Pippa Wetzell on how she’s ‘muddling through’ life with three kids

"There are not a lot of people out there waving a flag around like they've got some sort of perfect life. I mean, no one does," she says.

It had been one of those weeks for Fair Go’s Pippa Wetzell; a home renovation, helping out with a school fair, work, home commitments, a busy life in general. It was only a matter of time until something fell through the cracks. And so it was that, after dropping her three kids off at school one morning, she forgot her car. Well, where she’d left it. We’ve all been there, but when you’re Pippa Wetzell, infinitely recognisable from more than 17 years on television, it’s a different story.

“There were a couple of mums outside and I said to them, ‘I’ve completely forgotten where I’ve parked the car,’ and I walked off in one direction. It wasn’t there. So I came back – had to walk past them again – and then joked, ‘Oh, it’s definitely down this way.’ And then it wasn’t, so I had to come back and walk past them a third time. One of them finally said to me, ‘There’s just no room in your head for simple things like where the car is.’ Fortunately” – she starts laughing – “the only thing I forgot was where my car was and nothing more important.”

At 41, Pippa is smack-bang in the middle of a new kind of generation, where she has ageing parents – both turn 70 this year – and young-ish children (her youngest, Taj, is seven). But 41 isn’t what it used to be, just as 70 isn’t what it used to be.

Her parents still both work full time and are almost busier than she is. Back when they turned 40, she recalls, “You’d get a mug that said, ‘Over the hill at 40’,” whereas now it’s not nearly such a scary prospect.

The idea of dressing for your age isn’t really as much of a “thing” any more either: Pippa turns up to our interview in black jeans, a black woollen turtleneck and a sky blue coat, an outfit that looks just as chic at either 20 or 60. She does have a failsafe barometer or two when it comes to ensuring she still looks fashionable: her two daughters and her 24-year-old half sister.

“One of my aims is to try and have something on that she wants,” Pippa admits.

Pippa and Haydn Jones, the current hosts of TV’s Fair Go, which has been running for 41 years.

Pippa and her husband, Torrin Crowther, are well aware they’re in the parenting sweet spot when it comes to their three children.

“They’re all at those ages now where their lives are so busy but they still require me in their lives, which is a great thing.” It does mean that a lot of the time Pippa is in the chauffeur role, but she loves it. “We have a few crazy afternoons where everyone’s having dinner at different times – someone’s having it in the car, someone’s having it at 3.30pm. But it’s so much fun. They’re such great ages.”

Brodie, 11, their eldest daughter, loves dancing and reading, Cameron, nine, is very creative, and Taj is “a little bit of a joker”. On a recent family trip to Samoa – Pippa is part-Samoan – Taj decided he wanted to be a fire dancer, a change of heart from his previous goals of either rock star or firefighter.

His mother has suggested he combines all three – practical, in case something goes wrong, she suggests. Pippa herself has managed a spectacularly good career trajectory without ever having any kind of plan. I ask her when she knew she’d be a broadcaster – she laughs and admits she fell into it when she started working at TVNZ 20 years ago. But from the word go, the newsroom made sense to her.

“I liked the research, I liked the business, I liked that it was collaborative and that you could also bring a creative side to it. It’s a really nice combination of left and right brain.”

The first role she had is one of the legendary make-or-break TVNZ roles: the overnight shift on the assignments desk. It’s where the newbie sits, by themselves, and monitors all the incoming news and police reports and alerts and decides what’s a big deal and what isn’t. Think of all the international news that breaks overnight, and then imagine being the 19-year-old who has to make that 3am phone call to their bosses… Two decades on, Pippa can still remember what it was like to be at the quiet end of the reporters’ table.

“I look back now, when I was a junior in the newsroom going to meetings, and you’d have these more experienced journalists going, ‘Oh, this is like that case we had back then,’ and you’d be sitting there thinking, ‘I was barely born then…'” she laughs. “And now I realise when I’m talking to some of the young ones, that they’re the same! There are people in the news-room who were born in the late 1990s – how is that possible?!”

Pippa has had a range of roles in her time at TVNZ. She’s been co-presenting Fair Go since 2013 and the show, which also turned 41 this year, is still a national favourite, with some of its strongest ratings yet.

“It’s nice – it is a programme for the people, so it’s good to know we’re reaching out in the right way.”

But it’s her old presenting role on Breakfast that provided the real “what if” moment in her career, as she puts it. The morning show, which in a nice piece of symmetry is celebrating its 21st anniversary, has always been a springboard for new talent. When she was offered the co-host role back in 2007 opposite Paul Henry, it was just six months after giving birth to Brodie, and she and Torrin – a corporate lawyer – had decided it would be Pippa who was going to stay at home.

“It was my husband who said, ‘I just don’t want you to regret that you didn’t take this opportunity.’ He saw it was something pretty amazing,” Pippa says. “I look back on that now and do see it as a kind of sliding door moment – if I hadn’t taken that opportunity, what would I be doing? It was a really big call and I can remember being heartbroken that I wasn’t going to be there in the mornings with my baby, because that certainly wasn’t how I had pictured my life going.”

Obviously it worked out for the best, and Pippa became a firm favourite with Breakfast viewers, as well as going on to have two more children while in the role. She can still remember what it was like to have to balance baby life with work life; which is one of the reasons that she, like so many Kiwi women, is thrilled with the precedent Jacinda Ardern is setting.

“It’s so cool,” she says. “Having daughters, I love [seeing] it. But funnily enough, when it happened and I would go on about it, they sort of shot me down a little bit, as if to say, ‘She’s just having a baby, Mum.’ I was like, ‘This is a big deal!’ and then I realised that actually, yes, she’s just having a baby and yes, she’s Prime Minister. How cool is it that they don’t think it’s a big deal? Because, actually, that’s more significant. For there to be that fundamental shift in a relatively short period of time.”

(The shift is so strong that Taj recently asked his mum if boys can be Prime Minister too. “I said, ‘Yes, darling, boys can do anything girls can do.'”)

In her own childhood, Pippa says, she grew up with “the most supportive and progressive” parents, which made her feel like everything was possible, and it was always her hope that her own children would feel the same way.

“I never felt like I had any barriers growing up, I never felt that there was anything I couldn’t do… I’d like to think my girls don’t, and certainly when they make comments like that about Jacinda, I guess that’s the proof. I love that they’re growing up in an environment where anything can happen, where any door is open.”

With her eldest daughter, Brodie, almost knocking on the door of adolescence, there are a few signs of the teenage world that lies ahead. There is some “very managed” social media use, Pippa says.

“It’s how they communicate – she put forward a good case for why she should have it, so she has that with quite a few restrictions on it… I don’t want to ban everything because kids always find a way, and I’d rather she could talk to me about stuff, rather than going behind our back. I don’t know how far to go or if we’ve gone enough – I mean, as parents, you’re just making it up as you go along.”

Pippa is very close to her parents, and she recently signed on to become a full-time ambassador to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, partly due to her father’s history with the charity.

“Back in the early 1970s, Dad used to work on the rescue helicopter when they were based in Piha, where he was a surf lifesaver, and I always remember growing up hearing stories about his time working on the helicopters.”

That personal connection is also what’s behind her other charity support – Pippa is an ambassador for Bellyful, a not-for-profit service where volunteers cook meals for families dealing with a serious illness, and for new mums.

“I know first-hand what a difference it can make when you’ve got a newborn – or an illness – in the family.”

The memory of having three very young children is firmly etched on her brain.

“I remember bumping into someone in the supermarket, back then, who had older children and she said to me, ‘Oh no, it only gets harder.’ And I had the three of them in the trolley and I was like, ‘No, no, no, it cannot get harder than this. I have three children under five and that one’s about to pull a jar of olives off the shelf…’ So I always make a point of saying to people with younger kids, when they’re in ‘that’ place, that it does get easier. I mean, I can’t judge what happens in the teenage years and I’m sure they’ll offer up their own degree of concern…”

She laughs and quotes a bit of advice she’s holding on to: “I remember reading a while ago that the key with teenagers is to keep them busy and keep them poor. I thought that seemed like good advice.”

In her 40s, with a great career and a healthy, happy family, Pippa is very aware of how lucky she is. Almost too aware, she says drily.

“It’s at the point where the kids now mock me. Like, every time we drive past the water, I say it so often that they’ve now started saying it to me [high-pitched voice], ‘Oh, we’re soooo lucky.'”

But she does believe our greatest strength – as parents and as people – is when we share our foibles, rather than our wins.

“There are not a lot of people out there waving a flag around like they’ve got some sort of perfect life. I mean, no one does,” she says.

“It’s quite nice when you see someone rolling up to netball on a Saturday morning, who’s clearly had one of those mornings, because we all do, and everyone rallies around them.”

So even though life is busy, and cars sometimes get misplaced, Pippa is quick to point out that like most of us, she’s just trying to do her best on any given day.

“I’m just muddling my way through with everything. Happily! Happily muddling.”

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