Bernadine Oliver Kerby on why her next stage in life is about family, fun – and music

Bernie's mantra for 2018 has been Richard Branson's advice that no one learned anything by hearing themselves speak.

Bernadine Oliver-Kerby is a hoot, laughing and chatting over a flat white at a bustling café across the road from her office. Her bubbly energy must be contagious, the volume in the room getting louder and louder around us as she talks. Up since 4am, this is Bernie’s third – or is it fourth? – coffee of the day; she has a much-loved, much-used Nespresso machine sitting on her desk, a gift from husband Mark.

“Not many people wash their hair at 4am,” she jokes of her routine, “but I managed to this morning!”

The popular broadcaster has been a mainstay of New Zealand screen and radio for years, but in January began a new role that has seen her focus on having a bit more fun, moving from news to music as the breakfast co-host on radio station Coast. Seven months in, she admits – despite her years of experience – she’s still learning loads.

“I’ve got my L-plates firmly fixed on, and they won’t be coming off for a long time. In fact, I’m not even close to getting my restricted!”

She’s joking, with that classic Kiwi self-deprecating humour and attitude that have made her so beloved – but for Bernadine, there is also genuine pleasure in the novelty of a fresh challenge. The 47-year-old is watching, learning, and loving it.

As a long-time presenter with TVNZ and newsreader at Newstalk ZB, Bernadine was accustomed to being in complete control and knowing exactly what to do and when to do it. She could have done it all with her eyes closed. But that, she admits, was a major reason she knew it was time to make a change.

“It’s like having a baby or getting married: there’s never a good time. You’ve just got to take the leap of faith,” she says.

“It’s about bettering yourself and upskilling. I’m only in my 40s; I’m not retired yet!”

Bernadine finished up at TVNZ last year (she’d worked with the state broadcaster for 25 years), and said farewell to her morning news colleagues at ZB in January after 13 years – making the move downstairs in the same building to Coast, where she works alongside co-host Jason Reeves.

“It was time for a new challenge, simple as that,” she says. “You’re always learning. But I think it got to the point at ZB where, while I loved the job and loved the people, I was starting to get a bit stale, or bored,” reflects Bernadine.

“There was nothing wrong with the role, but after 13 years, you don’t want be reading news bulletins and doing your shopping list in your head, thinking, ‘bread, milk, eggs, butter’. You need to keep challenging yourself.”

Her mantra for 2018 has been Richard Branson’s advice that no one learned anything by hearing themselves speak – something she knows is perhaps contradictory to her role and career.

“It’s almost the opposite: your job is to talk but you learn a lot more from listening. That’s something I have to tweak and adjust,” she admits.

It’s all part of pushing herself and “flipping into a different mindset”; taking her out of her comfort zone. “I don’t like not feeling totally comfortable, the fact that I’m being led rather than the leader,” she admits. “But I’m in such great hands [with co-host Jason]. You like to have your hands on the control, but I accept that the reason I’ve done it is to learn a new skill and make the next step.”

Reflecting on the move from news to music radio, Bernadine says she’s enjoying the chance to show more personality and opinion without the impartial “shackles of news”. Recently she bantered with British comedian Catherine Tate, and interviewed mega-star Cher; writing on Instagram afterwards that she was pinching herself.

“You’re just able to be yourself; it’s a lot of fun. The thing for me is to put the filter on!” she says, laughing. “Anyone who knows me knows I chat, a lot; everything’s fast and furious and this role is no different.”

Bernadine has always lived her life at breakneck speed – talking and walking fast, and balancing radio and TV duties with the demands of family and having a personal life. Right now she’s also hosting Sky TV’s New Zealand Press Box, a panel show exploring the sports news of the week – or “blow your hair back sports debate” as she’s described it.

The show had a bumpy start, with controversy over Tony Veitch’s initial involvement on the panel (he later withdrew), but has proven so successful since launching in March that it’s gone from being monthly to fortnightly, and now weekly.

Each Wednesday after her usual 4am start and early morning radio shift, Bernadine heads to the Sky studio to film that night’s show; a highlight of her week.

“Typical Gemini, I need the balance,” she says of the music/sport, radio/TV combination.

“Delving into the sports issues, debating it; discussing it, having a good ol’ one-two – as Kiwis, that’s what we do and love. And let’s face it, we’re all experts, we’re all coaches!”

That down-to-earth attitude is central to Bernadine’s enduring appeal to Kiwis; the feeling that you could happily chat sport, politics or pop culture with her at the pub. She’s fun, and can more than hold her own – this is a woman who walked out of the studio when Mike Hosking joked about having “man’s time” to talk league, later saying she could have him in a headlock or fireman’s lift in a heartbeat.

Of that charming self-assured appeal, the mother of two preteen girls says she’s just like everyone else. “I’m just doing what I do, like every other mum; nothing special! I’m no different to every other parent, thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to put in the lunchbox today?'”

When asked if she feels confident, Bernadine pauses before answering. “Not at all. Not at all! What is confidence though? In the way you look, your job, the way you drive? There are so many levels.”

She acknowledges her oratory strength, but says, despite appearances, she’s not always comfortable meeting new people – knowing she’s likely to get the usual questions about what Paul Holmes and Mike were “really like”, and whether the news is live. She never listens to herself on the radio, and you’ll rarely see her at events (an exception are those for the Child Cancer Foundation, of which she’s an ambassador). She’d rather spend any rare spare time with family and friends.

“If you want to torture me or really push me to the extreme, put me in a room with a group of people I don’t know. Isn’t it funny how you can come across as bubbly and confident – and I am, in front of my friends and people I know – but I’m actually quite shy.”

It may be a fast-paced life – “I just go, go, go – the days are full and the weeks are full and I wouldn’t have it any other way” – but family is central to everything she does. She and policeman husband Mark chose to have one parent with their two daughters all the time; Bernadine admits it’s rare they’ll all sit down and have a meal together, but they regularly make time to reconnect as a family.

Now eight and 10, Scarlett and Maisey are getting close to door-slamming age, jokes Bernadine.

“They still want hugs, they still need mum and dad; we still check the fairy door in the morning to see if the fairies have come. We’re still in countdown mode for Santa, and the Easter bunny still visits regularly,” says Bernadine lovingly.

“I know those moments go so quickly, so I’m embracing this time. I know some little ratbag at school is going to ruin that Santa thing soon!”

She appreciates she’s in the golden age of parenting, although she adds there’s now no singing in the car or dancing (“So uncool! The height of embarrassment for an eight and 10-year-old.”). She’s preparing for the next stage of her children’s lives and a new set of challenges in parenting teenage girls.

“I’ve got friends with older children, and it’s like, ‘Is that really all ahead of me?’ Seems I don’t need to just buckle up: I need knee pads, I need a mouth guard, I need a neck brace! It’s going to be a wild ride, but you’re on it with them.”

A coach for both their netball teams (Bernadine herself plays social netball with friends), and “taxi driver” for hockey, Rippa Rugby, touch, cricket and swim-ming, she admits she is constantly busy but consciously so. If there is downtime, she is filling it with something else.

She can’t think of anything worse than sitting around the house: “I’m just not a sedentary kind of person.”

Even on holiday she will find it hard to stop, read a book and relax.

“Umm… I do to a certain extent; it’s forced time out, isn’t it?” she says.

“But then again, I’m the kind of mum poolside worrying that the pool’s too shallow and the kids are going to jump in and break their neck or someone’s going to chip their tooth on the side of the pool! I’m the natural born worrier. No one else in the world needs to worry, because I’m worrying on their behalf. It’s a gift from my mum, I think; she was the same.”

For Bernadine, that full life and famous bubbly energy is about having a passion for every day. Proof of her intense schedule: in February she downloaded the Emily Blunt film The Girl on the Train to watch on Sky, and it’s still sitting there, unwatched and about to expire.

“I have not had a two-hour window when I won’t be interrupted, or I won’t fall asleep,” she says, smiling. “I haven’t had two hours to sit down and watch a movie. And it’s not ‘Ooh I’m so busy’ – that’s just how busy I am. But, happily so.”

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