Haydn Jones talks about his hidden grief and why being a dad means everything to him

Not getting a fair go as a lad, the presenter makes sure he’s a good sort to all he meets

By Wendyl Nissen
Journalist Hadyn Jones is the sort of guy you'd enjoy meeting at a party or the pub. He has the gift of drawing a story out of anyone, can talk until the cows come home and has a classic dry sense of humour to go with it.
So it is no wonder he has become the "everyman of New Zealand television" with his popular Good Sorts slot on Sunday night's One News, his Fair Go presenting role, which returns this week, and filling in for Jeremy Wells on Seven Sharp.
If there's a story out there involving ordinary people doing interesting things, Hadyn, 46, will be there reporting on it. His yarns are usually about one person doing a favour for another. In one word, kindness. Does he think Covid has made New Zealanders better at kindness?
"It's been a litmus test for us," he says. "What we've seen is a real opportunity for people to get to know their neighbours. I'm big on neighbourhood, so in lockdown I got people to send me in their videos and I cut them together," he says.
"There was an eight-year-old girl in Christchurch who made a newsletter for her street, printed it out and dropped it off in letterboxes, a school principal in Winton who made a music video with his daughters, and people doing daily push-ups or dressups. We've got really good imaginations in New Zealand. We are not easily bored!"
Fair Go presenters Hadyn and Pippa are celebrating 45 years of the consumer affairs show.
But while he may be one of the busiest roving reporters in the country, his true passion belongs at home, in New Plymouth, with his family.
When Hadyn was just five, his father Murray died after being hit by a car while out on a run. The family had just moved to Gore and Hadyn grew up without a dad. Now that he is a father-of- three, he goes to extraordinary lengths to be the best dad he can be.
When he talks about his children, Marley, 12, Archer, 10, and Perry, eight, his face lights up as he describes the imaginative ways he has one-on-one moments with each of them.
In lockdown he joined forces with Marley, who sewed face masks, and at night the two of them would go around the neighbourhood, Marley on her bike and Hadyn running, dropping off masks and picking up money left for them in letterboxes.
"We went into business together, but I've never seen any of the profits," he laughs. "When kids get to 12, they start to spread their wings, so you've really got to look for opportunities to spend time with them."
With Archer, he goes roller skating at a nearby rink, even though Hadyn really can't skate. He explains, "I lived in Canada for a year and got into ice-hockey. Just down the street I joined the veteran's grade for roller hockey, but I'm terrible at it. They are really welcoming and warm, but when Archer comes down to skate, they say they'd really rather have him on the team."
'I'm sure the kids look up from their desks and groan as they see me at school... again'
But it is Perry who is taking up a lot of time. During the first lockdown, she and Hadyn learned ukulele together, then upgraded to guitar during the last lockdown. Despite having his guitar hanging on the wall behind his computer on our Zoom call, like a real musician, Hadyn is forced to admit that he's not very good at guitar either.
But that didn't stop him forming a band with some friends in the neighbourhood and their kids. Last Christmas they played down driveways to raise money for the local food bank. "We hired a van and went
on tour."
Hadyn got the idea for learning guitar and creating a band when he met a real musician at a ping-pong tournament he had organised for the neighbourhood at the local surf club to celebrate coming out of the first lockdown.
When Hadyn says his wife Zanta thinks he has too many hobbies, she may be right. But for the bubbly broadcaster, it's about connecting with community and being with his kids to be the best father he can.
Hadyn and his neighbourhood band.
"When I come back from working away, I'm quite full on. I drop the kids off at school, I coach every sports team going, I started a film club at the primary school and then we had a film festival to raise money for a camera so they could make their own movies. They basically have to lock me out of school! I'm sure the kids look up from their desks and groan as they see me at school… again."
Hadyn has even enrolled his golden retriever Florence to visit the kids' school, where she can be booked for 45 minutes at a time to be in class. "I think I have a kind of traveller's regret because I do go away so much for work, but also because I didn't have a father growing up, I make a big effort to be there at all times."
To do his job, Hadyn needs to leave his family on a Sunday night, but when he realised this was upsetting his children after a fun day together, sometimes causing them to break down in tears, he changed his schedule to leave early on Monday.
"It seems to go down better if they wake and I'm gone," he says.
From there, he flies to Auckland to film Fair Go, then by Monday night he is usually in a motel in some region of New Zealand preparing to film a story the next day for Fair Go or Good Sorts.
"I have learned the hard way that you better be seated by 9pm for dinner or you're going without."
He also thinks he should invent an app based on his intimate knowledge of where the best pies and milkshakes are throughout Aotearoa.
Hadyn came up with the idea for Good Sorts 15 years ago after TVNZ sent him to CNN in Atlanta as part of an international fellowship programme. "Like any good idea, I stole it. They had a thing called Heroes. It was very over-blown and American. I wanted something which suited Kiwis' down-home, low-key view of the world."
Ten years ago he and Zanta, who works for Sport New Zealand, made the shift to New Plymouth. He says, "They say that 80 percent of men live within five kilometres of their mother-in-law and I live three kilometres away. She's a lovely woman."
At the time, Hadyn says he was "a bit distraught" that his career was over, but then TVNZ started ringing and now he's busier than he's ever been. So far, he says, he has done about 600 stories for Good Sorts and loved every one of them.
"It's a bit like speed dating," he says. "You fall in love with these people and then you have to say goodbye."
Hadyn recently put together a compilation of the best Good Sorts stories from last year, which is available to watch on TVNZ OnDemand, and there is a guarantee there won't be a dry eye in the
house when you've watched it.
"Melissa Stokes, the weekend newsreader, will often email me after Good Sorts has aired complaining that she nearly lost it crying before coming back to read the news."
Hadyn says the emotion doesn't catch up with him until he is back in his office – the garage of his New Plymouth home – editing it. He is a one-man band, filming and editing the stories himself, and he says he gets most of the stories from the Good Sorts Facebook page.
'It's a bit like speed dating. You fall in love with these people and then you have to say goodbye'
And, of course, he has favourites who he keeps in touch with. "If I'm in the area I'll often stop by to see how they are going," he tells.
One story which has never left his heart was about 60-year-old Jo Poland in Port Waikato who received an email from a distant relative saying three-year-old triplets were going into State care unless someone from the family would take them in.
"In the stroke of one email that woman's life changed forever and she took in those kids. She said it was the photos that got her."
Hadyn was passing recently and offered to drop the triplets off at their boarding school in Auckland.
"I was driving past their place, so I thought, why not? We listened to new-age rap music all the way there."
Hadyn takes lessons from those he meets in his work. He recently did a story on a group of people who formed a choir in Invercargill, even though some of them couldn't really sing.
"They told me that it's okay to do something you're not very good at and it's good role modelling for your children."
So, Hadyn's got another hobby. "My teacher said that in the world, 94 percent of people can sing and six percent can't. After I sang for her, I asked which percentile I fell in and she told me 94 percent, so I have hope."
When Hadyn returns to Fair Go on Monday, February 14, 7.30pm on TVNZ 1 this week with Pippa Wetzell, they will be preparing to celebrate the show's 45 years on air. He says Fair Go is more relevant than ever with the internet bringing a whole new range of swindles, cons and scams.
"You buy a cell phone these days and it's an eight-page contract. The world has got more and more complicated for people just trying to make it to Friday."
He says the show is very much regarded as a public service for consumers and when he talks to people about coming to film them, they are surprised.
"They have to be reminded that Fair Go is a TV show as well, not just a group of people who help you fix your consumer problems."
It's hard to imagine Hadyn doing any other reporting work because it involves real people and real stories, and he is very much a man of the people. But he modestly says, "I'm very much like Covid – you can't get rid of me."

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