With millions of fans worldwide and a lifestyle paid for by their happy videos of family life, everything looks rosy for The Modern Singhs of Glenfield, writes Greg Bruce.
Abbey and Money Singh's lives changed the day they posted their wedding video on YouTube. The intention was to make it available for their overseas relatives, but soon other people started watching it and commenting on it, causing other people to watch it and comment on it and, as Money writes in their new book, The Modern Singhs: The true story of a marriage of two cultures, from there it "just went nuts".
Many of the many commenters asked for more, so they gave them more. The first video of Abbey, who was born in Scotland, trying to read some of the comments in Punjabi also went nuts and, from there on, for the last two years, it's just been a series of things going nuts.
Money was born in India but, like Abbey, he moved to New Zealand as a child and settled in Glenfield, where they met - while working together at The Warehouse - and where they still live, not far from his parents. More than half of their 1.5 million YouTube subscribers live in India, where the couple have become a big deal, appearing on television news and in leading daily newspapers. They say most New Zealanders, including the majority of their own neighbours, don't know who they are.
They shoot, edit and post about three videos a week, each of which typically gets at least hundreds of thousands of views. Their most popular video so far, of their son Noah's birth nearly two years ago, is about to pass 20 million views. Early last year, Money quit his full-time job as a tech solutions specialist for Noel Leeming and since then the Singhs' living has been made entirely from income derived from posting content of themselves on YouTube and Facebook.
Their videos are mostly about family life. They say they've never considered their strategy or sought ways to grow their brand. They just do what feels natural. Their online lives are dominated by the happy chaos of family life as lived by young parents with tiny children.
The videos that typically do big numbers, apart from the obvious ones like weddings and births, often involve Abbey trying to cook Indian dishes or do Indian dances, which has sometimes led to backlash from people who say she wouldn't be getting so much attention for these things if she didn't have white skin. It hurts her, she says, because she knows it's true.
"I just genuinely love to dance and I enjoy doing the trends, so I upload them when I see them, out of my enjoyment. And yeah, it's like I don't know how to help that scenario or make it better. I wouldn't even know where to start."
Shortly after their first child Noah was born, Abbey was diagnosed with postpartum depression. In the book, she writes: "I felt completely worthless and that I didn't matter at all and that no one heard or saw the pain I was in - especially when Money would see me crying and he didn't know what to do or say. I just wanted to disappear, but my responsibility to be there for Noah kept me showing up every day to do my best."
She says she felt like a failure as a mum. "I'm so miserable. And he's just been born. What a crappy mother. In my mind, those are all the things I'm thinking. Yeah. I should be my happiest right now. I've just given birth to this beautiful baby. Such a blessing. And I wanted this baby forever. We tried for a long time before we actually got pregnant. I just remember thinking why am I not happier?"
Money says that, for an interracial couple in particular, the period after having a child is "when you'll be tested for your marriage, big time". They had never talked about the parenting challenges and conflicts they might face from a cultural angle but almost immediately after Noah's birth, the challenges became apparent.
Money says: "I was torn between my family and Abbey once again, because we were raising a son and two different cultures are playing a big part in our relationship. And my mum wanted to raise him - not raise him, but do certain things differently - and Abbey is going through postpartum depression, which I'm not understanding. And I'm sitting there, like, I'm trying to get Mum's side, but I'm also trying to get Abbey's side, but I'm leaning towards more Mum's side and Abbey's getting more hurt. And we went through a real big roller coaster. We talked about it in the book, but I think that was probably one of the biggest challenges in our life."
Money says he felt like he'd failed Abbey, that he wasn't the same man she'd married; and he also felt he'd failed his mother, that maybe this was why she had pushed for him to get an arranged marriage, that maybe life could have been easier.
"I'm like, 'What have I done?' he says. 'And then you're in a real deep position.'"
They don't like to watch the video content they were posting from around this time. They say they can see the sadness in their faces.
It was not the first time cultural challenges had threatened their relationship. In fact, the relationship had almost never happened. When his parents first found out he was in love with a non-Indian, they told him it wasn't allowed. For months, he fought with them over it. They threatened to send him back to India for an arranged marriage. His father actively tried to break them up, refusing to meet Abbey or even acknowledge her existence. He told Money he would disown him if they got married.
In The Modern Singhs, Money writes that he was forced to say to Abbey: "'If it doesn't work out, and my mum says no, there is nothing I can do.' It killed me to say it but I knew I spoke the truth: 'If she doesn't agree, I'm sorry. I'm not going to leave my mother for you. Her happiness comes first. You have to know that.'"
Everything came to a head the day his parents demanded Money move out of home. He broke down in tears - the first time, he writes, that his dad had seen him cry. Eventually his dad relented.
"It got through to him what this was doing and what Abbey meant, with me refusing to let her go. He saw how much it was affecting me."
Money says now: "You're torn between your parents and your future partner, the love of your life, and you're just like, 'Wow, how are we going to overcome this?' And I'm glad we did."
Abbey says: "I don't know how we did it, looking back, because I think he hid a lot from me of how hard it was at the time as well. When we were having the interviews about the book and we were talking more about it, I was like, 'Wait, what?'"
The postpartum depression passed after about three months. Abbey's relationship with Money's parents is now strong and the bond is clear in some of their most popular videos, which show Abbey cooking Indian food with Money's mum. When Abbey's own father told her he wouldn't be able to make it to her wedding, Money's father said: "I'm also your dad, Abbey. Don't worry, you have a father here in me."
The couple have just had their second child, Hazel. Their great fear throughout the pregnancy was that the postpartum depression would return, but it hasn't. They are happy and healthy and so are their children. They're continuing to post roughly three videos a week and getting big numbers. Everything is good in the world of The Modern Singhs.
The Modern Singhs, by Abbey and Money Singh (HarperCollins, $38), is out now.