As a child, Nadine Higgins was always enthralled by her granddad’s exotic tales of growing up in India during the British Raj. His parents were wealthy indigo plantation owners and he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle – but the legend most often regaled was that of the grisly death of Nadine’s great-great-grandfather.
“The story goes that he was killed by a tiger,” explains the broadcaster. “I had no idea if it was true or not, but it always seemed so adventurous and daring.”
Whispers in the family also suggested they might have Indian blood, but no-one really knew for sure. So when Nadine was asked to take part in TVNZ 1 genealogy show DNA Detectives, where local celebrities travel the globe to trace their family roots, she didn’t think twice.
“If people ever asked me about my ethnicity or family background, I couldn’t really answer them,” she tells. “I’d always been curious about the Indian link, so to have this chance was a huge privilege.”
What Nadine, 31, discovered in the episode, which screens on November 28, left her shocked and saddened at times – and she was often on the brink of tears as she learned about the trials and tribulations of her forebears.
She explains, “It made me realise I come from a long line of strong women who had to make tough decisions and that perhaps that’s actually in my DNA. Women in that era didn’t have many options. They had to make serious decisions for their survival.”
Nadine’s DNA discovery comes at the end of a big year for the star – she got married to her beau Dan Higgins, relaunched her career and bravely spoke out about her personal mental health battle.
Unsurprisingly, the highlight was her stunning Northland nuptials to film producer Dan, which they shared with Woman’s Day.
“It was perfect. I really couldn’t have asked for any better. I mean, we had dolphins swimming in the bay as we said our vows!”
And married life is fantastic. “In some ways, I thought it would be the same as before, but it’s like we’ve found a new level. We’re just closer. You’ve made this public declaration that you mean the world to each other and as cheesy as that sounds, it’s so lovely.”
Changing her surname from Chalmers-Ross to Higgins was also a big step, despite plenty of raised eyebrows from people around her who feared her career might suffer.
“It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, but it felt like the right thing to do. I felt really strongly that we were at the beginning of our married life together and we were going to grow our family together, so I wanted to do it as one. And to be honest, my marriage is more important than a brand name!”
Nadine describes 2017 as her “year of living dangerously”. After the devastation of leaving her Breakfast hosting job in a controversial reshuffle, she picked herself up and turned to freelancing.
“My natural disposition is to be risk averse, so to go out and work for myself rather than taking a nine-to-five job was definitely outside of my comfort zone!”
But the gamble paid off, with Nadine writing a weekly column for the Sunday Star-Times, regularly filling in on The Project on Three and gracing the airwaves on Newstalk ZB.
In September, Nadine took the courageous step of writing about a very personal battle with depression, confessing, “I was sobbing myself to sleep and waking up feeling empty, heavy and angry – and I just couldn’t work out why.”
She tells us that being open about her struggle, which was remedied after a doctor diagnosed a hormone imbalance, was “scary but very important”.
“It felt important to show that these things can happen to anyone,” Nadine explains.
“Just because I’m on the telly or in glossy magazines doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen to me. I was in a really good place, I’d just got married, there were plenty of work opportunities – but I just felt terrible. I felt like a bad wife, like I was a burden on people around me, and that I wasn’t worth much. It was very hard.”
She was overwhelmed by the number of people who contacted her afterwards, thanking her for bringing mental health into the open. She hopes she’s shown that there is no shame in speaking out.
“It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain and I’m so stoked that I’m top of it now. The world is a much happier place.”
And to celebrate, Nadine and Dan are finally starting to plan their honeymoon. Eight months after tying the knot, the lovebirds hope they’ll finally be able to fit in a holiday in 2018.
“I’ve got my heart set on Europe,” she smiles. “We might even be able to fit in some more family history along the way!”
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