Just six months ago Tory Whanau was embracing the identity of Wellington’s party mayor but has now emerged a more humble and apologetic person promising to change her ways after admitting to having a drinking problem.
Whanau returned to the office for the first time yesterday after recovering from her fourth round of Covid-19.
It was the first time she could have come face-to-face with some colleagues since they have either questioned her ability to continue in the role or gone as far as calling for her to resign.
Whanau’s drinking and love of a night out have long been a point of conversation since she took the mayoral chains.
In June this year, Whanau sat down for an interview with Newshub Nation where she leaned into criticism that she was a party lover.
“I’m 40, I’m single, I love our hospitality scene and every couple of weeks I love to head out with my mates and hit a couple of bars and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
“Saturday night should I be in the office? Well no, that’s just silly.
“I’m entitled to a private life. I’m entitled to have a little fun with my mates and there are some people who take issue with that,” she said.
Just one month later, it emerged Whanau was visibly intoxicated one night at the Old Quarter to the point staff considered not serving her and then she forgot to pay the bill.
She strenuously denied claims about drunken behaviour including asking a waiter, “do you know who I am?” after being cut off.
Whanau admitted she was “tipsy” but said accusations about her conduct and being refused service were “simply false”.
She said the failure to pay the bill was a “miscommunication” between friends, and she was “mortified” by the mistake and she apologised to the restaurant.
She had not been wearing makeup, which may have contributed to why people thought she was drunk, Whanau said.
Another month on in August, Whanau said she would no longer go out on a Friday night for a drink and had been through a process of mourning her private life.
“I’ve gone through a bit of a process of mourning my past life, my private life, and I wasn’t letting it go. I’ve let that go and I’m ready to move on and focus on the city,” Whanau said.
“Certain socialising” would be kept within the parameters of her home, she said.
Whanau said she wanted to remain authentic, which included her passion for the city and being able to have a laugh.
“It’s just I now realise the second I leave my house I belong to the public.”
She had found the attention on her unusual and said it was a big learning experience.
“The last two to three months going from being a backroom staffer for quite a long time to becoming a public figure has been an experience that people just aren’t really that equipped for. They don’t really teach you this stuff.”
Whanau was confident she could handle the adjustment.
However, it has become clear she is yet to come to grips with that adjustment and hasn’t kept “certain socialising” to her home.
This week she admitted to having a problem with alcohol after an incident at Havana Bar two weeks ago, which to her “great embarrassment and shame” may have been recorded, and has sought professional help.
“I am a flawed person and I care deeply about this city. I want to continue to represent the hopes and aspirations of my local community. I will continue to do so with the compassion and care of those around me and with professional help required.”
Whanau said she has received several hundred messages of support this week.
“I am deeply thankful and looking forward to getting stuck back into the mahi.”
The final council meeting for the year is scheduled for December 14, less than two weeks away. The summer holidays couldn’t come at a better time for a mayor in need of a reset.
Where to get help:
• If you or someone you know needs support and treatment to reduce their alcohol intake, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, visit their website, or free text 8681 for confidential advice.
Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.