When Woman’s Day visits Shortland Street hunk Ben Barrington and his partner Kristie Fergus at their spacious, light-filled home nestled amid beautiful native bush and by a babbling stream in West Auckland, they’ve only been in the house a week.
“We looked at open homes every weekend for about six months,” the actor tells. “There were lots of ups and downs, and we saw a lot of houses we liked that we missed out on, but it worked out in the end. We absolutely love this place.”
Understandably, when the couple realised their gorgeous daughter Harley’s first birthday fell smack-bang in the middle of their moving dates, they decided not to celebrate it.
Make-up artist Kristie explains, “The timing couldn’t be worse, but the first birthday is really for the parents, isn’t it? It’s just an excuse to get your mates around.”
Fortunately, Woman’s Day has come to the rescue, bringing balloons, party hats and a super-sweet vanilla cake for Harley’s very own pink-themed party.
The chubby tot couldn’t be happier as she dons a sequined tutu and bats at the decorations, joined by her doting big brother Olly, 15, Kristie’s son from a previous relationship.
Sitting on the couch with a slice of the birthday baking, Ben, 40, has the perfect answer when we ask about his first year as a father. “It’s a piece of cake!” he laughs.
“She’s been sleeping through the night since she was seven weeks old and she’s as healthy as a horse. We’re so lucky.
"She’s an easy little baby, but it’s weird to think it’s only been a year because she occupies so much of our time and energy that the days go by slowly and it feels more like three years.”
And funnily enough, while she was a very average 3.7kg at birth and she’s only just turned 12 months old, Harley is now the same size as a three-year-old.
Ben laughs, “She’s just grown and grown since our last Woman’s Day shoot. At her three-month check-up, she was in the 99th percentile for height and weight, and at four months, she was off the charts. Already at six months, she was the weight of a two-year-old. We hear the word ‘bonny’ quite alot when we’re out and about.”
While the adoring parents love having a healthy, robust baby, the one drawback is how quickly Harley outgrew her baby clothes – as well as her highchair, Jolly Jumper and front pack.
Kristie recalls, “We were given so many beautiful newborn clothes and she never got to wear them. She’d fit an outfit one day and the next it was getting too tight!”
Not too snug is a gold bracelet that jangles on Harley’s wrist as she waves her arms to her favourite Sesame Street song. “That’s from us, for her birthday,” explains her mum.
“We thought we’d get her a little keepsake that she’ll still be able to wear as an adult. Ben’s mum Marie wears a lot of jewellery and Harley’s infatuated with it.”
Perhaps following in her mum’s footsteps, Harley is also a big fan of cosmetics. When Ben brings her to work, Kristie says, “She loves the make-up girls the best. She likes playing with the brushes.”
“Shortland Street is a great place for kids,” adds Ben, who plays doctor Drew McCaskill on the long-running TVNZ 2 soap, “because we have babies in the cast, so there are always children around.”
Harley has just reached the stage where she’s testing boundaries, says Kristie.
“She’ll do something she knows is naughty, then turn around, wait for the reaction and keep doing it anyway. But there’s a lot of humour and she’s really sweet, always giving us things. The first thing she does when she wakes up in the morning is hand us a toy or a teddy.”
Grinning proudly, Ben says, “Before Harley was born, I had fantasies of hanging out with my other mates who are dads and just drinking beers while our kids played, but that doesn’t happen. Our schedules just don’t line up.
“But watching Harley grow, develop and get smarter is so rewarding. She crawled at eight months, was standing at nine months and she’ll be walking any day now. She’s so close to tottering around. It’s exciting.”