New Zealanders are used to seeing Christopher Luxon in the boardroom or the political halls of power – first in his role as CEO of Air New Zealand and now as the Leader of the Opposition party. But back when he was a teenager, it was his performance on the dance floor that won the heart of Amanda, his wife of 28 years.
"I took him on a date to an aerobics class," laughs Amanda. "And then we did ballroom dancing to prepare for our university ball. The teacher said he had rhythm and I couldn't believe she was saying that about him when I had done ballet for years. But that's what clinched it for me!"
Sitting down for a chat with the Weekly at their Auckland home, it's clear there's a lot of love between the pair, who met when Christopher was just 15 years old, and Amanda was 17, at a youth group dinner. "I wouldn't date him until he left school," smiles Amanda.
Chimes in Christopher, "I just thought she was stunningly beautiful. But more importantly, she was just a very grounded person, and wise and funny. She's driven, disciplined and just very honest.
"I was slightly younger, so getting Amanda to date and marry me is without a doubt the greatest achievement of my life. Since then, one of us has aged really badly!"
They started dating when Christopher was 19 and wed when he was 23 at St Andrew's College chapel in Christchurch.
The first few years of their relationship were often spent apart because their jobs and studies were in different locations, but the distance helped them build "great communication" skills and a great foundation.
Christopher says Amanda's "groundedness" has also been key to making their marriage a success.
"All of our friends and other people want to talk to her because they appreciate her wisdom, her honesty and her authenticity," he says proudly.
"We always had date night as well," adds Amanda, 53, who was a primary school teacher for 10 years before moving into adult education and consultancy. "It was really important to make sure we were investing in ourselves as a couple."
Christopher, 51, agrees. "A lot of people put all of their identity into climbing the ladder, and into what they are doing, and their job title and status. But if they don't reach their goals, they can come back home and find they actually have poor relationships with their children and if they haven't invested in their partner, that relationship can be broken."
The politician – one of three siblings – isn't afraid to share his emotions and credits his mum with teaching her kids to be open about their feelings. She left school after the fifth form to become a receptionist, but when Christopher was in his second year of tertiary study, she joined him at university to study social work.
"She's become a well-respected counsellor and therapist," tells Christopher. "My dad gave me my passion for business and a lot of positivity, and Mum always gave me that sense of thinking about people, perspectives and relationships. She was a great feeler and dad was a great thinker.
"I have huge respect for my dad because he came from a tough background and family, and he chose to change the course of our family by being an intentional, very present father," Christopher adds. "I thought that was pretty cool.
While both say they had "typical" Kiwi upbringings, their sense of adventure led them to work around the world, including Australia, where they had their first child, William, now 22, and England, where Olivia, now 20, was born.
"We lived overseas for 16 years, and I learned that I could leave New Zealand and go off and compete with the louder, brash Australians, the Oxbridge kids and the Ivy League kids, and my Kiwiness and my upbringing stood me in good stead," tells Christopher. "You don't apologise for being a New Zealander to anyone. We can compete, we just need to be confident enough to go out and make it happen."
After stints in Sydney, London, Chicago, Toronto and New York, the job for Air New Zealand came up and the couple decided to return home because they wanted their children to spend their formative years in the country they still called home.
"It was important to us that our children identified as Kiwis, and without a doubt we wanted them to have the culture, values and lifestyle New Zealand offers young people," explains Amanda. "It's a great place to grow up in."
They never regretted it, with Christopher saying, "You come back home after living overseas for 16 years, and you're so grateful for everything that's here and who we are."
But while Olivia and William have had many advantages, Christopher and Amanda have been passionate about making sure they know that not everyone has the same opportunities.
Amanda has taken Olivia travelling several times, including to the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal, where she was confronted by the horrific practice of human trafficking. Olivia was so impacted by the experience, she became a youth ambassador for the charity Tearfund, with Christopher joining its board in 2018.
It was this sense of giving back that has motivated Christopher to enter politics. He says, "It's really important to us as a family."
Following his resignation from Air New Zealand in September 2019, Christopher stood for the National Party in Botany, winning the seat in the October 2020 general election. Then, on November 30, after just 409 days as a politician, he was appointed National Party leader, replacing Judith Collins.
"There were a lot of firsts," Christopher says of the whirlwind week. "Having only been there a year, there was the first press conference, the first interview with an earpiece and camera. There's so much going on, but my colleagues have been very supportive and the staff have been amazing. I've thoroughly enjoyed it!"
Like all New Zealanders, the pandemic has had an impact on their lives. Olivia is studying criminology and sociology in Melbourne, and came home for a visit in July, only to find herself unable to return when the borders closed in August.
Instead, she has been studying online, as well as holding down a marketing role with a Kiwi retail brand and for a student-led non-profit organisation.
William lost his job as a flight attendant and took up a temporary role at MIQ, but is now back working at Air New Zealand.
With their children increasingly independent, the couple is set to enjoy the next phase of life as empty nesters."I see our role as being consultants to them now," Christopher says. "We had a sort of loose parenting model getting them from what we described as the beach of dependence, through the hazards of the harbour and out into the ocean of independence. From zero to five, we really were the caretakers, letting them play on the beach at the water's edge, and acting as their protector and provider.
"Then from five until 12, our role became cops – like, 'You can get on that kayak, but you have to stay within boundaries.' And then as teenagers, we changed gear again and became coaches, supporting them to navigate the boat through the hazards of the harbour.
"Now as consultants, we support and advise them as they steer the boat and make their own choices. We want them to take risks and try things out, and they're still strongly anchored to the family, but they have more consequences to their decisions."
The family enjoy movie nights and to alleviate lockdown boredom, they even recreated old family photographs for a bit of fun. "We were totally and utterly bored on a Sunday afternoon and one of the kids suggested it," Christopher laughs.
Meanwhile, the couple has a new hobby to bond them.
"We decided we'd like to take up fishing, but we didn't really know what we were doing," admits Christopher.
"It's just about having fun together and hanging out with people you're trying to do life with, with all its ups and downs. It's the best way to recharge and refresh."
With Christmas around the corner, they'll head to Wellington to spend time with Amanda's family, before heading to Christchurch to be with Christopher's whānau, then back to Auckland, where they've always spent their summers. "We'll head to the beach at some point and enjoy some fishing, boating and catching up with friends," Christopher shares.
And as for their dancing days? The couple says they're far from over. Laughs Amanda, "But now it's dance parties in our lounge!"
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