1. Are you really mousy brown?
I am. I was 15 when I dyed it. I just wanted to try something different and Mum said I wasn't allowed to do it myself. I walked into the salon in Milton and the stylist pulled out the charts with all those bits of coloured hair on them and there was one called Butternut Pumpkin which is essentially this colour I have now. I tried to let my hair return to its natural colour or thereabouts while I was on [TV3 show] Nightline but there was an uproar. A protest song was recorded with the lyrics "we liked you better when your hair was redder" and TV3 agreed. If I had known that long ago the effort that it would take and that it would become a fixture in people's minds, I don't think I would have [done it].
2. Do you feel at all South African?
Yes, not as much as I feel Kiwi but there's certainly a tie there. My Mum is South African and I was born there, but I grew up here and my Dad's a Kiwi. I have an incredible family over there, aunts, uncles, cousins and now their little kids too. I support the All Blacks though, much to my Mum's disappointment. I feel really lucky that I didn't have to grow up in South Africa. Mum and Dad left because they felt it wasn't a good place to bring up kids. When I go back it's interesting the attitudes and different way of thinking in some of my family. In the younger members, I wouldn't call it blatant racism but it's certainly there. I've had full-on arguments with [them].
3. You grew up in Milton: what does life in a small town teach you?
How to make your own fun. There are no movie theatres to go to and few after-school activities to keep you busy so I would spend hours at the paddock with my horse. Weekends always featured a compulsory bush walk. Tokomairiri High School had 100-150 pupils - it was easy to overachieve without having to try that hard. I was a super-nerd at school. I would cry if I didn't get an A. I also played netball and touch rugby. Due to limited numbers our netball team was also our touch team.
4. How do you cope with criticism?
I got flak [in TV] right from the beginning. Probably because I was female and young and that's fine. Those are fair comments. They're true. Initially I found it really difficult and I would think about it endlessly and get really worked up. Especially when things weren't true. I am a sensitive person and I cried easily, especially if I was frustrated. I have had to really get a handle on it. Now I don't even think twice about [criticism]. There's no point worrying about something you can't change. Professional criticism is a different story. It can be a bitter pill to swallow but if you can use it to make some positive changes then you're better for it.
5. When have you been at your lowest and how did you pull yourself out?
A particularly bad break-up left me feeling bereft and I wasn't taking care of myself. I threw myself into work but I was also staying out late and burning the candle at both ends as they say. I wasn't healthy, I wasn't eating and I was drinking too much. I felt like I might never be happy again. So I booked a trip to New York - why not, I'd never been. I hopped on a plane by myself and turned up knowing no one. I spent a few weeks in America and from that moment onwards it was life after New York, not life after him.
6. What has been your biggest hurdle?
Learning to ask for help. It means that you don't know what you are doing. When you're fronting a programme people expect a certain level of skill and if you need to ask for help it means you are lacking somehow. In every facet of my life, I'm terrible at asking for help, but over the years I have learned to manage it. I hate doing it but it's essential.
7. Are you a perfectionist then?
I used to try to be a perfectionist and it's exhausting - not just for you but the people around you. I have been able to relax a lot more and let things go. But I hate failing. Hate thinking that I have failed. I got a C+ once at uni and I challenged them about it. I guess I've worked hard not to fail. I'm still a perfectionist with my stories though because if you get something wrong in journalism then you lose credibility.
8. Do people need to get past your looks to find the real you?
No, I look frightening first thing in the morning and it takes hours and a team of people to whip me into shape for television. I find it a really difficult question because I don't understand it. I don't think I'm particularly good looking. We all know our weak points. I wake up in the morning with big bags under my eyes and go "oh God, I better get myself organised before I head into work".
9. Have you always had a lot of confidence?
Yeah, I think so. I don't think I've ever been shy. I really like challenges. I don't like to coast ever. If I feel like I'm coasting I start thinking of a new challenge. When I was fronting Nightline it was terrifying at the beginning and a huge challenge but after a couple of years it felt easy. It was hard to say "I'm going to go into the newsroom" but I needed the experience. I didn't have the experience on the ground like everyone else did. That was tough because there's that sense that you need to prove yourself. And that's why I worked my arse off. But it was hard. I think I'll always feel like that - that I'll have to prove myself - 'til the day I die.
10. On 3rd Degree you work with some of the best female journalists in the country: how come they're so small in the promo posters?
Last year it was just Duncan and Guyon on the poster, so it's great we're all on this year. I'm lucky to find myself in such good company. If I had my way we'd have our producers and executive producers, the camera operators, people in the studio, everyone on there.
11. You're a vegetarian but your family are hunters: how does that work?
I think hunting is good because people know where the source of their food is. I don't agree with trophy hunting and I'm not at all a fan of taxidermy. But I've been hunting with my father and he will never kill anything that he won't put in the freezer. I was confronted recently with the prospect of maybe eating some snapper. I'm good at catching fish and I filleted it because I remembered that Dad had showed me how. I came close to eating that but I just couldn't get past it.
12. Have TVNZ approached you to join them?
No. No. Hands off. I mean, there have been informal ... but no. Just say no.
Sam Hayes hosts The Great Climate Voter Debate on September 3 at Auckland's Q Theatre, streamed via www.climatevoter.org.nz/debate from 7pm.