Rachel White is the first to admit she's a born-and-bred city slicker. The Dancing with the Stars NZ judge has lived in Los Angeles for most of her life and the Russian-American professional dancer is at her happiest amid the hustle and bustle of big city life.
But when she joins her Kiwi hubby Stu White in Aotearoa for summer holidays on his parents' remote Northland farm, she's forced to ditch the glamour for gumboots, cows and backyard barbecues. Despite some initial culture shock, she's learned to love this laid-back way of life –even the dodgy phone reception!
"I love how relaxed it is here, but it always takes a bit of time to get used to it because I'm very connected with technology and have always been in the city," says Rachel, 31, who is back to judge the hit Three show.
"You can't beat a Kiwi summer; it's just the best. It's the vibe – beanbags, beaches, barbecues, the people and music. If New Zealand was like that all year long, I'd be living here!"
Rachel, whose gym owner beau is currently back in LA, jokes that she doesn't always know what to wear when she joins her Kiwi in-laws on the farm. And Stu, who met his brunette babe at one of her salsa classes eight years ago, can't help but laugh when he compares their upbringings.
"Rach was raised for most of her childhood in Calabasas – Kardashian land! I come from a farm in Whangarei. She's terrified of cows, mud, blood, guns and insects, and I'm terrified of Chihuahuas wearing sweaters in Louis Vuitton handbags! She does love a good steak and mashed potatoes, though."
And fortunately, this clucky couple are entirely united when it comes to planning for the future. They'd love nothing more than to start a family, and hope to raise their children in Aotearoa.
Watch: DWTS judges Rachael White and Julz Tocker showcase their talent. Article continues below.
"I'd love to have a baby soon," admits Rachel, who first appeared on Kiwi screens in 2009 when she danced with former All Black Josh Kronfeld on DWTS.
"We are trying and it hasn't happened yet, but we both have a lot of faith it will at the right moment. I'd love a boy and girl – that'd be perfect."
But there was a time when the sultry socialite questioned if she'd ever start a family. After dedicating most of her life to dancing, she had to face some difficult decisions.
"I had to ask myself whether I should put dancing ahead of having kids," she explains. "I saw some of my coaches, who are single women I look up to and don't have kids, and realised it's really important for me. There's a part of me that feels I'm meant to be a mum."
And Stu, 37, is confident his nurturing wife will make a wonderful mother.
"Rachel will be great. She's had plenty of practise looking after an adult child for eight years!"
There's no doubt they'll bring a mixed bag of life experience to parenting.
"My family and Stu's are miles and miles apart – it's kind of like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it's so different!" says Rachel, laughing.
"But I'm really close to Stu's mum Cathy and talk to her basically on a daily basis. She's amazing at fashion and sews the most phenomenal pieces. She's made me beautiful dresses and gorgeous lingerie."
While she says Stu's family are "lovely, worldly and polite", Rachel admits her parents are a lot more forthright.
"I come from a Russian background and it's a cultural shock. If you think I'm direct on TV, you should see my parents! I feel like the politeness in New Zealand is sometimes the opposite of to-the-point, which is lovely, but it's something we don't really have."
Rachel's doctor parents left communist Russia for America in 1990 with just $100 to their names and it took some time before they started earning money. By the time their daughter was 11, they could afford to pay for dance lessons.
"That's a little later in life to start dancing compared to some," Rachel says.
"I was doing jazz, ballet and cheerleading, and my mum wanted me to do ballroom dancing, but I thought, 'That's for old people – I'm not doing that!' She tricked me and said I was getting my nails done, then took me to an opening of a dance studio."
Rachel was mesmerised. "It wasn't what I thought it was going to be and that's the beauty of ballroom – it can be social or it can be super-competitive and very athletic. I found love and it's taken over my life ever since."
Now owning an LA-based dance studio and dancing her way around the world, Rachel is used to being away from home. But it's never easy being apart from Stu.
"I've travelled my entire life, and with ex-boyfriends I kind of didn't care and was excited to be away from them," she admits.
"But it's totally different with Stu and it's hard for me. I was looking forward to coming here, but at the same time I had a lot of cries. I absolutely love my husband to death."
Luckily for the besotted judge, she's flying home to LA soon. "I miss him, but being in his country, there's a connection to him. "It feels like I'm with him even when he's not here."
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