New Zealanders of the year: Anita McNaught

By Catherine Masters

Anita McNaught would probably say, if she knew she was among those nominated as New Zealander of the Year, that the honour should go to her husband, Olaf Wiig.

After all, he was the one kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza in August and held for two weeks by Palestinian militants.

But night after night it was McNaught who we watched on television, calm and composed yet relentless in her determination to have her Kiwi husband and his Fox News colleague freed.

On the phone from London, after being slightly misled about why we wanted to talk to her, McNaught urges us to first talk to her husband. The story was never about her, she says.

"It's all about him and, you know, I did so much talking on his behalf while he was in there and I'm really keen to stop that now."

Wiig says, of course McNaught can talk to us. "She's her own woman," he says wryly.

McNaught is British, but having lived here for 12 years and becoming such a well-known face, she qualifies as a New Zealander by adoption.

She feels very Kiwi. She still has a house in Auckland, comes back often and says some of her "dearest friends in all the world" are here. She thinks the way she approaches life now is far more Kiwi than English.

She has not really had much time to reflect on the Gaza kidnapping. Her way of coping has been to throw herself into her work.

At the time the composure we saw was only on the outside - "It was a two-week nightmare. Absolute horror. And I lost the plot more than once but you don't lose the plot in public because that's not helpful. It's not helpful to family members who are trying to keep their own composure and strength and it's not helpful to whatever effort you're trying to co-ordinate. Dignity is crucial."

The pair coped differently after Wiig's release. He needed to slow the pace down but she needed to keep it up, so she "hustled" for work and started with CNN.

She has recently returned to London after a month in Bangladesh and will soon head back to Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories where she will be for Christmas and the New Year. She's not sure if she will be back in Gaza but is not worried about it.

She thinks about Palestinian politics a lot, she says, because what happened to her husband was a product of the Palestinian political crisis. People there are desperate. A year ago Wiig may not have been taken hostage, she believes, because life in Gaza was not as intolerable as it is now.

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