It’s been eight-and-a-half years since Shortland Street star Chris Tempest laid eyes on dancer Kate Bartlett at an Auckland marae.
Both university students, they, along with their classmates, lined up for a powhiri and, much to Chris’ excitement, a hongi.
“That’s a great tradition, that is,” he grins, looking over at Kate, who can’t actually recall that particular moment.
“I saw him on the guitar a bit later,” she says. “He was playing a song I liked, so I grabbed a group of friends for moral support and sat down. We ended up having one of those really cliché group singalongs, as performing art students do!”
From that instant, the straight-shooting duo have been inseparable. But though they are incredibly happy, Chris (27) and Kate (28) are not the perfect couple.
They fight over the same things. They’re both messy – although Chris is certain he’s made Kate messier over the years. They’re honest and “really poorly organised”, but it’s the differences they’ve encountered that have made them stronger.
“If you’ve got a relationship when you’ve been together for nearly a decade, and you haven’t had a few fights along the way, something’s weird,” says British-born Chris, who plays Dr Josh Gallagher on the long-running soap, who arrived in a blaze of glory a year and half ago, when a helicopter crashed into the hospital.
“I got to know Kate better because we had those fights, and we found our limits.”
But the pair, who bonded over their shared love of the performing arts, say while their relationship isn’t picture perfect, it’s comfortable but still exciting, and built on a strong friendship.
It’s weathered many months of uncertainty. As two people involved in the performing arts in New Zealand, they’ve never had the luxury of job security, and there’s Kate’s initial discomfort about Chris’ intimate scenes with other girls.
“That can put a little bit of extra strain here and there,” he says, as Kate nods. “But it built up our trust.”
“We’ve been together from such a young age, right through to adulthood,” adds Kate. “It’s an interesting transition period, and people change over those years – we certainly did.”
But it’s their overarching love and affection that has kept the bubbly couple so close for so long, as well as an appreciation for their partner’s differences.
“Chris is pretty spontaneous,” Kate says. “That could be because we just don’t plan things and he’s down-to-earth. That’s the most attractive thing about him. Sometimes, not all the time, actors can be pretentious and not so real. Chris is just himself, and that’s really endearing. Oh, and the accent,” she laughs.
While Kate loves Chris’ modesty, he says it’s Kate’s quirkiness that drew him to her.
“She’s funny and she gets me, and there’s not a lot of people who do,” he says. “It’s easy to be around each other, and that’s the best thing about our relationship, I think.”
They are blessed with an intrinsic understanding, finishing the other one’s sentences with ease, and happily pointing out each other’s flaws, as well as their own.
“Chris is always late,” Kate insists. “You’ll never know if he’ll be where he’s supposed to be.”
“And she’s really good at arguing,” he fires back playfully. “I’m terrible. I’ll try and avoid an argument any way possible. She always has the last word. But that’s because I’m a gentleman. I’m a chivalrous guy,” he says, as Kate laughs and rolls her eyes.
Although Kate is a freelance choreographer and dancer, until now she’s made an effort to keep away from the limelight, and hasn’t accompanied Chris to many events or parties that he and the rest of the Shortland Street cast have attended.
“For me, the idea of going to something to have my photo taken doesn’t really align with my values,” she says. “We’re social when we’re around our friends, but we’re not big party people anyway.”
With Kate getting more work as a dancer and choreographer than ever before, and Chris’ erratic Shortland Street shooting schedule, parties are currently bottom of the priority list – they’re lucky to even get a chance to say hi, as they bustle out of their Auckland flat.
But that’s almost a good thing, Chris maintains. “We don’t like to be physically close all the time,” he says. “You have to have an opportunity to miss each other. If you don’t have that, you don’t have that yearning to be together.”
And as they look towards the future, what will happen with their relationship is uncertain, with both Chris and Kate having to make important decisions in the near future.
“One of our biggest challenges is happening now, with the possibility of Chris going overseas and me not being able to,” Kate says.
“That’s hard – we’re in a precarious place right now, a turning point.”
But something still on the cards is marriage – especially now that everyone in New Zealand is able to do it.
“For me, that was really important,” says Kate.
“I wasn’t prepared to get married in a country where it wasn’t inclusive for everyone.”
“Totally,” adds Chris. “Why should we get married when other people who love each other can’t? There are a couple of other reasons that we haven’t done it yet – but it’s definitely looming on the horizon.”
Whatever happens, the duo is confident the future looks rosy, and their love can withstand any challenges thrown their way.
“We balance each other and love one another,” says Chris. “We’re already family.”
Photos: Michelle Hyslop • Styling: Sonia greenslade • Hair and make-up: Adyta Koscielecki • Chris wears Witchery, Country road and Huffer. Kate wears Huffer, Kookai and Gormans