Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan on her childhood and what you don’t know about her

Host of NewstalkZB’s drive show, journalist and broadcaster Heather du Plessis-Allan, 36, takes a moment during lockdown to have a chat over a cuppa about her life, her childhood growing up in a commune and the one thing she cannot live without.

What is the best thing about your life at the moment?

I think everything. My mum [Elizabeth du Plessis] is part of our bubble and she was sitting here with me this weekend pointing out all the good things about my life. Sometimes we can be at risk of focusing on the negative, but I have a fantastic husband [political editor Barry Soper], a fantastic family – I love my brothers and my mum, and I have a wonderful job which is constantly stimulating. Naturally, I’m there on the radio to play the opposition role and hold the Government and a lot of other people accountable, so I do tend to look for problems, but I’m naturally a contrarian, so it’s not a problem.

What is the one thing you couldn't live without?

Obviously being of UK stock, I can’t live without a cup of tea with just one teaspoon
of milk to cut the tannin in the tea. Any more than that and I lose respect for you.
I can’t order a cup of tea on an aeroplane because it’s all milk!

But in all seriousness, this lockdown has made me realise that the thing I can’t live without is other people across the spectrum. People you love who talk to you about boring stuff and irritate you and gossip with you. People who stimulate you. Neighbours who give you a sense of community. We are all learning how important other people are to us.

What is the nicest thing you've ever bought or done for yourself?

At the end of 2016, I basically left TV3 at the end of that horrific current affairs show Story I was working on, where we were pretending to do current affairs at 7pm, which as we all know doesn’t happen any more.

I decided to give myself time and instead of leaping into another job, I went back to university and did my honours degree for a full year. I loved it because it fed my brain. As a bit of a joke, I had written a list of things I wanted to do while still in the job, so when I wasn’t in the job any more, I thought, “What’s stopping me from doing the bucket list?” So I decided to do it and prioritise the things that are important to me that I’d never done.

I had never indulged myself and I was getting a bit tired. Barry didn’t like it entirely because it meant I was still in Auckland and he was in Wellington, so it was a bit of
a pain, but he talks now about how important that year was for me and how much
I enjoyed it.

What qualities does a good friend need for you?

Number one, they have to have a good sense of humour because I am unbelievably boring and a serious person, so I need people to make me laugh and be happy that I will not make them laugh. And number two is tolerance, because to be friends with somebody who is consistently boring and serious, the attraction is going to wear off, so I need them to tolerate me and then try to lift me out of it all the time.

I am so blessed to have old school friends who have dealt with me for 30 years, and Barry is such a light-hearted, glass half-full guy, so that’s good.

You have a stressful, high-profile job. How do you keep yourself centred?

I’m an essential worker, so in lockdown I still go into the studio and put the mask on and socially distance. It’s a hell of a lot better than staying at home. I have a huge amount of respect for the mental resilience of people who stay home the entire lockdown and work, especially if they have little ones running around, that must be so hard.

As for the profile, I just don’t think about it being high-profile. I’m just doing a job like a builder builds a house or a baker bakes the bread and sells it to someone who runs a café. I refuse to indulge in any kind of sense that I am special or important. I do not read social media, I do not care about that stuff. I don’t listen to people commenting on what I’ve been up to because none of that stuff is important.

I’m just going out and doing my job, then I’m going home and I am somebody’s wife, I’m the sister to a couple of awesome boys, I’m the aunty to a bunch of young kids, I’m somebody’s daughter, I’m somebody’s grandchild and I’m someone’s friend. As long as I keep within the parameters of my real life, it’s kind of easy to just continue to be a decent, normal human being.

What advice would you give 15-year-old you?

Have more fun and stop being so serious. I don’t regret anything, but I do think sometimes taking a break and doing a year’s worth of OE might not have been a bad idea. To do all the bad girls’ stuff when you are a kid rather than doing it when you’re a professional.

When I was in the last year of high school, it was during the 2002 election and I walked around with a giant sign I had made telling my teachers to vote for United Future because I couldn’t vote myself. I was listening to Parliament, watching it on TV and reading the newspaper all the time. That is so out of whack and wrong, and I blame it on my dad [Neil Allan] because he was always listening to RNZ every bloody available minute and gave me a book by Simon Carr called The Dark Art of Politics when I was 15.

What books are on your bedside table?

Let’s see, I have The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray, My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan, who is a South African guy who escaped apartheid then returned eight years later. After that, I’m going to start reading Simon Winchester’s Land. I loved his book on the Pacific and I also just picked up the other day a book about the life of the great Te Rauparaha called He Pukapuka Taˉtaku I Ngaˉ Mahi a Te Rauparaha Nui. It is a verbal record told to his son, which has been recently discovered and translated into English. I think it should be really interesting reading because he’s a legend.

And then I’m working my way through the Barry Crump collection. It is a disgrace
that most of Barry Crump’s books are no longer in print, so you basically have to fossick around libraries or on Trade Me to read one of our greatest writers.

I recently spent about $100 buying up 28 of his books on Trade Me. I’m reading them because my dad died in December 2019 and I struggled with some of his personality traits. So my mum suggested I read Barry Crump because it would explain a lot about my dad.

It turns out that at the age of 16, my dad read A Good Keen Man by Barry Crump and on the strength of that book, he persuaded his father, who was in the British Army, to move to New Zealand, which is what they did. Then he totally modelled himself on Crump, so I’m learning a lot about my own father – the great Kiwi possum hunter and deer hunter that he was.

He literally fashioned his entire life on Crump right down to the multiple wives, philandering and abandoning families. My father abandoned two separate families, my family and then another. He thought living in the bush in a Swanndri was the ultimate. I find it is easier to accept your parents when you understand them.

I didn’t see a lot of my dad when I was little because we lived in South Africa, but in my pre-teens we moved to New Zealand, so I spent lots of time with him then.

Tell us something we don't know about you.

I was raised in a Christian commune when I was little. It was a Christian Zionist commune, which were really popular in the ’80s, especially in South Africa where there is a really big Jewish community and lots of the evangelical Christians who got into this Zionist thing. We lived all together in a place which was based on a kibbutz. It was actually great for a kid and weirdly there were heaps of Kiwis living there. It was really wonderful, but we left when I was about 11 or 12, which is about right because I would have gone absolutely spare. I started having pretty strong opinions about traditional interpretations of gender roles and started pushing up against that, so we left at the right time.

About five years ago, the guy who was originally a used car salesman and was the pastor who set it up got busted for pilfering a whole bunch of cash out of it and buying all of these flash houses. He basically set up this swanky-as lifestyle for himself off the backs of all the people living there. He’s still on the run last I heard. So it ended the way it usually does.

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