Real Life

Simon Bridges: ‘My biggest year ever’

The political up-and-comer reveals his new priorities.
MP Simon Bridges with wife Natalie and baby Emlyn

It was, perhaps, the busiest time in the busy new dad’s life. Three months ago, Tauranga MP Simon Bridges’ life took a dramatic turn when after becoming a father to baby Emlyn (now five months old), he was suddenly appointed to cabinet to help replace National MP Nick Smith, who quit after an ACC scandal.

Simon and his wife Natalie (29) were only just getting used to having a baby in the house when Simon’s political career took off. “You have seasons in your life. Suddenly everything was all happening,” he says.

“It means I have to be more disciplined, more focused and make good decisions about what I can and can’t commit to,” he told New Zealand Woman’s Weekly from the couple’s home in Mt Maunganui.

For Natalie, being an MP’s wife and a new mum is almost easy compared to her former life. As editor of Simply You magazine, she had to get up at 4.30am on a Monday and drive from Tauranga to Auckland for the week. Natalie admits she does miss her job, but when Simon (35) was commuting to Wellington and she to Auckland, they only spent their weekends together at home.

With his career going from strength to strength and a young family at home, Simon is busier than ever.

“We were living in three cities,” she says. “The fridge was never full in Auckland; it was never full here. We were living out of suitcases.”

Deciding to leave her job and move to a public relations role in Tauranga meant Natalie could devote more time to Simon and their two little dogs, Tilly and Bruce. She left her PR job once Emlyn was born, but has no misgivings about Simon accepting his new role – although it does mean fewer family outings to the beach, which is just a short distance from their home.

“I was really pleased for Simon,” Natalie says. “I knew he would be away a bit more, but I do support him.” It’s clear Simon feels he can make positive changes as associate transport minister and minister for consumer affairs.

He’s introducing new alcohol interlock devices connected to the starter motor for repeat drink-drivers, which will stop them from starting their car if they test positive for alcohol. He’s also looking at new laws to take the teeth out of loan sharks by making it illegal to lend money to people who will suffer financial hardship from the repayments.

Being an MP suits Simon more than his previous job as a solicitor. He worked as a crown prosecutor in Tauranga before moving to England to study at Oxford, where he met Natalie, who was doing her masters in English literature. “We met within the first few weeks and had a whirlwind romance,” Simon says.

Gorgeous Emlyn is the apple of his dad’s eye.

“We were married at the end of our year at Oxford in a 1000-year-old church. When you know, you know.” Some of Natalie’s friends warned her it was all moving too fast and she needed to be sure she wanted to live in New Zealand. That was seven years ago and Natalie’s never looked back – but there have been the inevitable periods of feeling homesick.

The birth of Emlyn has brought more happiness into Simon and Natalie’s lives – and discovering he had a condition called talipes (also known as clubfeet) did not mar their joy at having their first child. The condition affects one in every 1000 babies born. Emlyn’s legs needed to be in casts for eight weeks and he will be using boots and a foot brace several hours a day until he’s two.

“He’s been amazing through it and just takes it in his stride,” Simon smiles. “We feel very pleased. When you think of all the issues that babies can have, this is pretty minor.”

But don’t ask the happy couple about their plans for the future just yet – Simon is still trying to catch his breath. “Becoming a minister, and all the responsibility that goes with that, and becoming a father – that’s been equally challenging. We are taking one day at a time and enjoying every moment.”

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