Chris Hipkins on his marriage break-up, being a solo dad and his passions

Chris Hipkins opens up about his marriage break-up, life as a solo dad and the precious possessions he can’t let go of

By Wendyl Nissen
If you really want to get our Prime Minister Chris Hipkins in a good mood, then start talking to him about his abilities as the ultimate DIY guy.
He will happily take you around his home and point out the various bits of furniture he made himself.
"When I bought my first house, it was more expensive than I could afford, so I made all the furniture myself," he says. "They're looking a bit battered, but all of these wooden shelves and things, I made myself – not from kitsets, from scratch."
His ability to knock furniture together in his spare time comes from his dad, Doug Hipkins, who taught him never to pay someone for a job you can do yourself.
"Towards the end of his working life, he was at this correspondence school, making woodworking kits and sending them out. He had this big workshop and I used to go there. He had all the tools that you could ever want, so it was great and I used to make stuff."
'I still think it's possibly the most important thing I'll ever do in my life'
Chris, 45, says he would do more if he had the time.
"My intention is to make a proper cabinet with some cupboards and drawers. I've never done something with drawers, so my goal is to try and do something new that I haven't done. It's good to have a goal."
The prime minister goes on to describe what sounds like a very complicated landscaping project at the family's beach house on the Kāpiti Coast involving a log retaining wall.
"I have pictures on my iPad if you want to have a look," he says enthusiastically.
Chris is the kind of guy who would pop over to the neighbours to mow their lawn and fix a bit of leaky spouting while he was at it.
However, his passion for DIY is on hold as he throws himself into the complicated and time-consuming job of running the country and campaigning for the October 14 general election.
Another round of Leaders' Debates with Paddy Gower (centre) and Christopher Luxon.
By his own admission, he has struggled to find time for a personal life and his priority is spending time with his children at the weekends. But at the moment, even that is a stretch.
"They're mostly with their mum," he explains. "With my current campaigning schedule, my time with them is much more limited. But my parents help me out quite a lot."
It's clear that when the kids are in the house, it is very much family time. The PM's home looks more like a playcentre than a show home, with plastic containers everywhere holding toys and most importantly, Lego.
"My favourite thing to do with them is sitting down on the floor with the Lego for a couple of hours," he says. "It captures their imagination and encourages basic maths skills, measurement, counting and all of that kind of stuff. I like to break it up sometimes when they've gone to bed and then the next day, they have to make something new."
Our photoshoot is a chance for busy Chris to grab a cuppa at home.
Chris was one of the first men in Parliament to take paternity leave, when both of his children were born, and takes his role as a parent very seriously.
"There are a lot of dads who aren't in that position, so paid partners' leave will mean that they actually do get the choice of being around," he explains. "I think in that first period of time, when the kids are coming home from the hospital, just being there is really, really important."
Recently, Chris made a rare public statement about his children, revealing that they both have a blood disorder called von Willebrand.
"It's not haemophilia, but it means that if they get a bleeding nose, they will need a bit of help with the clotting and help with the repair work," Chris tells.
He says his children will live perfectly normal lives, but there will be occasions when they need a bit more support.
"You just have to manage it," he says. "And you need to be there for them to get to the hospital when they need treatment."
Chris had to do just that when his daughter had to be taken to hospital and he needed to cancel appointments.
"That's why I made a statement because I was cancelling a public event in Auckland and at that point in the electoral cycle, people are super-sensitive about that. I needed to say that I was in hospital with my daughter and I mentioned the von Willebrand because I just didn't want people speculating about what it might be."
'When the kids are coming home from hospital, just being there is really, really important'
He says he doesn't like sharing details about his children such as their names or ages, but he didn't want people on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram going crazy about why his daughter was in hospital.
"So, I basically gave them the least amount of information possible."
Chris says he has good reasons for keeping his children out of the spotlight while other politicians in New Zealand are happy to have theirs photographed and talked about.
"I have the view that if you put your kids in the limelight when it's convenient for you, you can't take them out of it when it's no longer convenient. And so if I do big photoshoots with my family to put on my campaign brochures, it means that when something goes wrong, I can't then say they're entitled to their privacy."
He says he wants them to grow up as normal Kiwi kids without looking over their shoulders all the time.
"I'm a big believer in kids trying things and making mistakes and learning from them. These days, society creates this expectation of kids that they're all going to be perfect, and that they're all going to achieve and everything's going to be wonderful. Life's not like that for most kids. And they'll make mistakes along the way and that makes them better people as long as they're learning from it.
"We should actually celebrate the mistakes a bit more than we do and create space for kids to do that. And for my kids to do that, I don't want it to be in the media when they do."
Chris has been an MP for 15 years, so he has had plenty of time to watch how other politicians manage their personal life, and for him it means keeping things as private as possible, which is why he's also not very interested in discussing the breakdown of his marriage.
He and Jade married in 2020, but during Covid the relationship broke down.
With deputy Carmel Sepuloni and Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro.
He says Covid changed his life. For those at the front line, it meant they were rarely home and when they were, the challenges of beating the virus were ever present.
"I didn't sleep much, particularly in the first period because we just didn't know much," he recalls. "Every day, you would be thinking you'd make the best decision you could on the information that you've got, but always in the back of your mind was, 'Have we got this right?'"
Did it affect his relationship with his wife?
"It certainly didn't help," he reflects. "I think anyone who's been through a marriage separation will know there's always plenty that goes into that."
Outside, on the deck of his home, there are wooden planters he built himself and a view over the Hutt Valley. He says he used the view as a way to work out whether the Covid lockdowns were working.
"I drove home on the night before we went into level four and there were cars everywhere, so I thought maybe it wasn't going to work," he shares.
"Then I got up early the next day and looked out and there wasn't a car in sight. I rang [then PM] Jacinda [Ardern] and said, 'I think this might work.'
"When we made one of those decisions, it was just agony for the first 48 hours while we waited to find out all the contact tracing results to see whether we could figure it out, and I wouldn't sleep. I would lie in bed at night, just thinking through all the scenarios."
Like Jacinda, Chris has discovered how hard parenting and being PM is.
Now, few people really want to talk about Covid and there are those who are outspoken against the way the government handled it. Nevertheless, Chris says he changed as a person because of Covid.
"I'm much more resilient and tolerant than I was previously," he muses. "I think I was quite impatient. You realise that people make mistakes and to get the best out of people, you can't be impatient and you can't be intolerant."
But he remains incredibly proud of what was achieved and says he still reflects on that time now as PM.
"I still think that it's possibly the most important thing I'll ever do in my life."
In a few weeks, Chris may be looking at a three-year term as our prime minister in which he may well be doing more important things than the work he did in Covid. Or not.
"I'm spending most of my time at the moment making sure that we continue to go forwards rather than go backwards. Inflation is coming back down, economic growth is returning, we've actually still got record low unemployment, despite the huge economic challenges that we've got. So, my message is at the moment, it's tough, but I think we're turning the corner."
  • undefined: Wendyl Nissen

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