Veteran political correspondent Barry Soper, who has served more than 34 years at the helm of the parliamentary press gallery, has a new challenge to face: his wife. Gung-ho TVNZ star Heather du Plessis-Allan is leaving Seven Sharp and joining the press gallery.
Du Plessis-Allan, 30, is replacing deputy political editor Michael Parkin, who is relocating to Christchurch. She will also report for the weekend current affairs show Q+A.
However, her new office is only 1.2m across the corridor from her husband's. Within spitting distance, he says.
"Heather is now my new rival. She'll be right across the hall," Soper told The Diary. "I've been a political editor at the gallery for 34 years. I arrived there before Heather was even born!"
Parkin, a Christchurch native, wanted to shift to his home city. He will take up a senior reporting role in Christchurch and return with his wife, TV3 reporter Rachel Parkin (nee Tiffen), who also grew up there. The pair are currently on an overseas trip.
Parkin's vacancy allowed du Plessis-Allan to step up to the challenge and join the gallery - a long-held dream.
"I've been trying to get into the gallery for nearly nine years," du Plessis-Allan told The Diary. "It's taken me a long time but I'm thrilled to be joining the team."
She will join Katie Bradford as One News political reporters alongside political editor Corin Dann. The role of deputy political editor has been disestablished with Parkin's departure. Her new boss says it's a coup. "Heather is a strong fearless journalist with a unique style of TV reporting and a strong political bent. I've got no doubt she's going to keep MPs busy and on their toes."
Heather du Plessis-Allan.
And it's not just the politicians; the joke is Soper better look out too.
Du Plessis-Allan laughed: "One of the gallery reporters said to me, 'Did you even take poor Barry [political editor of Newstalk ZB] into consideration when you made this decision? Does he want the old ball and chain there all the time?'
"I'll admit, I did stop and think, 'How many times can you see the dude in one day?'"
Colleagues chortle it could be daggers at dawn for the Sopers.
"The doors of TVNZ and Newstalk are within spitting distance, literally," said a journo, raising an eyebrow. "Baz and Heather have always been quite cute and affectionate at work, but not within such close quarters. Now they're in competition. It'll be cut-throat."
Another spilled: "A vicious rumour going around this week was that Barry was studying the parliamentary rules to see how he could block her and keep her out. To be honest, she's good. I wouldn't blame him."
Du Plessis-Allan, known for her drive and personality, is sure to spice up the gallery.
TV3 will now step up their game.
Her memorable stories on Seven Sharp will be missed, but a TVNZ representative said du Plessis-Allan will see out the year on the show and have the chance to occasionally present a quirky political feature next year, if necessary.
The couple have just spent a week surfing in Hawaii with Sia Aston, the Prime Minister's new chief press secretary.
Rachel Morton, TV3's former Australian correspondent, also joined them on the junket.
They did not get to borrow John Key's house, alas.
"He didn't offer, which is just as well," du Plessis-Allan said. "We were in the fun part on Waikiki, not on boring Maui."