When Kiwi cooking star Chelsea Winter followed her heart all the way to France to be with a childhood sweetheart, she knew their romance was the start of something special. But nothing could have prepared her for the overwhelming joy of returning home with both a new love and a new life on the way too!
"It's feels absolutely magical to be having a baby," she gushes. "I am loving every single minute of pregnancy – it's almost like a dream."
The best-selling cook-book author is a picture of contentment as she welcomes Woman's Day into her dad's stunning beachfront Mount Maunganui home, where she's staying until she and her partner Douglas Renall's new home is ready later this month.
Wearing yoga pants and a comfy T-shirt that hugs her blossoming baby bump, Chelsea busies herself in the sun-drenched kitchen – her happy place – making hot cross buns and cups of tea.
It's more than a year since she made the big decision to switch inner-city Auckland for the peace and quiet of the provinces, and she has absolutely no regrets.
On the day of our interview, she's already walked the length of the beach, practised her 30 minutes of daily meditation – "the key to life" – and she's feeling great.
"I thought I'd go back up to Auckland all the time, but I haven't!" she tells.
"I just don't miss it. I love the beach, the fresh air and the slow pace. It's exactly what I needed. I've learned to say no, to stop over-committing myself and I have a much more peaceful existence now."
Like anyone who's experienced the pain of a marriage separation, it's clear Chelsea's been through a lot in the past year. But now that she's out the other side, Chelsea's looking forward as she and winemaker Douglas, 35, prepare to welcome their little bundle later this year.
"Life is a funny old thing, isn't it?" muses the 35-year-old.
"It sometimes takes us by surprise and really shakes us up, but it's phenomenal to be able to trust your intuition and trust your heart when it's telling you something that's true. You have to live your truth, even if it's scary, because it always works out for the best."
While the MasterChef 2012 winner's love story might seem sudden after she announced the end of her five-year marriage late last year, it really begins 25 years ago when she and Douglas first met as youngsters at primary school in Kumeu, West Auckland.
Even back then, Chelsea remembers being blown away by his magnetic personality and good looks, and they quickly became an item.
"I was in awe of him," says Chelsea with a giggle. "He's tall and handsome now, and he was back then too! We were each other's first kiss – I turned up behind the pool one lunchtime with a bunch of my friends and he turned up with his, and before you knew it there was an innocent peck. It was very sweet."
While the lovestruck pair went their separate ways when they went to different intermediate schools, Chelsea never forgot Douglas. And after reconnecting last year, it was clear they had something special.
"It all very much feels like fate," she tells. "It's important to listen to your heart because it really does feel like we are meant to be together – it's just a knowing."
Travelling to France might have seemed like a leap of faith for the newly single foodie, but Chelsea had no doubt it was the right move.
Staying together in a stunning chateau outside of Bordeaux, where Douglas was working at one of the country's top wineries, Chelsea soaked in the culture, spending her days strolling around their local village, buying ingredients for the evening meal and enjoying leisurely hours in the kitchen, not to mention revelling in her new relationship.
"It was coming into winter and that's a really beautiful time of year there," she recalls. "It was a special time for us – totally magical and life-changing."
And it was here that Chelsea learned she was to become a mum. She'll never forget the day the pregnancy test came back positive.
"Even though we had a pretty strong feeling that I was pregnant, I still couldn't believe it when those two lines appeared. I was just completely overwhelmed."
Not wanting to jinx it by celebrating too early, Chelsea decided she needed at least a few more tests to prove it. But with shops and chemists closing down for two hours in the middle of the day, she faced an impatient wait.
"It was the longest few hours of my life," she laughs. "But I finally went and bought two more, and they both came back positive, so it was clear then that this was real."
Chelsea then faced another agonising few hours before she could share her amazing news with her beau, who was at work in the cellar.
"It was such an amazing moment," she tells with tears in her eyes. "We were both so deeply happy.
We'd talked about having a family together and it was something we both wanted, but we couldn't have dreamed it would happen so fast. It's a beautiful thing to have happened."
After several months together in France, the pair – who are keeping the gender of their unborn baby to themselves – returned home to start their new life together in the Bay of Plenty.
Chelsea radiates happiness when she talks about Douglas and all they have in common. They're both half-Dutch, share a love of nature and animals, and love good cheese and wine! And like Chelsea, Douglas is also a published author, with his book 100 Great NZ Wineries released in 2017.
"We both learn a lot from each other," says Chelsea.
"He's absolutely passionate about biodynamic and organic wine growing, and I just love his energy and enthusiasm. We have so much to talk about. We're perfect for each other – it's a soul connection. And it's cool that we both have Dutch heritage. We both feel very connected to Europe and the Netherlands, so we'll be taking bubs back there when the time comes."
Watching her body change with each week of pregnancy has brought Chelsea untold joy. She loves feeling her little one kick and is relishing having real curves for the first time in her life!
"I've never been more in love with my body!" she enthuses. "Seeing it bloom like this continuously delights me. I feel like I'm a piece of fruit that's ripening. There's a new softness and femininity which I'm absolutely loving and I can't stop touching my bump."
While she hasn't had any morning sickness or odd food cravings, Chelsea was surprised to find she could no longer stomach broccoli, kale and mushrooms. "I used to love those things, but suddenly my body said, 'Nope!'" She's also looking forward to welcoming coffee and chocolate back into her life.
With Douglas at her side, Chelsea is excited about moving into their first home together – a rural paradise with plans for pets, farm animals, chooks, an organic vege patch and an orchard.
This earthy nature-lover is confident it will be the perfect place to raise their wee family.
"It's going to be our little bit of peace and quiet, where we can grow our family," she tells. "I don't know what sort of parents we'll be, but I know we'll do our very best. Our role is to nurture and support. They're their own little souls with their own journeys to make."
She's hoping for a natural childbirth and with the encouragement of a midwife is committed to "spinning baby" techniques, which teaches women ways to help the baby into the best position for delivery.
"It's all about walking and moving your body in the right ways," she explains. "But the most important thing is that I'm going to try to trust my body and intuition, and not stress unnecessarily. I'm not nervous about labour – I'm looking forward to it."
And whatever happens, Chelsea can't wait for the day she finally meets her baby.
"Having a baby is one of the most sacred things someone can experience," she concludes. "It's this great big unknown, but what I do know is it's going to be the best thing that will ever happen to us. We've been given a huge blessing."
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