Matthew Ridge doesn't count his wealth in financial terms – he counts his blessings. The former Kiwis, Auckland Warriors and Manly Sea Eagles captain believes he is richer for being a father.
Also a one-time All Black and presenter on Game Of Two Halves, his career has seen him excel in rugby and league, as well as succeeding in television and business. But his greatest role of all has been an at-home dad to all his five children.
"I'm extremely fortunate," he tells Woman's Day in an exclusive interview offering rare insight into his home life. "I've worked pretty hard all my life, but I don't have to work nine to five. I can spend quality time with my children, which is what I really enjoy.
"A lot of fathers and mothers these days need to work 40, 50, 60 hours a week – they're supposed to hold down jobs and buy a house, and it's incredibly hard. That's when the kids take a backseat and it's not really quality time you spend with them.
"If you're fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with your kids, and if you've raised balanced, educated, loving, caring individuals, then wow – that's awesome."
Matthew's eldest daughter Jamie is 28 and now lives in Los Angeles. She had her first child, Porter, in March, making Matthew a grandfather.
His eldest son Boston, 25, has been working with his dad for several years and is now managing director of Matthew's two high-end carwash sites, Carfé. This leaves the 53-year-old free to do the daycare drop-offs and pick-ups of his youngest children, Kenzo, four, and Lola, two.
Meanwhile, his middle son London, 11, currently spends half the week with Matthew and Chloe, his French-born wife of five years, and the other half with his mother, singer Carly Binding.
"I'm very grateful for the fact that Boston has given me the ability to raise my younger children the way that Boston, Jamie and London were raised – with a full-time father," he tells.
But that's not enough, admits Matthew. Because he feels deprived of his heritage, he wants Kenzo and Lola to know more about where their mother comes from. So they're moving to France next month, to live on the French Riviera for at least a year.
"I'm Armenian, but I wasn't raised by my father," reveals Matthew. "I was brought up by my grandparents and had no contact with my father till I was 21. It always irked me that I couldn't speak Armenian.
"Chloe's mother tongue is French, so I always say, 'Make sure you speak to the kids in French.' I would never forgive myself if they don't speak French fluently. It's vitally important that my children know the blood that runs through them is European."
With Covid safety restrictions preventing her from making regular trips home, Chloe recently confessed to Matthew that she really missed France, so with Kenzo due to start school, now seemed like the best time to make a move.
Northern Hemisphere schools start their year in September and the couple didn't want to wait another 12 months, so when Kenzo was accepted for a school they really wanted, their decision was made.
"Matthew was like, 'Oh, so this year? Why not?'" smiles Chloe, 39. "It's always been on our bucket list to be able to do something like that with the kids. It's the perfect age for them to grasp a language. If we don't do it now, we'll always find an excuse."
Chloe and the children go next week, with Matthew following at the end of July. They'll settle in and then, three months later, Matthew will fly back to Auckland to have time with London.
"His plan is to do three trips back to New Zealand a year and stay here for about four to six weeks," says Chloe. "And London will be coming over for the summer holidays, over Christmas for about six weeks."
Kenzo will transition from his French preschool in Auckland to a bilingual school that teaches in French two days a week, English two days and both languages on the fifth day.
"He speaks a lot of French now and it's really adorable," tells Chloe. "He's always asking, 'How do you say this in French?' It's funny because we bought a house about four years ago, thinking we'd never have to pack a box ever again and yet here we go!"
The move to Europe may be great timing for the kids, but it's anything but for Matthew and Chloe, who have both just launched new businesses. While setting out to give their children the best opportunities, they've found themselves creating products that are good for the planet's future.
Together, Matthew and Boston have created AUTOLABS, which was born out of wanting to have better car-care products to use at their two Carfé carwash businesses. Over the past three years, they devised a range of New Zealand-made products that are less acidic, and gentler on car surfaces and people's skin. The range was so successful, premium car brands wanted them and now they're available to car owners online.
"That's all Boston," beams proud dad Matthew. "He's very driven and wants to grow the business. I'm leaving it in really good hands – better hands! He's a perfectionist, which is fantastic.
"Boston's way more chill than I am. He doesn't get stressed out, which is a real skill. He often says to me, 'Can you push off now? Everything's cool.' I wouldn't be able to get over to France with Chloe if I didn't have faith that he can run our businesses. He's proven over the past four years that he's ready."
And Boston – who devised a booking service for Carfé and is also overseeing AUTOLABS – is equally proud of their working relationship, telling us, "Dad's taught me everything I know. I wouldn't be anything without Dad."
As a young boy, Boston's bedroom was always orderly and, even these days, home and work must be highly organised. He explains, "I've got specific routines for when I wake up in the morning to when I've finished my day. Attention to detail is important."
Meanwhile, Chloe – who previously ran a successful catering company – has just launched Franki Period Care, a range of sustainable period cups and underwear.
"We don't really talk about periods," explains Chloe. "We definitely talk more freely about sex, but this is seriously life-changing. After having Lola, I had extremely heavy periods and then I just stumbled across period cups completely by chance.
"I did some research and five months down the track, after me trying them, I started going through the process of creating Franki. Aside from the 12-hour protection, it's environment- friendly and you're not creating waste. Also, I hadn't realised how much money I actually spent on period care."
Clearly passionate about the issue, Chloe has also created a social media platform, @myfranki, that not only educates people about periods and reusable period products, but is also a fun, safe place for people to talk openly about their experiences and issues with menstruation.
She was heavily involved in the branding and ensuring it appealed to younger generations, and Matthew has been a big part of the whole process too. "I'm incredibly proud of what Chloe is doing and how hard she has worked to set up Franki," he says.
Looking adoringly at her husband, she adds, "Matthew's been amazing on this journey, especially when I had my down moments. It's been a long process – Franki was meant to launch last August. But when I had roadblocks, he'd say, 'I believe in you, babe. It's all going to work.' Matthew's very much a numbers person, whereas I'm a very emotional person."
Chloe's family moved all around the world when she was a child because her Kiwi father had a job in the oil industry. But Aotearoa has been her base for the past nine years and is where her parents now live, although her mother regularly travels back to France to see family.
That includes Chloe's grandmother Rosario, who turns 102 this year. "I want to be closer and spend some time with her," says Chloe. "She hasn't even met Lola yet."
Chloe will be able to run Franki from France, she explains. She hopes to establish the brand in New Zealand, before expanding into Australia and potentially Dubai – where she used to live – and then Europe.
"We want a good life for our children, but we also want a good planet for our kids," adds Chloe. "We want to use products that are sustainable and doing the right thing."
Looking forward, it may be a while before all five of Matthew's children are in the same city together. Chloe recalls that the couple didn't have a honeymoon as they were planning to travel, but two days after the wedding, she discovered she was pregnant.
Nine months after Kenzo was born, they went to Europe for three months for Matthew's 50th birthday, and were joined by Boston and Jamie in Ibiza.
Talented soccer player London unfortunately couldn't make it, but Matthew says they're very close and is excited about having him in France over winter, with the possibility of ski lessons.
"It's important for us to experience the world," concludes Matthew. "I'm not a collector of flash cars or flash houses – we'd rather spend our time doing things together and experience what life has to offer."
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