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Millie Elder-Holmes on turning 30 and 'finding' herself in Greece

Millie has found her happy place in Greece.

By Zoe Walker Ahwa
We think we know Millie Elder-Holmes, the young woman who grew up so publicly and rebelled against it. The spotlight is something she has constantly struggled with, but each phase in Millie's life seems to have attracted it: the glamorous step-daughter of the beloved Paul Holmes; the much-publicised P-addiction and brushes with the law; the drug-free fresh start with boyfriend Connor Morris; and her traumatic loss when he was murdered in 2014.
These stories, and men, came to define Millie in the eyes of the New Zealand public. Following Connor's death and trial, the pressure of everyone knowing that her boyfriend had passed away became intense – public sympathy was a constant reminder for someone grieving so deeply.
So, she left to spend time in her biological dad's village in Greece, beginning a new phase of discovering who she really was, removed from her past. Here she revelled in the fact that she could just be 'Millie', not 'Millie with the tragic story everyone wants to talk about'.
"In Greece, no one knows who I am. I can go out and have a coffee, I can go for a swim at the beach. I just feel so free".
Today, Millie is chatting on the phone in the living room of her rented traditional blue and white stone home near Santorini's Perissa Beach, as her seven-month-old bulldog Miko chews on her shoe.
She's friendly and funny and expressive, swearing brightly within two minutes of answering the phone. It's early morning but it's already too hot to be outside, with the sun shining down on the neighbouring houses and the sea sparkling in the distance. Later she'll do some work, go the gym, visit the post office before it closes at 2pm, and – when it's cooler – take Miko to the beach for a swim.
A place of special memories and family, Greece has always been somewhere Millie has romanticised – she calls it her "happy place". She'd visited as a child for family holidays with step-dad Paul and mum Hinemoa, who had met Millie's biological dad in the small village of Molyvos. (Millie is very close with Hinemoa, who visited last month.)
"I think that Greece was always supposed to be a part of my life. I've found a huge part of myself here, and I'm still discovering more," says Millie, who has now lived there for two-and-a-half years.
"It was almost like a homecoming. I didn't know this part of myself, and I feel really at home here – whereas I remember growing up as a child in Remuera feeling quite… displaced."
She adores Molyvos, where her tour operator dad Stratis Kabanas lives and where she spent most of her time when she first came to Greece. There was never a plan to move there – Millie had
only intended to visit for a holiday before heading back to New Zealand to give her testimony at Connor's trial. Afterwards she decided to go back, thinking she would be there for three months.
"I'm not a plan person," she says. "At the end, I really didn't want to leave. My dad said, 'You should give it a year, you can't know a place in three months.'"
So Millie got her British passport (she was born in the UK) and stayed, her love affair with Greece growing.

In Molyvos, she also surprised herself by finding love again with boyfriend Kostas Saripapas. "I was really sort of opposed to it," Millie admits. "I thought it would be something casual – short and fun, because I was really freaked out about relationship stuff. I thought I wasn't ready."
She giggles while telling the story of how they met: she was at a pizza restaurant in Molyvos with her two Greek girlfriends, talking about how all the guys in the village were horrible. "One of my friends was like, 'The guy who makes the pizza, though…' We looked in the kitchen, and there's Kostas, flipping a pizza above his head."
They've now been together for two years – they split briefly last year – and eventually moved to Thessaloniki in mainland Greece, where Millie put down roots by buying a house. With his job as a chef, they go where the tourists are in summer – which is why she's currently in picture-perfect Santorini.
They've rented a house until December, although Millie says they haven't made plans beyond that just yet; they may still be here next summer.
Right now, she is simply enjoying the gentler life than the one she had known for so long.
"I'm a lot more selective about the things that are in my life, and get less upset because less things go wrong," she says.
"I have less moving parts: it's literally me, my boyfriend and my dog in the house. I think I'm a lot more content but I have a lot less things. I've learnt to be happy for less, if that makes sense. I appreciate things more.
In 2014, before Connor's passing, Millie started food and wellness blog Clean Eatz (she's since changed the name to Finding Millie Elder and broadened it to focus more on lifestyle), launching another new phase and putting herself in the spotlight – albeit one of her own choosing.
When she decided to stay in Greece, she got a job at a rental car company because "I felt like I would give up my blog, moving away from New Zealand".
But brands still wanted to work with her, so she kept at it and it's now her full-time focus.
She was surprised at how easy it was to run her blog and business from anywhere – in June, she even invested in sustainable marine collagen brand Jeuneora.
"It's crazy that they're in New Zealand and I've become part of that from my little house in Greece. The internet is amazing! Although, it hasn't been super easy because Greek customs just love to stop sh*t for no reason," she jokes.

Much like her charismatic parents Paul and Hinemoa, people are fascinated by Millie and what she has to say: she now has 96,000 fans on Facebook (her personal and public pages combined), while her personal Instagram has 65k followers and the blog, 73.5k. (Like any good millennial, she also runs an Instagram account for her dog.)
She's been recognised once in Santorini, in her nail place by two lovely Kiwi women. "We were talking about places they could visit, and they said, 'You look really familiar, you look like this girl', and I said, 'I'm that girl…'"
A big part of Millie's charm is her openness, sharing inspirational quotes and thoughtful captions about grief, growth and Greek traditions. Her posts can often read like mini self-help books, and frequently receive supportive comments. Her followers know what she's been through, and many identify with her struggle.
Millie finds support and inspiration in her followers in return, but admits that exposing her emotions so publicly can create a false sense of intimacy. Strangers sometimes message asking very personal questions; recently someone asked if she still talked to Connor's family.
"That's hard to deal with because I get defensive and wonder, 'Is that what people think? Because I don't post about it, I don't care anymore?' That hurts."
Millie believes her fresh start has helped her find a new perspective on her very modern career of being a blogger and influencer. She jokes about watching, from afar, as New Zealand influencers receive the same PR packages and share them all at the same time.
She still shares some of what she's sent, but her move has given her some distance from the gifting side of the influencer industry; now she'll only talk about what she really loves. And before you dismiss it as frivolous, people really do care: Millie is likely part of the reason you bought a Shakti mat or wanted to try Revitalash.
"Moving here has made me a lot more genuine, in talking about my life," she says.
"The blog started as a personal journey and I don't want it to go away from that. At the start I wanted to reach my health goals, and get on top of my fitness, and now I'm trying to find myself and speak to others about how to work through their pain. And also just talking about my day-to-day bullsh*t – it doesn't have to be so deep and meaningful every day!"

Much like the spotlight, Millie has a complicated relationship with social media. She acknowledges its negative side – the pursuit of perfection – with various posts, like sharing a selfie with the caption, "Real skin has pores and flaws, let's stop posting all this unrealistic smoothed sh*t…" It's something she is obviously passionate about, talking animatedly about the highly edited images most of us now see.
"It makes me think about Connor's sister who has two young girls, they're growing up now. The oldest is coming into her teenage years and has social media. And it freaks me out to think about the pressure and the ideas we're implementing on young girls. Even I feel the pressure sometimes.
"I feel like there's space for some realness. Everyone seems happy [on Instagram], it's like Pleasantville: everything is smiley and amazing. There are some great New Zealand influencers who are really real and honest about depression or grief. But in Europe in particular, some of the Greek girls I follow are all big lips, butts, boobs and clothes. There's no space for anything else; no one is talking about how they feel. Everyone's a classy savage with their Louis Vuitton or Gucci. What are we teaching our young girls who are looking at this stuff?"
She's trying to be more aware of what she is putting out there on social media, although admits that being 'real' – sharing a bad day, for instance – can sometimes "freak people out". But she has more time to consider the messages she's presenting.
"I've been through a lot more now."
In May, Millie turned 30, celebrating the milestone by booking a luxury hotel room with views of Santorini's iconic caldera. "It was magical," she says of the celebration, though she admits that she still feels like she's 14.
"I feel like age is this bullsh*t thing we're told is important to stop us from doing certain things. All the adults I know never really grew up: I couldn't look at my mum and tell her age – she looks like a 16-year-old! My Greek dad and Paul, they were both so childish."
At 30, and having experienced more than most will in a lifetime, Millie says her biggest lesson from her new Greek life has come from her dad: take your time.
"I want to get sh*t done fast. I want everything to be ready for the moment that I need it. My dad is always saying, 'This is Greece, just relax a little bit'.
"I've come to understand that there is a completely different way of living, and it's not the fast-paced Auckland life that I was accustomed to. I've learnt to slow down, and take my time. Because everything that's meant for me is going to come, at some point."

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