Hayley Holt opens up about how sobriety has made her braver and stronger

''Have the courage to be who you are, to go against the grain.''

By Erin Fisher
Plug her name into YouTube, and there's footage of her hosting Breakfast, presenting on The Crowd Goes Wild, twirling around
the stage on Dancing With the Stars
, running as a candidate for the Green Party, skydiving, snowboarding, throwing punches in the boxing ring, interviewing Jacinda Ardern and Hugh Jackman (respectively, but what a duo that would be), and opening up about her experiences with alcoholism and mental health.
Seriously, is there anything this woman can't do?
It has been over a year since Hayley Holt switched from debating politics as a Green Party candidate to talking news, sport and entertainment on Breakfast each morning, but her passion for the planet certainly hasn't been left behind.
Getting made up for the camera, she gives a big nod of approval to our makeup artist, who washes all her cloths in preference to disposable wipes.
"People should care!" she exclaims, when we get talking about the dire state of the environment.
"We are kind of dooming the future generations and it will be us when we're old, and it'll be our kids and their kids. I think this is the first time we're going to be leaving the world in a worse place."
Absolutely, the crackdown on single use plastic bags is encouraging, but as she points out, until we take a hard look at our shopping habits, being handed a plastic bag with each purchase is just the tip of the iceberg. She suggests resisting consumer culture and buying less in general, which will have a far bigger impact than simply declining the bag.
"I used to just go out and buy stuff because I felt like it – I felt like getting a bit of a boost," shares Hayley. "I don't buy a lot of stuff any more and I don't feel drawn into buying too many unnecessary things."
At her place, the cupboards are stocked with reusable items, and her environmental crusade continues in the kitchen too. "Another big thing you can do is eat less meat. That will make a huge difference."
Meat makes the occasional appearance on her plate, but for the most part, fresh produce is the hero.
"It's all about the consumer power. It terrifies me, because I don't think we could get everybody making the right decisions, but I guess it's just being thoughtful about what you're buying, and at any chance you get, try to make noise."
Given her relentless work hours, I'm in awe that she even has the time or energy to be such an eco-warrior.
Honestly, the last time my alarm was set for 3.30am was over a year ago to catch an early flight for a holiday. For Hayley, rising while most of the country sleeps is just her daily routine for Breakfast.
"I don't know how I do it either," she laughs.
"I'm a night owl so it goes against the grain. It's still a struggle – I don't think you ever get used to it."
The stylists and hair and makeup artists work their magic each morning, and the cameras are rolling at 6am. Resigning from the Green Party and stepping into the television role was a huge shift, and the past year on the show has been a time of tremendous growth and learning for Hayley.
"It's a double-edged sword. It's made me realise that there is so much out there to worry about, but it has also made me realise that you've got to enjoy life and that one person alone can't save the world. Join the zeitgeist, but also have some fun at the same time."
Having studied history and politics at university, Hayley is nobody's fool, yet there's a charming goofiness about her that has us all smiling and laughing during the photoshoot.
"I'm not as serious as I come across, and I don't come across as being that serious anyway."
While our photographer starts snapping away, she's constantly sneaking in cheeky faces and poses when he's not looking.
As expected, signing up for any presenting role on national television means signing up for having thousands of eyes on you each morning, and with that, thousands of opinions.
That type of scrutiny was something Hayley found tough last year. Even though she makes a point of intentionally not reading the online comments, she admits that just because you're ignoring it doesn't mean you are automatically immune to it.
"I had been getting quite stressed out about things that I have come to the realisation are not worth it. Even though I wasn't reading it, I did waste a lot of time, especially last year, worrying about what people think – what I looked like, if I knew enough, if people thought I was dumb, if people thought I was annoying… but what can you do?
"You learn that people who are writing in to make a negative comments are usually a small section, but they're the ones that are the loudest," she adds.
"I just ignore them. It's not worth it."
Although she applauds social media for its power to generate positive change, Hayley does have her reservations. For her, there is so much power in vulnerability and seeing a person share their fears, and she is wary that constantly seeing the best side of everyone's lives online can create even more shame about our own struggles.
"We've all got a shadow side, but if you can recognise it, it doesn't have power over you."
A big part of understanding her own shadow side has been her transformed relationship with alcohol.
Hayley brought her mum Robyn along as her date to the 2018 New Zealand Television Awards 2018.
Last year, Hayley opened up about her alcoholism on an episode of The Inside Word alongside Claire Robbie and Guy Williams, with all three agreeing that saying no to booze was the best decision they have ever made.
It's a topic she doesn't shy away from, and believes that being open about her history of addiction is important if she wants to help others and lead by example.
Hayley has now been sober for almost five years and has no hesitation in praising sobriety.
"It's changed my life. It just keeps getting better," she reveals confidently, but says there definitely was an initial adjustment period within her social circle.
"It changed how much I hang out with certain people. There were some people who I only ever saw when I was out drinking, so I would bump into these people, and they didn't even recognise me. It was like, 'Who are you? Who is this person?' It was quite eye-opening, because I didn't realise I was that different, but I am so different. My god, I was a nightmare!" she laughs.
Reflecting on her drinking days, Hayley also thinks it's important to re-examine the idea that booze helps you to be yourself and speak truthfully.
"Yeah, you open up, but in a really thoughtless way," she explains.
"People have that saying that people who are drunk tell the truth, but that's not true. If you're drunk, you're not thinking about any of your own actions – especially if you've got a problem. People think that you're this nasty person, but that's actually not you.
"It's fine to have a drink sometimes, but I guess the braver, stronger path is to be able to get to those points where you're honest, real and open with your friends when you're not drunk."
Interestingly, the change has had a significant domino effect on other areas of her life and wellbeing.
"I used to eat a lot of pies and carbs because I needed to soak all the alcohol up, just shoving as many things in my mouth as possible, hoping that something would work and make me feel better," she says, humorously.
"I ate all of the lollies, I drank all of the sugary drinks and I did all of the lazy stuff, and I was suddenly like, 'Nah, I don't want to do that any more.' Now, I eat healthy food because I crave it."
Once she gave up drinking, she quickly gave up her rigorous workout regime in favour of more restorative practices like yoga and hot Pilates.
"I used to box and go really hard at the gym, and I realised that it actually made me feel quite masculine and aggressive. It was almost like self-flagellation. I'd be going to the gym and working out really hard, but I would feel bad about myself. I have realised now that for me, I need the yoga, slowing down and relaxing."
Rolling out her yoga mat for some downward facing dog isn't just for the physical benefits either – it nourishes her spiritual side too.
"I always had a feeling there was something there, but I didn't put too much into it," she says.
"I hate that word – the 'journey' – but at the moment I really am delving into a bit of a spiritual journey. I'm learning about and reading all of the different texts, myths, religions, beliefs and philosophies, and finding how similar they all are."
Since experiencing the spirit and beauty of Hawaii last year, a trip to India is now high on her list. "I'll become the next Rachel Hunter," she laughs.
Hayley during her time as a Green Party candidate.
With her history of competitive snowboarding, ballroom dancing, boxing and TV presenting, it's not surprising that people are quick to assume they know the real Hayley – someone who is sport- and fitness-mad, or ultra-glamorous.
The key word here is assume. The more we talk, the clearer it becomes that there is so much more to her than what we see on the small screen.
"Quite alternative" and "a bogan at heart" are phrases she uses to describe herself, joking about how her work friends think she's a crazy hippie. When she's not on set or got her nose in a book, you'll probably find her at the beach or on a long walk.
"I love nature. It feels real. When you're in a city, everything is so stressful and fast-paced and important. Being able to get yourself out of that, you realise what's important is just your life."
No matter what nicknames her work buddies want to call her, or what some viewers at home have to say, authenticity is something she would never want to sacrifice. It's Hayley's hope that bravely following her own path will have an empowering ripple effect on other people.
"If you're doing exactly the same things as everybody else, you're not really going to be changing the world or making much difference, are you?
"Have the courage to be who you are, to go against the grain. Also, realise that there are going to be so many people who will try to bring you down, so it's about surrounding yourself with people who love you for whoever you are."

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