' And when I got to Seven Sharp, a prime-time show, well, I just never dreamed that could be on my horizon.

"Even now, I've never lost that buzzy feeling I get from television - 12 years later, I still get that."

But nothing could top the buzz of November 30, when the mum-of-two took out the Woman's Day Television Personality of the Year gong at the New Zealand TV Awards. Joined by husband Matt France, the 34-year-old dazzled in a black sequined gown and was "completely overwhelmed" by the top honour.

"To win an award that was voted by the public is just so amazing," she grins. "I still get a real thrill when people come up and talk to me about things we've done on Seven Sharp because it reminds me that people out there are watching and enjoying what we do.

"When I first started out in journalism, I was quite self-critical. Any negative comments kind of stuck with me and I couldn't help but take them on board. But as I've got older, I've opened myself up to hearing the positive stuff and lovely feedback just makes my day. It's incredibly humbling to think that people took the time to vote for me."

New Plymouth born and bred, Toni is modest when it comes to her talents, and insists her success comes down to being herself and working hard. But it's no secret that she's regarded as one of TV's most grounded, laid-back and genuine stars.

Indeed, at our glam photo shoot on St Leonards beach, just down the road from her home on Auckland's North Shore, she's unfazed when the tide starts coming in at an alarming rate. Hitching up her gown, she wades through the waves, laughing gleefully as she clambers up a rock face to safety.

"I've never really seen any reason to change who I am," smiles Toni.

"I am the same person I was from the girl who grew up on a dairy farm in Taranaki. Yes, I'm doing this cool job, but I'm no better than anyone else. And everyone that I work with, from the youngest intern to the superstars we interview, all make my job happen. Without them, it doesn't work. So literally everyone is as important as the next and that's how I treat people."

Toni acknowledges that not all celebrities are able to remain so true to themselves.

"I think if someone is entitled or has that kind of vibe, it comes from a place of insecurity. And I've never felt insecure in my job because I genuinely feel that if there's someone better to do my role, then I'd be OK with that. It is what it is - everything has a cycle. People are popular and then they're not, and when the day comes when I'm not in favour, I'm sure I'll take it in good grace and find something else to do."

For the past year, Toni -who's mum to Juliette, five, and two-year-old Mackenzie - has been working two full-time jobs. In the morning, she hosts a radio show on The Hits with Sam Wallace and Sarah Gandy, before presenting Seven Sharp in the evenings.

She's got used to the dreaded 4am wake-ups and adores both roles, but since Juliette, known fondly as Juju, started school in October, the family juggle has got tougher.

"It means I hardly see her in the afternoons any more," Toni tells, explaining that she picks Juliette up from school but has just five minutes with her before rushing to TVNZ.

"She'll say things like, 'Aw, are you really going to work now?' and I think she's struggling to understand why she's only seeing me for such a short time. I understand that heaps of women work and they have no choice, but for me, it's five days a week where I hardly see my girls at all. There's no night where I can read them a story before they go to sleep."

Toni says that she and Matt, a freelance marketing and events manager, are discussing ways to change the balance between work and family, and that it's time to weigh up what's most important in life.

"They are young for such a short period of time, and while work is so important to me and to who I am - not to mention financially - it's a matter of weighing up how much I'm willing to sacrifice. I have to decide how long I can do this for."

She pays tribute to Matt, 33, who has taken on more flexible work roles so he can run the family home while she climbs the career ladder.

"I couldn't have made it work without a husband who's super-capable. I'm relying on him every day to do the drop-offs, the dinner and the bedtimes. If one of our kids needs something to eat, they don't automatically say, 'Mum!' They'll go to either of us. And I love that. It's quite a benefit that they're growing up without any of those gender stereotypes."

While Juliette might be missing her mum, a very proud Toni tells us her outgoing five-year-old adjusted to school like a pro.

"She has the most wonderful teacher and she's in a lovely little class. The tiredness factor is a massive thing, though. She's exhausted after school. She's like a zombie!"

And Toni's loving hearing Juliette's tales from her school days - even though there has been the odd case of lost in translation.

"She had to take a gold coin to school and she explained that it was because some kids don't have parents in London. I was like, 'Hmm, this is interesting.' Then I found out they were collecting money for the survivors of the Thailand tsunami!"

With just a week left of work and school before the family takes a well-earned break, Toni is busy planning for Christmas. An ambassador for the children's charity Variety, she's urging people to give generously to help Kiwi kids less fortunate.

The festive fanatic has had her decorations up since mid-November and loves everything about this time of year.

"I've got two trees, one artificial and one real, and even a giant reindeer at my front door!" she laughs.

"There are solar lights beaming all over the house, but the thing is, there's always more you can do. I watched Bad Moms 2 and I got a lot of inspiration from that because every pillar and architrave in the house had this thick green runner and that's what really adds the impact. So I'm hoping to do that too. Fortunately, Matt's very supportive!"

Toni and Matt are hosting Christmas Day at home this year, with the extended Street and France whanau descending. In typical style, Toni has the menu all planned out already - a prawn entree followed by turkey, ham, roasties and individual trifles for dessert.

"Usually we're left eating trifle for two weeks after, but in the interests of sorting ourselves out for summer, I'm changing it up with mini ones!"

As The Hits listeners will know, Toni and her co-hosts have embarked on a six-week challenge to get in shape. And the results are clear to see, with the stunning star losing almost four kilos and sporting a healthy glow.

She tells us that giving up sugar and cutting down on gluten has left her feeling better than she has in years - a stark contrast from this time two years ago when she was facing life-threatening auto-immune condition Churg Strauss syndrome. While still on a low-dose steroid and monitored by monthly blood tests, Toni is back to her best and determined to keep it that way.

"Compared to two years ago when I was loaded up with these steroid infusions, I feel like I've come a long way. I'm so glad life's not like that now. I was physically and mentally wrecked. I never want to go back and that's why this health kick has been so good - I feel so much better."

While she's not yet sure what 2018 will bring, Toni is hanging out for a lovely long break spent with family and friends.

"I am looking forward to having no commitments. That's the thing with having two jobs - it means two sets of emails, two sets of interviews ... two lots of work! I absolutely love my jobs, but yes, it's time for a holiday!"

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