Brooke van Velden doesn't immediately strike you as a politician. She's young – she turned 30 this year, and she's very calm and softly spoken.
"I was actually a very shy child," smiles Brooke, who is wearing her signature vibrant pink at her Act electorate offices in Tāmaki – an old single-storey building that was once the St Heliers police headquarters.
"I used to go bright red if someone spoke to me. Mum tells me I'd cling to her skirt and not say anything. I much preferred books. I had friends, but I certainly wasn't the life of the party!"
Despite her shyness, the building blocks of what Brooke was to become were being placed. The daughter of a nurse and a mechanic, and youngest sister of three boisterous brothers, Brooke was brought up reading the daily newspaper.
"My parents weren't political, but they believed wholeheartedly in giving us a good education," she recalls.
"We were told we should never be afraid of having an opinion and we were expected to bring it to the dinner table. In our family, there were never devices at the table – there was discussion. Mum made sure I understood that being female, and the youngest of four, didn't mean my opinion didn't matter."
Brooke came out of her shell in Year 12 at Auckland's St Cuthbert's College. Here, Brooke found her voice – literally. "I joined the choir – I came to it a bit late," she laughs.
Impressed with her audition, Brooke's music teacher asked why it had taken her so long to join the choir. "I said I'd been too shy to apply. But she told me I had talent, which really boosted my confidence."
The teacher continued to encourage Brooke, eventually asking her to audition for a solo. "That was so nerve-wracking! But I got through it – and the more I realised I could stand in front of people and sing, the more confident I became."
While at the University of Auckland, where she was studying Economics and International Trade, she joined the Auckland Welsh Choir. One night, as fate would have it, Brooke met with friends after singing at a concert and they went for post-show drinks. "We went to a local bar and accidentally walked into an Act Party function."
She got talking to party leader David Seymour and other party members, and was invited to the next meeting. And the next. And so started Brooke's political career.
"I never grew up thinking I'd be a politician," shares Brooke.
"My parents raised me to give back to society and help people. I was interested in helping grow small businesses and help them into the export market."
In 2017, David asked if Brooke would come to Wellington to help him with the End of Life Choice Act, a project he'd been working on since 2015.
"I realised this could be the way of helping people I was looking for, so I said yes." The euthanasia law was passed in October 2020. "I'm immensely proud of that. It was an incredibly emotional project to work on, but I think it's one of the best things I'll ever do."
Since then, her career has gone from strength to strength – but at a cost.
"When I stood for Parliament in 2020, I made a conscious choice to stay in New Zealand and try to make it a great country again. But I work very long hours, so I don't have much of a personal life."
She has ticked some personal achievement boxes, one of which was to have her own house before she was 30.
"I put my head down, saved hard and at 28, I bought a house in Greenlane," she says.
"It's just a starter home and it needs work. When I bought it, it had holes in the ceiling! But as soon as I walked in, I felt comfortable."
However, there have also been sacrifices. "I thought about turning 30 when I stood in 2020. I realised some windows of choice could close." And she's planned for that too.
"Choice is important. I advocate for choice for others and I want choice for myself. So last year, I had my eggs frozen."
She describes the process as "far more emotional than I thought it would be" – but it's a decision she's glad she made.
"I don't know if I'll choose to have children, but when you work seven days a week, time goes very fast. When I was first elected, I spoke to some women in Parliament who said they wished they'd thought about whether they wanted to have children earlier. So, I've made an active decision to keep that choice open to me."
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