Hayes goes from hunting deer to shooting the news

By David Farrier

When Samantha Hayes turns to face the camera this week as the new co-host of current affairs show 3rd Degree, it will be the latest step up for a journalist who once was blithely dismissed as an "autocue reader''. Ahead of her 30th birthday, friend and flatmate David Farrier offers an intimate view of Hayes' tougher side.

3rd Degree's new presenter Samantha Hayes who, at approaching 30, has 12 years' experience with the television network. Photo / Doug Sherring
3rd Degree's new presenter Samantha Hayes who, at approaching 30, has 12 years' experience with the television network. Photo / Doug Sherring

Our vacuum cleaner is clogged with long orange hair. When you clean it, you get a little orange mat. This is life living with Samantha Hayes, my colleague and friend of almost a decade.

"She had a gun in her hand by the age of 2," says Sheena, Sam's mum. She's sitting with Sam's dad, Paul, at their home in Milton. I'm Skyping them from Auckland. There's a beautiful dog sitting on Paul's lap.

"That's Tombi," Sheena deadpans in her South African accent.

"He looks beautiful," I reply.

Sheena answers, unimpressed: "It's a girl."

Sam told me to Skype her parents rather than call them. Her father was taught from a young age that phones were only for emergencies.

"My brother Clinton bought him a cellphone with big buttons for Christmas so he can take it with him when he's hunting, but I think it might've been discarded like the previous ones we've given him."

The gun Sheena is talking about was an air-powered dart rifle and, in 1986, Samantha Hayes and her dad would shoot at a target down the hallway. Eventually, this moved to outdoors with a real gun when she would be at her dad's side as he was deer-hunting. "She's very good with a rifle, a really good shot and she's naturally good with a fishing rod as well," says Paul. "She's lucky. Some people are like that. She'll pick it up, put a lure out there, next thing she's got a damn fish on."

Dad's little fishing and hunting buddy, Samantha Hayes, aged 4.
Dad's little fishing and hunting buddy, Samantha Hayes, aged 4.

Sam's parents met in South Africa. Paul, a Milton lad, paid $700 for an around-the-world cruise. He disembarked in South Africa and stayed, driving trucks for Richards Bay Minerals. Sheena worked in the office. According to Sam, "Mum fancied Dad, and arranged at the Christmas party to sit across from him. He brought 'some floozy' to the party, but she got miffed as Dad was into Mum. At one stage the 'floozy' stood up and fell into a water fountain, but Dad was so taken by Mum he didn't even help her out".

Samantha arrived on the scene (Pietermaritzburg) on April 25, 1984. When she was six months old, Paul took Sheena and their new family back to Milton. There, Sam grew up, constantly outdoors and often near horses.

"She's been down a river with me in a canoe. When I've been duck shooting, she used to be behind me," says Paul. "I've got one of those Canadian canoes. And we had some fairly rough trips. One of the rivers we went down, we nicknamed it 'The Never Again River'. And we never have been down it again."

It sounded like a good childhood, the only drama seeming to be when, aged 11, Sam gave up the family religion of eating meat. Sam told me they threatened to sell her horse if she didn't give up vegetarianism.

"True," states Paul. "It was me," giggles Sheena. "I was desperate to get her to eat meat. She was very sporty. She played netball, athletics, horse riding and I just felt she needed meat." I asked if there were tears. "No. She was trying to swallow the meat. It was like poison."

It didn't take long for Sam to sneak back to vegetarianism and, apart from a year-long stint as a vegan, a herbivore she remains.

She is strangely easy to live with, going so far as to tolerate my Star Trek memorabilia in the lounge. But she has her limits. Heather, the stuffed goose, has been confined to the garage, and my giant cat portrait has mysteriously disappeared.

Sam gets up earlier than is healthy, doing things like "walking" and "yoga". Paddleboarding is a new thing. We're at the beach a lot. The other day we watched as someone threw a stick for their dog and it hit a swimmer on the head.

March has been busy: publicity shoots for 3rd Degree , flying around the country shooting stories and planning her 30th birthday. Rarotonga has been settled upon.

Sam, me and our old Nightline colleague Jesse Peach have found a tiny house to stay in on the island. I'm so fond of them both. They're similar in many ways. Free spirits and beautiful.

Sam arrived at TV3 a few years before Jesse and me, interning at the network when she was 17. "This was the biggest moment of my life, and I turned up and [Nightline producer] Gus said, 'Oh, I'd forgotten you were coming in. How long are you here for?' I said a month, and he said, 'S***, I thought it was a couple of days or something'," she recalls.

Samantha Hayes as a 17-year-old intern on her way to interview Megadeth.
Samantha Hayes as a 17-year-old intern on her way to interview Megadeth.

In her manic first week, Sam interviewed metal band Megadeth with short notice and no time for preparation.

"I was talking to the band manager going, 'How many in the band?' and he said, 'If they know for one second you don't know about them, they won't talk to you'.

"I am freaking out. This is my big break. Al Pitrelli [Megadeth guitarist] keeps winking at me, and Dave Mustaine [frontman] keeps flipping his hair.

"All I knew about Megadeth is that my brother had their CD, and one of them used to be in Metallica.

"I stuck to vague questions: 'If you could make music with anyone who would you make it with? Why did you leave Metallica?' And Dave said, 'Because I was a violent drunk'. Afterwards his manager said, 'You have no idea what happened, do you? In 10 years he's never spoken about that'."

In the lift, a Megadeth fan requested a photo with the woman who had just interviewed his hero. Since then, her fanbase has grown.

My mum, Pam Farrier, took a liking to Sam back when she started presenting Nightline. If Sam appeared in the paper, Mum would send me a clipping. I've still got them somewhere, in a creepy little pile. Some are from the Spy gossip pages. Mum - nothing but a positive force - would cut around anything she deemed "mean" that gossip columnist Rachel Glucina had written about Sam that week.

The story goes that Sam bumped into Glucina years ago. "What do you do?" Sam asked. It was a terrible mistake. From that moment on, if she made what Glucina saw as a wrong move, it was in the gossip pages. Boys, weight, story choices. Friends and colleagues of Sam's were not immune to the snark, Glucina calling me Sam's "man bag".

I wanted to ask Glucina if she had a problem with Sam. Maybe I had it all wrong.

She emailed me: "I was a bit critical of Sam earlier on for chasing celebrity over journalism. She appeared more interested in being famous and getting freebies than breaking scoops. I thought she was selling herself short."

But, she concluded, "I admire her courage and determination in wanting more for herself and her willingness to be open to new opportunities."

For someone so opinionated it read like a press release. I suppose it had to. She had, after all, copied in Mark Jennings, TV3's head of news and current affairs.

I asked Sam what she thought of Glucina. "When I first moved up here [to Auckland] I was a little naive and I didn't really know how this whole media game operated, and she called me out on it. She likened me to Paris Hilton. That was the first thing she ever wrote about me. I wore sunglasses to an event and apparently I didn't take them off."

"I think people want to label her as a bit of an upstart or something. And I think she's had to convince people of her ability. When I've given her jobs, I can see they don't think I should have done that. A few months later they come to me and they go, 'Sam's really good'."

So says Mark Jennings. He has a quiet disposition and has been known to wear double denim. I show him a screenshot I've printed of my Skype session with Sam's parents.

He pauses before saying: "I did not think Sam Hayes' parents would seem like this."

Jennings was the one who decided to make Sam Nightline presenter, despite her being only 23.

"And you would think I must be crazy," he says. "But there was something about her that I knew she'd be able to handle it, and it would work. It's something to do with, at the time, being older than her years and having a sort of ability to cope with tasks that you only expect older, more experienced people to be able to do."

Jennings has overseen Sam's career, from reporting, to presenting Firstline and the 6pm news. He is particularly proud of how she took ownership of the environment round, going to places like Copenhagen to cover the United Nations' Climate Change Conference.

"She has no fear of failure, to a degree. I think she tells herself she won't fail, and that's maybe born into her a bit, too. Most of us, me included, are racked with fear and insecurity, about 'Oh, can I do this?'. She doesn't ever have that."

Sam sent Jennings a card after getting the Nightline presenting job, which simply read: "Thanks for taking a punt."

She's about to take a punt now, co-presenting the show she's been reporting on for a year, 3rd Degree. But let's be honest, it's much less of a punt now than it was then.

"Back in Nightline, I would religiously watch 60 Minutes and watch the Mel Reids, Sarah Halls, the Paula Penfolds," says Sam. "I knew then I wanted to do long-form current affairs, and also present the show.

"I am standing at this moment where I am about to achieve that goal and, again, there is a huge amount of pressure for me to get it right."

She understands she is in good company. "I am just lucky I get to work with these journos and editors and camera ops who have been doing it for longer than I have."

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Sam ends up finding a story in Rarotonga, ditching the birthday to chase some kind of drama. Already there's trouble: she's convinced she'll be taking her paddleboard on the plane. I'm not convinced, but she won't listen to me.

What else about Sam Hayes? She has a degree in media studies and international relations. Her cat is named Minnie. She's just finished watching True Detective and she adores House of Cards. She listens to The National far too much, she's not sick of Lorde yet, and the best gig she's seen was Arcade Fire at Coachella three years ago.

Sam has a younger sister named Katie, who is a talented dance and drama teacher and newly engaged. Sam gets nervous.

"People's mouths go dry when they're nervous. Mine is the opposite: too much saliva."

She credits her success in broadcasting to her early days of study when she worked at Radio One and RadioActive. Her DJ name was "SamSixty". There, she pronounced "orangutan" as "orange-you-tan." She has a bet with a friend to replicate that mistake on air. "I won't," she says.

Sam is prone to tears. "She cries when she's angry, and she gets angry a lot," says 3rd Degree editor Toby Longbottom. "I quite like that."

As I interview Sam at the breakfast table, I tell her articles about her always seem to gush about her looks; about the red hair. "I plan on being a journalist when I am 60," she says, "and I am not going to look like this when I am 60."

Sam's parents and my parents have reached 60, and exceeded it. It seems logical to leave the final word to them. They started this whole mess, after all. I ask Mum why she likes Sam - why all the clippings? "She's nice and open and a good communicator." Pam pauses. "She listens and is interested in others and not herself. And she likes honey, and so do I. Tell her I've got some Mossop's honey for her."

As for Sam's parents, it's time to log off Skype and leave Paul and Sheena to do whatever you do in Milton on a weeknight. I tell them their lounge looks very comfortable. Paul laughs and tells me about his favourite chair.

"I've got a chair that's sitting over there now. It spins round and round. It's an office chair.

"We actually found it floating about a mile and a half offshore when we were fishing down at the coast. And we thought it was a bloody whale!

"We thought, 'Bugger the thing. We'll go over and take a look at it'. And we found this thing: it was a leather chair, obviously from a boat that had over-turned on the bar. So we chucked her on, with around 50 litres of water hosed her off, and this is where she is now."

The sentence "Bugger the thing, we'll go over and take a look at it" sums up the mind-set of a good journalist. In Paul's case it found him a superb office chair.

For his daughter, it finds her good stories.

- Herald on Sunday

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