Hilary Barry has a lot to celebrate. As she chats to the Weekly from her Auckland home, she fist pumps the air with both hands and declares she's embracing every moment of being an empty nester now that sons Finn, 21, and Ned, 19, have moved away to study at university.
But although it's a significant milestone, it's not the only change that has swept through her life this year. She is – touch wood – coming out the other side of menopause, and her professional life shows no signs of slowing down. Already beaming into homes each weeknight on TVNZ 1's Seven Sharp, she's also done a stint on The Hits filling in for Laura McGoldrick while she was on maternity leave. And now, Hilary is set to hit our screens in a new role on New Zealand's version of the popular charades game Give Us a Clue.
"It'll be a rollicking good time for the whole family," she tells. "All of this work has been kind of accidental because I wasn't looking for more gigs. But they came at a good time because I actually had the time to do them."
Careful to preface any conversation about her boys moving out of home with how much she loves them, Hilary can't contain her joy.
"As much as we miss them, we are loving our life," she says of the time she and her husband Mike, 55, now share. "It has been really lovely just to have space again. There's food in the fridge when we want it, we run out of milk a lot less and there's a lot less washing!"
More time has meant slower starts to their weekends that used to be filled with taking their sons to sport.
"You know, we adored it, but on a rainy, stormy morning, when you're driving past the rugby field and seeing other parents cheering on their kids, Mike and I look at each other and go 'yay'! And then we go and pick up a cup of coffee and enjoy ourselves."
The couple, who are "still going strong" after 23 years of marriage, have even managed to escape the city for the odd weekend away.
"Sometimes when people are empty nesters, they get on each other's wick, but that hasn't happened to us, so that's a blessing," Hilary smiles. "The last time we went away was to Paihia, doing what most Kiwis are doing and exploring our own backyard. It was lovely because in winter there weren't many people and we had a walk in the Puketi Kauri Forest. It's been glorious."
But it's fair to say she's also not one to miss an opportunity.
"This is one of their bedrooms and it's now my study," she says, her arm sweeping the room around her. "This is my computer and this is my art on the walls. It used to be covered in surfing posters – the amount of time I spent removing Blu Tack from the walls was unbelievable! So yes, I've redecorated, I've decluttered and there's a lot less baking around home. I used to bake for the boys, but Mike and I don't need it."
But Hilary will still bake to send her sons care packages and also to treat the Seven Sharp crew she works with as a presenter alongside Jeremy Wells. The show highlights great Kiwi stories, but sometimes it is Hilary's outfits that get the attention. But she has zero-tolerance for criticism of too much cleavage or too much skin, and her colourful responses have won her the hearts of women around the country as she pushes back against ageism and sexism.
And yet it's also not lost on Hilary that at 51 years of age, she is in the unique position of being the oldest woman in a full-time primetime presenting position in the country.
"In the US, there's the likes of Barbara Walters on screens for years and years. And while I'd like to think our attitudes have changed – are changing – I do think that the public judges women and men differently. Men turn into silver foxes, while women turn into wrinkly, haggard has-beens. That's in some people's minds, not mine."
Now at the top of her game, Hilary is breaking down the barriers and bringing other women along for the ride because she feels like there's no longer anything to lose.
"I've always been myself, but it just gives you the freedom to be absolutely warts and all who you are. When you're young, sometimes you don't have the confidence to be yourself," she says. "You realise that people resonate with someone who is authentic and themselves. Gradually as you age, you find out who you are and then that gives you the freedom to be that person."
'Menopause is a hideous thing to go through'
But it's not just in current affairs that Hilary is blazing a new trail. Social media platforms also allow her to keep things real and relatable, tackling the everyday issues that affect women.
"It's great," Hilary enthuses. "There's a gap on social media of women my age and I'm trying to fill that space. I do find it interesting there are younger women who engage with me, too. They probably can't relate to the things about wrinkles and menopause, but I think it's quite cool that they engage.
"Menopause is a hideous thing to go through and I hadn't realised until I started that journey how long it takes for some women to go through it. It seems never-ending and makes you feel fat, ugly and awful. You puff up, can't sleep and you're overheating all the time. I was so embarrassed because I would have patches of almost getting acne and I had to be on screen. But I feel better now."
Although Hilary says she believes she's come out the other side, she's not keen to give any sort of advice about the process because it is so individual, with many women contacting her about their own experiences.
"Some women can spend 10 or 15 years feeling bad," she explains. "But for me, fresh air, plenty of downtime, eating well and trying to slow down helped. In fact, Covid helped a little bit because life slowed down and in our 50s, we can get busy with so much stuff."
Like many people, Hilary also battles self-doubt in life's bigger moments.
"I get imposter syndrome from time to time. I stop and feel like a fraud. The last time I had it was when I was emceeing Sol3 Mio at Spark Arena. It was chocka with thousands of people, and I was on stage with these wonderful singers and having an out-of-body experience, with my inner voice saying, 'What are you doing? How did you end up here?'"
But Hilary simply won't let those voices win. She shares, "I recognise them for what they are. I recognise the voice and I don't let it take control. And again, that comes with age and experience."
Hilary's honesty means many Kiwis feel they know her personally, but she admits that viewers may just see a different side to her on Give Us a Clue.
"My family was a bit concerned that my true personality may come out. I mean, my really aggressive, competitive personality. I'm not when it comes to sport and things like that, because I'm pretty useless, but when it comes to board games and parlour games, I'm hugely competitive. I'm a real stickler for the rules, so I'm that annoying person."
The show pits celebrities against each other, as they mime favourite movies, songs, plays and quotes to their teams to be crowned winners. Team members change each episode, but the structure is female versus male, with four to each side. Hilary heads the females, who will include Weekly columnist Kerre McIvor and reality TV star Lily McManus. Comedian Tom Sainsbury heads the male team, where viewers can expect appearances from All Black legend Frank Bunce and Jason Gunn.
Trying to keep things under control is Paula Bennett, who Hilary turned to when she felt those all-important rules had been broken.
"People would mouth the words! It's natural enough, but that's a big no-no! But Paula was strict. Fun but strict. She's like the headmistress, really. There were at least one or two 'zip it, sweeties' from her," she reveals, referring to the comment the former National Party deputy leader famously made to Jacinda Ardern during a parliamentary debate in 2012.
"But I think all of us managed to give her one or two back," Hilary clarifies with a laugh.
She also acknowledges that there's a special bond between Paula and Tom, who has hilariously parodied the judge on social media.
"They've become mates, so that probably helped make her decision to get involved, I would guess," Hilary says. "I can't really give too much away, but there's a special moment in the show where things get a bit confusing between the pair of them... but I can't say too much."
Overall, Hilary says she had a fun time filming Give Us a Clue and reckons it will be fun to watch.
"Sometimes there's a little bit of potty humour that sneaks in, but aside from that, I think it's something the whole family will enjoy!"
• Give Us a Clue starts Wednesday, August 11 at 7.30pm on TVNZ 1
Movie you watch when you need a pick-me-up?
Love, Actually. I love the schmaltzy rom-com.
Book you've gifted the most:
The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku. It's his life story and how he finds joy even though he was a Holocaust survivor.
Song you love to listen to:
I'm a complete romantic and I'm not sure what I'm prepared to share, but let's go with Just Be by Paloma Faith.
Most memorable play you've been to lately:
Two Ladies by the Auckland Theatre Company. I just love Jennifer Ward Lealand. Recently she was on Seven Sharp and we finished the show where she came on as me. That was a bit of fun.
The quote you live by:
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel," by Maya Angelou.