Real Life

Inside the secret world of the Tamaki family

It’s the place in her luxurious home that Destiny Church co-founder Hannah Tamaki goes for inspiration – a wall by a grand staircase, covered with photos of her husband, and self-ordained bishop, Brian, and their large family.

And during the past few weeks, Hannah has visited the space many times, as criticism of her bid to lead the Maori Women’s Welfare League has sparked a media frenzy.

“During the tough times, I look at these photos and know the fight is worth it,” says Hannah (50), who is also a Destiny Church pastor.

In an at-home exclusive with New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, Hannah and Brian reveal why it’s Hannah’s time to shine.

“People are shocked because they thought Brian had this timid little wife,” says Hannah, who sees her quest to be the league president as a chance to branch out from the church she and Brian started 13 years ago.

“A woman, in her own right, should be allowed to do something different. I’m not a church mouse,” she says.

The mum-of-three recently won a High Court ruling allowing her to run for presidency of the group after being struck off the ballot by officials. She’s been accused of stacking the vote by establishing new branches with Destiny members – effectively mounting a church “takeover” of the 60-year-old organisation. Some league members also believe if Hannah is elected president, it will split the group.

With its conservative religious views and stance against homosexuality, Destiny Church, and Brian, has always attracted media attention. But for the first time, Hannah has grabbed front-page headlines, and it’s a change that Brian welcomes.

“I’m enjoying it,” he says as he makes coffee for the Weekly team, dropping dainty sugar cubes into cups. “It’s Hannah’s time. It’s her season. And I’m happy for that.”

In fact, Hannah says the pair have been quite competitive about who has had the most media coverage so far.”Fortunately, people are a lot nicer to me. I think it’s because I’m a woman,” she laughs.

Despite the church’s stance on homosexuality, some of Hannah’s supporters are from the gay community, and when the court ruled in her favour, she says she received texts from “two lesbians and one gay boy”.

Hannah, who has been with Brian since she was 15, has been a member of the Maori Women’s Welfare League for three years, and has a poignant connection to the organisation.

As a six-year-old, growing up in Tokoroa, Hannah came home from Sunday school one day to find her mum, Pare – who’s Maori – had packed her bags and abandoned the family, leaving Hannah and her four siblings to be raised by their Pakeha father, Basil. During the lonely periods, Hannah would hide in a wardrobe and pray.

After her mum left, Hannah went through her possessions and fell in love with a Maori Women’s Welfare League badge – her mother’s from when she was a member. “I remember it was gold and red – now I know why I love those colours,” says Hannah, who has a red room in her six-bedroom home filled with red décor. “To do something I know my mum was passionate about means a lot.”

The pig-hunting grandmother-of-10 says her father provided his children with the best in life, even opening an account for her at a local fashion store when she was 13. It’s still open today.

Hannah and Brian have been attacked for living in a luxurious home in east Auckland, when Destiny members are required to offer financial contributions to the church. But Hannah says it’s the inheritance from her father, who passed away 30 years ago, that has enabled her and Brian to enter the property market.

“I’d rather have my dad back than have this home, but I’m proving that I’m a good steward and have something to show after 30 years.”

The home has 15 people living in it – some paying board – which provides Hannah with extra money for shopping, she says.

Hannah has been criticised for many of her actions, from dying her hair blonde (Brian says it’s to hide the greys, Hannah says, “If it’s good enough for Kiri Te Kanawa, then it’s good enough for me,”) to using the Maori Women’s Welfare League to promote her church.

Hannah says the scrutiny made her more determined and the only criticism that angers her is when she’s referred to as a “plastic Maori”.

“You don’t build a strong church of Maori people, who you embrace and love, to be told you’re not real. I probably do more Maori things than most people. I’ve even got a pot of puha cooking outside!”

Hannah, who sings in covers band The Hangi Stones, with Brian on guitar, playing hits from The Doobie Brothers and Toto, says growing up without a mum has made her extra motherly towards her own children and grandchildren. It’s her family that motivates her.

“If my mokopuna see their nana fighting hard for her culture and what she believes in, then I’m happy with that.”

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