Hayley Holt’s fertility fears and the heart-wrenching decision she has to make

If you were looking for a complex woman on mainstream TV, you'd struggle to find a better example than Hayley.
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“I’m a take it as it comes kind of girl. I walk through the doors that open, and grab the opportunities when they come,” says Hayley Holt, the former snowboarder and professional ballroom dancer-turned-sports presenter, reality show judge, radio host, politician-turned-breakfast host.

“I’m a do first, worry about it later person – which has got me in trouble in the past! But it’s also opened up amazing opportunities. I couldn’t tell you where it’s going to lead.”

If you were looking for a complex woman on mainstream TV, you’d struggle to find a better example than Hayley.

The 37-year-old began a new phase of her multi-faceted career in January as the new Breakfast co-host with Jack Tame – replacing the formidable Hilary Barry in one of the highest profile and most sought after roles on TV. For Hayley, who had turned her attention to politics, it was an unexpected but dream job, “a gift”.

At face value, Hayley is the epitome of the bubbly attractive TVNZ blonde, but in person, the 37-year-old seems much deeper – and cooler – than the stereotype. She’s talked in the past about the misconception that she’s the sporty, fun girl, whereas “behind the scenes, I’m kind of serious”.

We meet after she’s wrapped filming for the morning, and she slips into a booth in the bustling TVNZ atrium with her perfectly groomed TV presenter hair.

But she’s stripped off her tailored on-screen clothes and is wearing a black high-necked pinafore dress by local ethical label Kowtow – organic cotton, very on brand for this former Green Party candidate – and heavy Dr. Martens boots, and I can tell she’s reading me as closely as I am her.

This is a woman whose childhood friends are DJ Jaimie Webster Haines, one of Auckland’s most genuinely stylish women, and Kylie McKenzie, who was an extra in the club scene in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. This is also a woman who was once a hammerhand for her dad; who loves politics, history, people and “mundane pop culture things” in equal measure.

“I feel like people think they know me, but I don’t think they do,” says Hayley. “They might be surprised at how down-to-earth and slightly boganish I am. On screen, you’ve got a stylist, makeup and hair… but I’m not glamorous at all.”

That relatability and frankness is a big part of Hayley’s charm, and her approach to life. She’s talked openly and frequently about her relationship with alcohol; quitting and attending her first AA session in 2014 (she admitted to going three times in a week when her new Breakfast role was announced).

“I’ve been told that I’m too open sometimes! But through recovery from alcohol addiction, you learn how important truth and authenticity is.

“I revel in uncomfortable truth now. I love seeing people tell their deepest darkest fears or resentments, because that’s real. And until we get rid of the shame around talking about our bad or dark sides, or our character flaws, we’re never going to be able to fix them.”

A key life lesson has been realising that she doesn’t always have to be at the top of her game. And after almost a year at Breakfast, she’s learnt not to worry about others’ opinions.

“In this role, if you’re thinking of what others are thinking of you, it’s a highway to hell,” she says. “People have opinions, and you’re in their face for three hours every morning, so there are people out there who may not like what you say or just the cut of your jib. That was a huge lesson; it took me a while.”

Right now she describes her life as “work, sleep, eat, repeat”. The alarm goes off at 3.15am, and she’ll drive from her West Auckland home to the TVNZ studios to prepare for the day’s show, before heading into hair and makeup at 4.30am.

“I don’t think you ever adjust to the hours. I’m getting used to perpetually being in a state of sleep deprivation,” she says. “It is really impacting on my social life; I don’t really have one any more, which is unfortunate, but it’s worth it. This is basically the most exciting thing I do – come to work.”

You’re making it sound like I had a plan!” Hayley jokes when we talk about her recent career trajectory that saw her studying history and politics at the University of Auckland, entering politics before transitioning back to broadcasting.

Last year she ran as a Green Party candidate in the election; part of the party’s much touted promotion of talented young women alongside Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman.

Despite resigning from the party when she was announced as the new Breakfast host, there was some pushback about Hayley’s liberal leanings possibly influencing her role. But have you heard of Mike Hosking, Mark Richardson or Duncan Garner?

It’s 2018 and we need more complicated women with an opinion on breakfast TV. Hayley says she’s not pushing any agenda on the show, but does confess to sometimes missing the feeling of community that comes from working in politics.

“You’re all united behind a goal and it does feel like you’re doing something to change the world. But, so is this,” she reflects on her new very public position.

“You’re reaching a lot more people in this role. I’m not pushing agendas, but I get to talk to and meet so many people who are doing amazing things.

I’m learning as well. Learning about what New Zealand talks about – and what it really cares about.”

On screen and in her personal life, there is also the inevitable pressure that comes on women in their 30s who don’t have children. “Yeah… try being late 30s! That’s when everybody starts to panic,” laughs Hayley.

In July she interviewed Dr Mary Birdsall, revealing to Breakfast viewers that she had personally visited the fertility specialist to discuss her own reproductive future and options. It was something that her mum Robin had encouraged her to do and it’s a topic that Hayley seems almost resigned to discuss.

“Every single person wants to know what I’m doing with my womb at the moment… Because I am ‘of the age,'” she admits with a sigh. “I guess it’s fear in a way, because there is a certain age that you have to make those decisions.”

Right now, she’s preparing herself for every alternative. Not having a partner, jokes Hayley, “does make it slightly difficult!”

“I was having a discussion with my mum about it the other day, and we both sort of got a little bit teary,” she admits.

“Her especially, because she knows what it’s like to be a mother. She’s my mum, and she doesn’t want me to be upset or have something taken away from me [if I don’t have children]. But if that’s how it’s meant to go, then I’ll work out a way to deal with it.”

“People obsessing about it has made me obsess about it, and I don’t know whether that helps in any way, because then you look at relationships differently, or your social life differently,” says Hayley.

“It makes everything really complicated. To the point where sometimes I just want to say, no, because then at least I’ve got a clear path ahead of me.”

Having visited Dr Birdsall, Hayley chose not to do anything at the time, “because I suppose I was hoping that if it were to happen, it would happen naturally.

“I looked into freezing my eggs, but the cost and the statistics behind it and the chance that it would turn into a baby, it felt a bit… scientific.”

Now that she’s older, Hayley admits it is a decision she has to revisit. “I’m thinking about it right now, about what I could possibly do.”

“But again, like in much of my life, I’ll take what comes at me,” she says. “Maybe I’ll be a mother on my own; maybe I’ll be a mother to somebody else’s kids; maybe I won’t have kids and I’ll work with vulnerable children in New Zealand. Either way, I know that I’ll be working with kids, because I love them.”

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