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Relationships

Amanda Gillies opens up about her loves and losses and the practice that has helped her turn a corner in her life

Amanda Gillies is in a happy place – but there has been personal heartbreak along the way.

By Emma Clifton
At 10am on your average weekday morning, Amanda Gillies has already been up for seven straight hours – and live on television for three of them.
As a co-presenter on Newshub's early morning programme The AM Show, the 42-year-old gets a lot more morning than the rest of us do, and yet there is not a trace of grouchiness around her as she sits down for our chat.
Both in her professional life and her personal life, this is not a woman who does grouchiness, full stop. Even if there is still no love lost between her and her 3.15am alarm – "it's a hate-hate relationship" – Amanda is in a very happy place.
But, as these things so often go, the path to the happy place has not been a smooth one.
"It's fair to say the last eight months have been topsy-turvy," Amanda says. "There's been a lot going on both professionally and personally. Heartbreak, but also stuff that has been just brilliant."
We'll start with the professional.
Back in 2017, Amanda was named one of the hosts of The AM Show and she is the first to admit it was not the easiest mental transition to go from being a reporter to a presenter.
Being a reporter means long hours in the field, with a backdrop that's consistently changing; always out with the public, for the public. Being a presenter means the same location every day, with the people coming to you – not you going to them.
For someone who had, by then, spent 20 years chasing stories, it was a gear-shift.
I spent the first, probably year, of that job feeling like an imposter," Amanda says frankly.
"Because I got the job so last-minute, and I'd never presented before. I was so new, and the boys were so established in what they were doing. I kind of thought: 'Should I be here?' I felt like it wasn't mine."
But then came a turning point.
"You get voice lessons and you start tweaking what you need to learn and you start feeling more comfortable. I'm no longer a bundle of nerves every morning at 10 to six, thinking, 'Oh gosh, here we go.' I can actually enjoy the job, which is a nice place to be."
"The boys" Amanda refers to are Duncan Garner and Mark Richardson, her very male counterparts who, with Amanda, make up The AM Show's presenting trio.
Depending on your politics, you may love or hate their strong opinions, but Amanda enjoys working with them.
"I'm lucky because I trust Mark and Duncan completely – I always say to them, they're like brothers. Duncan especially, he's like my work husband; we go back two decades," she says.
"Yes, look – it's like life. There are ups and downs and yes, there are days when I do probably want to kill them but at the end of the day, we don't take that out anywhere else with us. We deal with it on the show. We're always up for a laugh, and we're certainly never going to throw each other under the bus. We've got each other's backs."

On the responsibility of her role

As the sole female presenter, Amanda is often called upon to represent her gender when topics sway that way – something that can be both positive and also a massive responsibility.
For instance, she recently brought up a story that was buzzing around the internet about the ways women protect themselves from sexual assault – and how surprising that consistent thought process was to men.
"Every time I get into my car I always look in the back seat to make sure no one's in there; whenever I go out, if I put my drink down and I turn around, I won't continue drinking it; and I often look to make sure that they are pouring the drink and everything goes in," she said at the time.
"When I go to my car I always have my keys out, just in case someone comes along, so it's a form of weapon."
This reads as standard fare to most women, but for Mark and Duncan, it was incredibly eye-opening.
"I said, 'This is the reality of my life, of every woman's life. This is what we go through,'" Amanda explains now.
"There is that responsibility and you do want to get that point across – sometimes it's hard to be heard [as a woman], so it's nice that I can have that platform. I won't always get it right… but it's a privilege, and not something I would ever take for granted."
Amanda with her co-hosts on The AM Show, Duncan Garner (centre) and Mark Richardson. She says being the only woman in the team is a privilege and a responsibility.
Waking up at 3am and having to fill three hours of live television every weekday is akin to most people's worst nightmares. But there was another hurdle for Amanda to conquer – talking about herself.
Journalists are trained to present the story and stay out of it, but breakfast television is known for being the Chatty Cathy of news programmes – so that line between personal and professional was immediately blurred.
"It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to give my opinion," Amanda says, before joking that luckily her friends and family were "very understanding" as she began sharing anecdotes on national television.
Now, she laughs, it's gone the other way. "I was out the other night and a man came up to me and said, 'Wow, I wish I had a hanky for you,' and I looked at him like… 'I beg your pardon?' But it was a story I had told earlier on in the day. You forget! Because sometimes it's the three of us in the studio having a chat and you forget there is an audience."
The merging of the private and the public came to a head late last year when Amanda became – as the young people call it – "Instagram official" with her partner Tim Murphy, the co-editor of news website Newsroom.
It was a spur of the moment decision to put up a photo of the pair of them, she says.
"We were in Bali, and it was after someone who had been special to me in my life had passed away, so we were in quite a reflective and 'appreciating life' mood."
Being out of the Auckland media bubble for a while, she didn't think much of it until she got home. "It turned up in the papers a couple of weeks later and I was like, 'Oh bugger,'" she laughs.
"But that is the nature of it – and we never hide it. But while I have a very public job, I happen to date the world's most private man. So I have to learn to respect that and there are boundaries. He fully supports everything I do, but he has children and I am respectful of that." She grins.
"I'd post every day if I could."
The pair moved in together over Christmas, which has added an extra frisson to getting ready at 3.15am.
"It turns out I'm a bit of an elephant… I'm not the quietest person in the house," Amanda laughs.
Her morning routine is now extra streamlined – in order not to wake anyone, Amanda turns no lights on and gets around by using the torch on her cellphone. Whoever said being on television wasn't glamorous?
Tim is the father of six children, which means theirs can be a busy house.
"When he first said to me, 'I'm a father of six,' I think he was expecting me to be shocked, but I too come from a very Catholic family. I'm one of four, my sister has six kids, one of my brothers has four kids, my father is one of five…" she says.
"And Tim's children are wonderful – I'm very lucky, we have a lot of fun. And it's nice because… while I can't have children now, short of a miracle – and we love a miracle – we don't have an empty nest."

It was on The AM Show in late 2017 that Amanda first discussed her struggles with infertility.
It wasn't a conversation she was initially going to be a part of, until she saw co-presenter Mark Richardson's heartfelt honesty about his and his wife's battle to conceive. So she added in her own experience, about how being childless at 40 did at times make her feel like a failure.
With our birth rates at a historical low, this is a subject a lot of New Zealand women know all too well.
"Last year I made the decision that if it hadn't happened by the end of the year, that would be it," Amanda says.
"And I wasn't lucky enough for it to happen, so you reset goals. But I don't want to be bitter and I don't want to dwell on it, and my partner has beautiful, healthy children, so you embrace that, and then you reset. You reset where you are heading in life, because I think that if you focus too much on that grief, you become very down and it gets very hard.
"You do have moments. I do have moments where the longing is so intense. But you just have to accept that and know that's part of life. We've got a baby boom going on at TV3 at the moment and I am truly so happy about it; it's a beautiful thing. You can't begrudge anyone – I go the opposite way, I encourage all women."
She puts her hands around her mouth, as if a loudspeaker. "'Get a move on! Don't muck around!' And that's always my advice. If you can, just do it. Because there's never regret there. It's just the most beautiful thing you can do."
The silver lining to having the end of 2018 be the emotional cut-off for trying for a baby was that for the first time in her life, Amanda had a nine-week summer holiday.
"We went to Gisborne and Whangamata. We lay on the beach – I got to know my partner; that's the first time we'd spent normal time together. I learned how to cook again… it was really nice to get away, relax, sleep and feel you've got life under control."
Drawing a line under 2018 was also important for a different reason.
In August last year, respected broadcaster Greg Boyed, best known for his work on TVNZ shows like Q&A and Seven Sharp, died after struggling with depression. He and Amanda were in a relationship for several years and were engaged before splitting amicably back in 2013.
"Greg… it's heartbreaking," she says.
"He was someone very special in my life and what I find so hard about this, or for anyone [in this situation]… they can't see what we see. Which is what beautiful, talented, smart, funny and well-loved people they are. That's the hardest thing. Out of respect for his wife and children I don't want to talk too much on that but he was a very special, very talented person."
To have loved someone with a mental illness is to have a front row seat to how all-consuming such a condition can be.
"It's a huge thing, and it's not something that's rational," Amanda says.
"And I think that's why we need better wraparound services, better treatments. People need the right treatment and for whatever reason, there's been a stigma around it."
She praises work done by well-known Kiwi men like Mike King and John Kirwan in increasing the conversations around mental health.
"They've done incredible work but we need better support services in place. It's one thing to put your hand up and say you're struggling, it's another thing to know where you should go. It's a real problem in New Zealand and it doesn't discriminate."
Personal history aside, the loss of a fellow broadcaster was felt widely across New Zealand media.
"Everybody knew Greg for what he did, and loved Greg. You feel like you lose a little part of yourself. It had huge ripples throughout the industry."

What Amanda is grateful for

Finding joy in amongst the chaos of life has become something Amanda prioritises more and more.
For the past 18 months, she has kept a gratitude diary. It started as a visual project, posting something she was grateful for on her Instagram.
The seeds for it were sown early last year, when she was driving to work while everyone else was still on holiday.
"I heard a woman on the radio talking about a gratitude diary and how you've got to find something every day that you're grateful for. I thought, 'I need to do that.'"
Later in the year, Gemma McCaw was a guest host on The AM Show and she gave Amanda a gratitude diary.
Now, every day, Amanda writes down three things she's enjoyed that day. It has shifted her day-to-day experience of life, she says.
"It almost awakens your senses. It makes you aware. Sometimes it might be that I've booked a ticket to go overseas. Sometimes it's that I've had a chat with my mum. It's the little things, and it makes you realise life is okay."

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