Hayley Holt and mum Robin share their special bond

The beloved broadcaster and her mother Robin talk to writer Sophie Neville about the special bond they share and why there’s no such thing as the perfect parent
Monty Adams

The thing about writing a memoir, says Hayley Holt, is that it forces you to reflect on parts of your past you might rather skim over. Lifting the lid on an extraordinary life was never going to be easy, but it wasn’t the broadcaster’s battle with alcohol or the devastating loss of her first child that took the most courage to write about. Hayley was surprised to find that it was looking back on her childhood that brought up those conflicting emotions.

As a young ballroom dancing champion, she loved her adventurous life, but she’d always known her world was a little different to that of her peers. It wasn’t until she put pen to paper – and removed those rose-tinted glasses – that she began to suspect the “overscheduling” of her younger years and her devoted mother Robin’s relentless enthusiasm for her children had perhaps led her to rebel. Regret and recrimination aren’t the aim of the game, though. Hayley has accepted her intense younger years with a mix of gratitude and grace.

“I used to look at my friends and cousins, thinking, ‘You’re so lucky,’ because it felt like they could do what they wanted and had time to just be kids. For me and my brother, life was totally full. Drama lessons, dancing, elocution classes, talent agencies, auditions, swimming, every sport you can imagine… It was hectic.

Schoolgirl Hayley in 1985.

“But there are two ways of looking at my childhood. Yes, it was very overscheduled and intense, but I’m appreciative of it because I wouldn’t be where I am now without it. I don’t wish my childhood was any different – it was a lot of hard work, but it was also a lot of fun and adventure.”

It’s a few months since Hayley’s book Second Chances was released, yet it’s only now she can talk about it without being hit by a rush of nerves. She was terrified about how it would be received, which she needn’t have been – Second Chances has sat near the top of the bestsellers list since it hit shelves and every day her inbox is filled with messages from people who’ve been moved by her honesty.

But it was her mum Robin’s response that Hayley was most worried about. Hurting the woman she loves most in the world was the last thing she wanted.

“I love my mama so much,” says the TVNZ sports presenter, 42, who was raised in Auckland with mum Robin, dad Murray, 76, and her big brother Logan, 45. “I was really nervous people might think I was blaming my mum and I was worried she might think that too. But we all have to make choices and we all just do the best we can. Mum went above and beyond. That’s almost the issue – she put too much into it. But I appreciate that.”

And as the mother-daughter duo converges on a rainy Tuesday morning at our photoshoot, it’s clear they share an incredibly close bond. Laughter fills the room as they get glammed up in the make-up chair, ribbing each other about the words “stage mum”.

“Well, you were definitely one of those!” laughs Hayley.

“But I hate that term,” says Robin. “I remember someone once said to me, ‘You’re not a stage mum – you’re a cool mum,’ and I loved that.”

Belle of the ballroom in 1991.

We’re here today to celebrate the pair’s special relationship, but it’s Hayley’s adorable son Raven who undoubtedly steals the show. At 11 months old, he’s a crawling, smiling, babbling bundle of joy, and both his mum and nana are enthralled by his every move.

“Isn’t he just magic?” asks Robin, scooping up her adorable grandson and planting a kiss on his cheek, before handing him to Hayley, who settles onto the couch to give him his mid-morning breastfeed. A first grandchild is a special addition to any family, but the significance of Raven’s arrival isn’t lost on anyone. Born on July 3 last year – his mum’s birthday – Raven heralded a new chapter for Hayley and her fiancé Josh Tito after the tragic loss of Frankie Tai, who was stillborn at six months gestation two years earlier. A subsequent miscarriage saw Hayley descend into a darkness she feared she might never emerge from.

“There were times when I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again,” admits Hayley. “But Raven has been so healing. I feel like I’m me again. I can laugh and be silly, and I really feel alive now. I love being a mum so much. Raven is so cute. He’s robust and fun, and he’s cheeky like his nana! I love seeing his little personality develop and it’s fun watching him learn new things. He had his first ride on his little wheelie horse the other day.”

Almost on cue, Raven – who’s playing at his mum’s feet – pulls himself up and tries to stand on his own. “It’s like there’s a new milestone every day!” says a delighted Hayley.

She’s embraced new parenthood alongside Josh, 33, and she credits her partner’s natural ease with Raven for helping her through those intense early weeks and months. Hayley’s tendency to overanalyse is balanced out by Josh’s laid-back approach.

“He was an amazing dad straight away. He just seemed to know what to do. He had that intuition, which helped my anxiety. I’m so lucky.”

But having mum Robin, a part-time IT accounts administrator, and dad Murray just down the road in Warkworth has also been a godsend. Hayley says her mother would do anything for her and Josh, and the same for Logan and his wife Maris, who live 40 minutes away in Mangawhai and recently became parents to baby Mason in April.

“She’s in heaven with the babies,” says Hayley. “Mum would’ve done well centuries ago, when everyone lived under the same roof. She just wants to have her family around her.”

And Hayley happily admits she can’t imagine getting through the day without at least one phone call to her mum. “It’s so ridiculous, I’m in my forties, but I can’t even make a simple decision without her! I rang her yesterday to ask her opinion on material for blinds. Or I’ll ask her to help me find the best price on something or to help with computer stuff. Even if she doesn’t know, it’s just so nice to check in with her.”

Losing control

Hayley has fitted more into her 42 years than most of us will in a lifetime. As well as her successful ballroom dancing career, she excelled in snowboarding, travelling the world and competing at a top level. She found fame as a professional dancer on Dancing With the Stars, both here and in the UK, before her career in broadcasting was launched with roles on The Crowd Goes Wild and Back Benches, and as host on More FM’s breakfast show. In 2016, she made a brief foray into politics with the Green Party, before returning to television to host TVNZ’s Breakfast.

But as her career soared, behind the scenes, her personal life was unravelling. Her old friend alcohol had become her nemesis, resulting in a highly public and deeply humiliating fall from grace. Hayley was taken off radio after turning up to work drunk two days after she’d failed a drugs test. For mum Robin, Hayley’s situation was devastating. She’d spent years worrying about her party-loving daughter’s drinking, lying awake at night, hoping Hayley would get home safely after a night out. But like many Kiwi families, the Holts loved a good knees-up and Robin concedes they probably played a part in Hayley’s relationship with booze. Her early introduction to partying through older friends in the dance world also didn’t help.

“I never thought she was an alcoholic because she was performing at such an amazing level with her career. Deep down, I knew there was an issue, but it felt like there was nothing we could do. Or I suppose the truth is we didn’t know what we could do. We’d try to talk to her, but of course Hayley is like her mother and doesn’t want to be told!”

Hayley admits it caused her deep shame to know her parents were concerned about her alcohol use and she regrets the way she reacted when they tried to help. She used to lie and say she only drank to excess with her family as it’s where she felt safest.

“That was bullsh*t,” confesses Hayley. “I got wasted every single time I drank. I remember Mum trying to tell me to stop while I was drunk, and I’d clap back and say mean things, which I really regret. Then she’d film me, but I would refuse to watch it the next day. I gave her quite a few grey hairs. My brother was a larrikin too, but he handled it better than me. I just can’t drink like a normal person.”

Alongside Dancing With the Stars NZ partner Danyon Loader and host Jason Gunn in 2006

Robin still remembers the day eight years ago that Hayley told her she’d joined Alcoholics Anonymous and had quit booze for good. Her admiration for her daughter’s strength is clear.

“It really was one of the best days of my life,” says Robin. “I’m proud because she did it all on her own. No one forced her to stop. No one dragged her to those meetings. She’s an amazing person.”

While Hayley might have been worried about how her parents felt about her memoir, Robin tells us it’s been wonderful to gain greater insight into her daughter and all she’s been through. She had no idea Hayley felt like an outsider growing up.

“We’ve all struggled a bit with the old family trait of not letting our emotions out, so to have this book is a gift to me. I can see a lot of Hayley that I never would have. She’s so honest. It’s heartbreaking, joyful and really gave me an insight into her.”

But did Hayley’s childhood reflections make her feel guilty for putting too much pressure on her kids? Does she wish she’d done things differently? Robin takes a long pause.

“Yes, it has made me feel a bit bad, but not in an awful way,” reflects Robin, who loved being part of Hayley’s dance career. She still has every magazine and newspaper Hayley appeared in – boxes and

boxes stored away at the family home.

“Every parent makes the decisions they feel are right at the time and if we got everything right, we’d be the perfect parents, which we all know don’t exist.”

Healing together

Robin has found Hayley’s descriptions of her social unease and anxiety illuminating, and admits it’s led her to question whether or not she took the time to listen to her daughter, who was diagnosed with ADHD soon after she quit drinking. Robin admits she has always had a tendency to “go, go, go” as a mother.

“You try to do the best you can, but I look back and think I could have handled things differently – maybe listening more and not overriding them with my stronger personality.

“I always thought she was so jolly strong and capable, even as a child. I didn’t see the difficulties. Maybe I was busy and tied up with just getting the kids through life. Maybe she found it hard to talk to me, but I didn’t see that. All I saw was a bright, capable kid who was amazing at everything.”

Hayley describes her mother’s zest for life as infectious. She worked in various jobs when Hayley was a girl.

“She then took herself off to university to get a degree in computers,” says Hayley with pride.

“I don’t know how she managed all that – raising us, taking us to every possible activity, while working and studying. She was always doing things for others, visiting people, looking after relatives. She never put herself first. It is nice, but I do wish she would do some things for herself more. It’s not selfish to look after yourself.”

There have been several turning points in their relationship, one of the most memorable was a shared trip to Egypt to visit Robin’s grandfather Frank’s war grave.

“That trip made us more friends than mother-daughter,” says Hayley, who was newly pregnant with Frankie. “It was special as it meant so much to her and it showed her I wasn’t a daughter she had to look after any more. The stress of getting there and being two vulnerable women travelling brought us together.”

It was also the first time Hayley had a glimpse that her mum might share some of her own spirituality. “A beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky on our last day in Alexandria and we both thought it was Grandad Frank,” says Hayley. “It was nice for me to be able to express my spirituality, and for her to validate and accept it.”

Robin shed many tears reading Hayley’s book, particularly when it came to reliving the loss of Frankie, who was named after his great-great-grandfather. Hayley’s unflinching account of her grief makes for emotional reading, yet it’s Josh and her family’s unwavering support and presence she says helped her through.

Hayley and Josh, who proposed on Christmas Eve, became friends about five years ago, but she fell pregnant after confiding her fears that she might never become a mum. They hadn’t planned on being together as a couple, but their feelings for each other grew, and when the first Covid lockdown was announced in 2020, Josh joined Hayley, Robin and Murray at the Holt family home.

“Mum and Dad were so welcoming,” says Hayley. “They’re incredible. They didn’t know him from a bar of soap, but there we were, playing happy families all through lockdown!”

Adds Robin, “Hayley wanted Josh there, so that was fine with us. Even though it was a scary time with Covid, it was marvellous, really, because Hayley could cocoon. She was so happy and we were all excited about the baby.”

But the joy turned to devastation when complications developed with Hayley’s pregnancy. At 29 weeks, they learned Frankie’s health problems were life-threatening. While they were processing the news, he died unexpectedly in the womb.

“I have never cried so hard in my life,” says Hayley, whose little boy’s ashes sit in a kete at Robin and Murray’s home. “I had willed and willed him to stay alive, but he’d died and there was nothing I could do.”

With Josh and Robin by her side, Hayley gave birth to Frankie Tai on April 25, his dad’s birthday, and together they entered the uncharted territory of learning to grieve the loss of their baby boy. Both Robin and Hayley credit Josh, who is of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāpuhi descent, for helping them through.

“He’s unique,” says Robin. “He can diffuse the sadness with a funny, often inappropriate quip, which had us all laughing when we knew he was feeling just as bad. I really do love him.”

As the saying goes, you’re only as happy as your least happy child – a sentiment Robin relates to. “You lie there at night, worrying about your kids, that’s a mother’s lot. And if your kids are happy, you are too.

After the second miscarriage, I just thought, ‘Oh, God!’ I just wanted her to get a break. So yes, what a relief we have Raven. He’s a little miracle.”

Hayley says while she immersed herself in counselling to try to recover from Frankie’s death and the miscarriage 12 months later, she worries that her mum was left to deal with her own sadness on her own. She is at pains to point out that Robin also suffered the loss of her grandchild.

“She must have been hurting so badly, but her focus was always on me. Mum and Dad just took me in, and tried to look after me, but I was a mess. I didn’t know what to do or how to cope.”

Robin says, “Of course, it was terrible, but at the time, the focus was on Hayley because she was the one who had gone through the horrible time. You pop all those things aside and deal with it yourself on your own. The car is my place for crying, which in lockdown wasn’t easy as we didn’t go anywhere!”

Through the grief, Hayley never let go of her motherhood dream and, in July 2022, she welcomed Raven. Robin was at Hayley’s side for the emergency Caesarean birth, with an overwhelmed Josh waiting outside to meet his baby in the recovery room.

“Josh was supposed to be there, but at the last minute, he asked Mum to go with me,” explains Hayley.

“The operating theatre freaked him out, but it was actually so nice to have Mum there. I remember looking over to see Mum holding Raven with this unforgettable look of pure bliss and love.”

The joy he’s brought the family can’t be underestimated. Looking back on the different stages of her parenting journey, Robin says this new chapter of grandparenthood is perhaps the best yet.

“The teenage years are tricky because you realise that parents are not as important as friends and peers. It’s that gentle letting-go that’s the hard thing. I loved the toddler years and the dancing, but being a nana is a game-changer. There is something very special about watching your own children become parents.”

And given Robin lost her own mother at 23, she is determined to not take these years for granted. “I had wonderful aunties, but not having a mum was like operating something without the manual. But we got through and we have wonderful kids.”

Hayley says the lessons passed on from her mother will endure.

“She’s the matriarch of the family and somehow makes time for everyone. I have always known that family is the priority and I feel incredibly lucky because now I get to pass that on to Raven. It’s all

about unconditional love, which is what Mum has taught me.”

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