Surreal – that is the word Wendy Petrie uses to describe her life right now. Most likely lots of us feel that way about the pandemic-struck year that is coming to an end. For Wendy, it has been particularly challenging to get her head around the way things have changed because it took a while for her new normal to happen.
Back in July, she was devastated to be made redundant from her job, presenting TVNZ's 6pm news alongside Simon Dallow. On her final official day on-air in August, there was a farewell morning tea held in the newsroom, a low-key affair with a couple of cakes.
But then, after all the goodbyes had been said, Wendy seemed to be on our screens almost non-stop, appearing on Breakfast, the late news and on weekend bulletins.
"I was bizarrely busy," she recalls. "People kept saying to me, 'We've never seen you more!' It was very confusing."
Right up until the election, Wendy's schedule was packed as she filled in for other presenters. Then suddenly, with the election over, TVNZ didn't need her help as much, and she realised this was it, her new life.
"Up until that point, I hadn't faced the reality of losing my job," admits Wendy. "Now, for the first time, it was sinking in and I felt very alone. I missed my colleagues and turning up to work every day and my job, which I loved. I felt self-pity and hated that as I don't like feeling sorry for myself."
As a broadcast journalist, Wendy has had a dream run covering news events around the world, before landing the coveted role on 1 News.
Being without the job she had worked so hard at came as a shock.
"One of my friends gave me some good advice. She said it's okay to feel sad, you need to grieve," says Wendy. "I've not really dealt with this sort of thing before in my life. I know that I've been lucky, but still it hurts. And it's okay to feel sorry for yourself, a little bit."
Getting plenty of exercise and listening to inspiring podcasts has helped. "Running always makes me feel better," she tells. "Being outside, having some time to myself and some headspace."
There are still ups and downs to deal with, good days and bad. "This has been the hardest year of my career and when you're a woman facing 50, that's a tough reality," she shares.
Plenty of other female broadcasters have disappeared from our screens as they headed into their 50s, however, in an era when we are embracing diversity, Wendy, 49, hopes this is going to change.
"Older women want to be represented on TV," she points out. "Even saying 'older women sounds wrong because I don't feel old. If you look overseas, there are some wonderful examples of women who are still on air well into their 60s. The breadth of experience they bring to their role is fantastic. It's really inspiring."
Wendy hasn't finished with TV and thankfully it hasn't completely broken up with her either. There will be more TVNZ fill-in slots – recently she sat in Hilary Barry's chair on Seven Sharp – and she is enjoying the chance to let more of her own personality shine through.
"As a news anchor, I feel a responsibility to be neutral and serious," she explains. "But I'm actually not that person in real life. My friends would tell you I'm silly, making jokes all the time and fooling around."
There have been talks about the possibility of fronting other shows and Wendy is enjoying being able to say yes to opportunities she might have turned down before because of lack of time. Recently, she hosted a big company's virtual conference on Zoom.
"They had some amazing speakers and it made me realise there are lots of things outside of TVNZ that are really exciting."
Then there is the benefit of more time at home with family.
Wendy is married to long-time love Ross Peebles. They met in a newsroom – of course – and today Ross works for Les Mills International, making exercise videos. They live in a leafy central Auckland suburb and have three sporty children.
Son Zac, 10, plays basketball, daughter Liv, 14, is a competitive swimmer who recently made the national squad, and daughter Addison, 16, is a talented rower.
That has meant ferrying them to 5am training sessions in different parts of town and juggling everyone's schedules.
"There has been a lot of family admin working out which kid was going where and who would pick them up," tells Wendy. "When you're a working mum, you never feel as though there are enough hours in the day. So what is really cool now is I can go and watch my kids do their sports. I went to an athletics day the other week, which normally I never do."
Each day still feels busy, even though she isn't working full-time now. And the list of chores she imagined there would be time to tackle isn't showing much sign of being whittled down. "I was so excited about cleaning out my garage," laughs Wendy. "Do you think it has happened in the last month – no!"
Newsreaders always seem to look flawless. Somehow their skin is glowier, they have better hair days and toned physiques.
Even turning up to chat with the Weekly at a local café, Wendy looks sleek and groomed.
Losing her job clearly hasn't meant letting herself go.
"I've still got my role filling in for Simon, so it's important to maintain standards," she points out, with a smile. "Also, I think for my own self-worth I need to maintain them. I like keeping fit and looking good."
Next August she turns 50, a milestone that Wendy had hoped to celebrate with a holiday overseas. The dream was to go to Africa on safari, see lions and giraffes, ideally with the kids. But the pandemic has made that impossible.
"I've definitely reduced my expectations as the months have gone on," reveals Wendy.
"I'd still love to do a trip, especially as I don't have the problem of not having enough leave – I've got endless leave now. But so many people have had birthdays and milestones in lockdown, and I think we're all putting our special celebrations on hold. So we'll just have to plan a big trip when we can."
Even this coming summer is going to look a little different for Wendy. In the past, she has had Christmas and New Year's off work, but now as Simon's fill-in, she will be onscreen throughout the festive period.
"And that's totally fine," she stresses. "The school holidays seem to go on forever, so we'll take a break towards the end of January instead."
If 2020 has been the year Wendy has learnt a few tough lessons, then 2021 promises to be the one when she finds out what she is capable of.
"I always joke that I read aloud for a job," she says. "I can read aloud really well! But, of course, there's so much more involved and you don't really realise along the way the skills you have accumulated."
There are still times when she feels low. The day of the Melbourne Cup, for instance, when she knew her colleagues would be putting money into the office sweepstake, then gathering round a television to watch the race together.
"I was on my own at home, and the reality of not having my friends and colleagues around me was a bit sad," she reflects.
"I do miss being part of a team that puts something to air every night from scratch. I'm really proud of what we achieve. And it's weird to be on the outside now."
Still, being forced into change might actually turn out to be a good thing, believes Wendy.
"I feel like there's so much more I have to offer and I'm excited about the next step, whatever it is.
"I can reinvent myself – this is my chance to do something I've always wanted to do…although I'm still finding out what that thing is."
Lots of people have done it tough in the year of Covid-19. With good friends and a close family around her, Wendy is aware she is among the more fortunate, but still she has learnt a few things about resilience and digging deep.
"At some point this will end," she offers. "You have to keep telling yourself that because it's hard. This will end. We will get a vaccine, we'll go back to our normal lives, the economy will get better, we'll find some jobs and be able to travel again. Right now, people are suffering, but I have high hopes."
- New Zealand Woman's Weekly