Tony Veitch: I'm back and moving on

By Miriyana Alexander

Tony Veitch is ending 2013 on a professional high after landing one of the most influential jobs in sports broadcasting. He speaks candidly about the long battle to reclaim his health and happiness.

Tony Veitch. Photo / Doug Sherring
Tony Veitch. Photo / Doug Sherring

Tony Veitch had it all. A gorgeous new wife. A career as one of the country's top broadcasters. He had the fancy house, the fame, the fortune.

Then he lost it all. His job, his wife, almost his life.

Now, five years after his very public fall from grace, Veitch says he has much more. He chooses this life over his old one.

He is happy, healthy and optimistic about his future. He has a girlfriend, and hopes, one day, to become a father.

He ends 2013 on a professional high after landing one of the most influential jobs in sports broadcasting, replacing retiring doyen Murray Deaker on Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport. He'd already pocketed the Radio Award gong for best sports presenter of the year.

It has been a long haul back, and Veitch is quietly pleased to have made it.

"Yeah, I'm pretty proud, to be honest. It's been a long process. But you know what? Right now life is pretty good."

It seems 2013 has seen the redemption of Tony Veitch. So how did he do it?

When the bombshell came in mid-2008 that Veitch had made a six-figure payout to former girlfriend Kristin Dunne-Powell after injuring her in a domestic dispute in 2006, his life blew spectacularly apart. He lost his Radio Sport and TVNZ jobs. He was arrested and charged with six counts of assault and one of injuring with reckless intent. In a pre-trial settlement Veitch pleaded guilty to one charge of reckless disregard causing injury. The other charges were dropped. He has never discussed what happened that night, admitting only that he lashed out in an incident he deeply regretted.

But navigating the legal process wasn't the end of it. His marriage ended and he fought depression. There were several suicide attempts, and at every turn his life was headline news.

He says the last five years have been a "bit of a blur". The relentless media attention and public vitriol took its toll. He took to wandering golf courses to fill his days, went to counselling and worked hard to recover his mental health. He had a deal with his mum that he respond immediately when she texted him, and he was on suicide crisis watch for two years.

Running away was tempting - his dad suggested a year backpacking overseas, his mum wanted him to join her in Australia - and many times he wanted to.

Instead, he put his head down and set about the business of rebuilding his life.

"I decided to get on, be quiet and work hard."

He is speaking now to thank those who have stood by him, and in the hope it may help others who find themselves, as he did, in the depths of despair.

"I hope that without sounding very deep and meaningful about it, that some people can take some, I don't know, goodness out of it, and go, well you know, here's a bloke that continued on, despite it all."

It's just before midday one Sunday in late November, and Veitch's six-hour show is about to start. He's been at work since 7.30am, interviewing Kiwi league players at the World Cup in Britain. Today, there'll also be a debate on the state of New Zealand football, and an interview with All Black winger Cory Jane from his bathtub.

The 40-year-old is prepped. Ready. He has cut all his own tracks, written his own scripts and edited all of the stories. He is a perfectionist, always chasing the next scoop or big interview. He revels in the human drama of sport.

He checks his Veitchy on Sport Facebook page to see what the punters are saying, and then he's off. That quick-fire machine-gun chat, the long, loud belly laugh as someone tells him he doesn't know what he's talking about. He's loving it.

It wasn't always like that. When he walked back in the door at The Radio Network (TRN) four years ago, he was "shitting himself".

"Mentally, my confidence was absolutely shot. I didn't know whether I'd be able to get back on air. That year I came back and read the news in the afternoons was the hardest year of my working life."

His boss Dallas Gurney, the GM of talk programming, admits the station took a risk re-employing Veitch. Advertisers and audiences were quietly surveyed, and the reaction was 50-50.

"Some said well done for giving him a second chance, but plenty of people did not support it. But I think a lot of people recognised that Tony was a broken man. He'd lost everything. What more a price could he pay?"

Veitch remains "incredibly grateful" for the opportunity and took heart from support that came from colleagues and broadcasting superstars Paul Holmes and Murray Deaker. And within a year he had his old job back - Radio Sport breakfast host. But he wasn't enjoying it and again found himself pondering his future. Until Rugby World Cup winning coach Sir Graham Henry gave him some sage advice.

Henry believes Veitch was unfairly treated by an over-the-top media.

It was an experience he could relate to and he says the pair "have an empathy".

"My view was that if you have aspirations and dreams, I don't think you should give those things away just because you are going through some hard times. They make you a better person, a wiser person and a tougher person.

"Things were very difficult for him at the time and it would have been easy to run away, but when you look back on life, running way won't be as positive as staying, putting your chin out and fighting it.

"Tony can look back with some pride at his tenacity and determination."

Veitch says the conversation was a turning point.

"He told me I should leave on my own terms, and that stuck with me.

"He just gave me a bit of honest realisation that life wasn't that bad. I just needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and get back into what I loved. That I shouldn't throw away my career and everything I'd worked for."

Veitch says he owed it to his family to keep going, too. That they deserve his success as much as he does.

"My family kept me alive. Mum gave up six months of her life to live with me . . . and I feel terrible for what I've put her through . . . that she had to turn up and see me in a hospital room after I tried to kill myself.

"I completely and utterly let my family down. So yeah, they deserve this, too."

But so does Veitch, says Gurney.

"The only opportunity TRN gave him was four years ago, when he came back. The rest of it has been him.

"The reason he's ended up where he is now is because he's the best for the job. He's worked incredibly hard to get there professionally, but more important, personally.

"There are times when I wondered how it would work out for Tony and I'm really happy it's been this way. Tony is, by his own admission, a better man."

With time comes perspective, and Veitch says he's learnt plenty in the last five years. That his marriage didn't stand a chance in the face of such overwhelming pressure. That the New Zealand court system is incredibly inefficient. That he is a "complicated little sod". And, perhaps surprisingly, that this life is better than his old one.

"That's something I've only just come to terms with, and, yeah, I am honest in saying that. I do take this life over the old life, even given everything that's happened."

He is in love, but won't talk about his girlfriend to protect her privacy. He will say, though, that he would love to be a dad.

"I'd given up on being a father. God, I'd given up on everything, so yeah, this year has been a bit of a change of heart. I'd love to be a dad."

He says his experience has made him a more empathetic man and a better journalist.

"I look at everything completely differently. I thought I was bulletproof back in the day and I always figured everything was perfect in life, but it isn't.

"Now I like people in my life who have flaws, who have had stuff go wrong. What I've learnt, if I can be brutally honest, is that everyone has their shit.

"People have stuff going on behind the scenes that you just don't know about. It can actually be quite tough out there. Really, really tough.

"I've also learnt that you can cover a story without completely and utterly ripping someone apart. I always hope now that I will be fair and reasonable when it comes to anyone that I cover. Whatever the story, whatever the result, it does not need to get personal."

It is a respect that he says the media did not show him.

"The media taught me a lot of valuable lessons about what not to do. I found some of what was printed unbelievable. When I started in journalism there were things called fact checking and sourcing and defamation.

"Some of it was just extraordinary. The joy that the media, and your paper was one of them, seemed to take in what was happening to me . . . that was just incredible.

"But anyone who's ever known me, and whatever perception they've got about what came out, I have always believed I've been a good person. Having that torn apart in the public's eyes was not exactly easy."

Tony Veitch will live with the consequences of his actions that January 2006 night for the rest of his life.

There is still frustration that incorrect stories about him persist. But he won't rake over old ground, except to say he found himself in a situation he wished he'd gotten himself out of earlier, and has not found himself in since. And he does not regret settling the case before it went to court and he got to have his say.

"We had a massive family meeting and came up with the best plan to keep me sane and keep me alive and keep me happy. And settling was the plan that we came up with, and you know, there's always ifs and buts and what might have been, but I wouldn't be sitting here speaking to you now . . . because I would have been waiting two years. And that's totally and utterly unfair in terms of the court process.

"I made a fundamental decision to rebuild my life and get my career back. If I'd waited to go to court, I would not be in the position I am in now."

He knows, though, that whatever he says, some people will still define him by that night.

"I know there'll be people reading this article who have formed their own opinion and I can't change that. God, there's billions of things I wish I could change, but I can't. The past is the past.

"I've just decided I'm moving on. I've got my dream job. I'm happy in life. And do you know what? I'm tired of it. It's eaten up a major part of my life. I'm moving on."

Speak up, urges radio host


Tony Veitch says suicide should be talked about more openly to foster more understanding of the issue.

He has discussed it with a coroner and even Prime Minister John Key. He doesn't have any answers, but he urges anyone feeling depressed or suicidal to seek help.

"I'm a big believer in counselling. I didn't used to be, because you just think, as a bloke, nah, you don't need that sort of stuff. I'd never believed in the mental aspect affecting your physical health, but it does. When you're mentally not well you just feel like a bag of crap."

An unexpected consequence of the publicity about his battle with depression was approaches from people seeking help.

"It was pretty draining to be honest, but it was also really cool that people would talk to me. My advice is get help."

Where to get help

Youthline: Offers support for young people and their families, 0800 376 633

Kidsline: Telephone counselling for children aged 9 to 13, 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)

Whatsup: Counselling for children aged 5-18, 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

The Word: Questions answered about sex, life and relationships

Depression Helpline: Counsellors who can find the right support for you. 0800 111 757 (8am to midnight)

Rainbow Youth: Support for queer and trans* young people and their families

- Herald on Sunday

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