For almost three decades, Rachel Hunter has made a career out of looking flawless. She’s graced the covers of Vogue, Rolling Stone, Hello! and, most famously, Sports Illustrated. Now, at 44, the latest photos from the New Zealand’s Got Talent judge and Kiwi “girl next door” mum-of-two show Rachel is still at the top of her game. And while she may have been “bruised and battered” on her journey through life in the past, she’s stronger than ever.
“The best lesson for me this year has been learning that I can’t make everyone like me,” Rachel explains. Posing in a bikini on Waiheke Island, one of her favourite slices of Kiwi paradise, for our Weekly cover shoot, Rachel is sporting a body that women 10 years younger would envy.
“I honestly care about what’s happening in the world, and New Zealand – but especially what others think. I used to get so uptight about how much people’s opinions affected me. It was actually pathetic. It took me a long time to realise that
I can’t control the machine – and that’s okay. It’s the same for everyone on the planet.”
But Rachel is the first to say that while she tries hard, she’s only human, and there are times when events can spiral out of control. It’s even affected her health on occasion – most recently in July, with an 8mm herniated disc in her neck.
“I was getting these awful pains and numbness in my fingers – I thought my neck must be out, but the disc was pressing onto my spine,” explains Rachel, who had treatment in LA, where she has lived for 24 years. “It was another reminder that I have to continue to work on my stress levels and learn to say no.”
There’s no doubt that although she desperately misses her beloved kids Renee (21) and Liam (19), who are forging their own careers, Rachel feels amazing. She radiates a glow that emanates from someone truly at peace with themselves.
“It’s my job to look good – but I’ve always been a believer that real beauty comes from within. It’s not external,” she explains.
“But I definitely look in the mirror and think, ‘That could be better.’ You let things go a bit more when you’re older, don’t you? I don’t like my jowls – there are always things that can be worked on. And it’s a hard decision as to what age you stop wearing a bikini. My advice to anyone over 40 is to only do it if it makes you feel good. And don’t go out in midday sun – the lighting is terrible! Stay under the umbrella between 11am and 2pm. And hey, if I was 20lb overweight, do you think I would be jumping into a bikini on a photoshoot? Hell, no!”
Rachel’s weight has fluctuated over the years, often due to personal changes in her life. “Sure, there have been times when I’ve put on weight, but that’s usually a sign of me not feeling good about myself,” she reflects. “Basically, how you look is really influenced by your state of mind. When I’m in a good space emotionally, I look my best.”
Typically for Rachel, if she’s got a good thing going, she wants to share it – and help others who look to her for inspiration and support.
“I always want to tell girls who are obsessed with their weight that happiness doesn’t come from being skinny,” she insists.
“It’s not that time when you’re wearing jeans that you think make you look good, or when you are standing up straighter in those new heels that define sexiness. It’s simply when you’re exuding inner confidence and feel at peace. When that moment happens, remember it. Being sexy is an internal feeling.”
Unlike many stars for whom their body is their job, she’s clearly not obsessive about diet – and is blessed with good genes.
“When I put on weight, it goes around my stomach and thighs, but the bottom line is that while exercise is important, a good body comes down to food intake,” she says.
“I’m much more careful about food than exercise – portion control for me is vital. I don’t eat as much meat as I used to. I always have breakfast, although I’m terrible at remembering lunch, and I make sure I have a lot of greens. I also don’t have a fridge in my hotel room, so I can’t access ice cream or a hunk of cheese, which I love. If I want food, I have to go out and get it.
“The science is pretty basic – what you eat is what you’ll look like. If you eat pancakes and waffles, you’ll have a pancake and waffle body,” she laughs. “If you have eggs, toast, greens – a healthy diet – then you’ll get the body that comes from that.”
She’s also conscious of diet habits in the US.
“Plate portions are much better in New Zealand than America, where they are huge. Everyone should learn to stop eating when they are full. For me, I’ve had to learn about self-control and balance. I would rather have a taste of everything on my plate – just a couple of mouthfuls, rather than devouring everything.”
At home in LA, Rachel is regularly photographed going to pilates classes, and she’s been a huge fan of Bikram yoga for almost seven years.
And despite her television commitments as a talent judge alongside Jason Kerrison and Cris Judd, Rachel is determined to maintain her routine.
Since she started filming hit TV One show New Zealand’s Got Talent last July alongside host Tamati Coffey – “He is such a shining light. I just love him” – Rachel has lost weight.
“Honestly, NZGT is like a marriage. I have become so invested in it and the people who are putting themselves up there to be judged,” admits Rachel, who keeps her energy levels up with small sips of iced coffee and nibbles of liquorice during our photoshoot.
“At the moment I do yoga a couple of times a week – Tamati and his partner Tim come with me as well. They love it and can be hilarious! But I’m not the type of person to do 100 crunches in my room. I always have great intentions when I get up, but I usually find something interesting on TV and watch that instead. It’s meant to be easy and quick to do a few sit-ups, but who wants to do that?”
Rachel also spends an extensive amount of time travelling the world to be with her beloved children – ice hockey-playing son Liam, who represents the Spokane Chiefs and will be at the World Under-20 Ice Hockey Championships in Scotland in December, and Renee, who began training at contemporary dance school in London this September.
And while Rachel always loves returning to New Zealand, she’s had to adapt her lifestyle and currently only exercises a couple of times a week.
“When we filmed auditions in July, I exercised every day – I needed the physical exhaustion so I could get some sleep, to get rid of any frustrations,” explains Rachel.
“But New Zealand is amazing – from the mountains of the South Island to the black sand of West Coast beaches or white sandy East Coast beaches, I love getting out and about whenever I can. Although that’s not easy sometimes,” she says, referring to recent paparazzi shots while she was staying at a friend’s house on Waiheke.
“I’ve always allowed certain access to my life through magazines and I am very open – but there are still lies told about me and unflattering pictures published. I particularly object when they are taken on private property.
“I try not to look, but we’re all human – it’s hard to know it’s out there and not want to defend yourself,” she says. “It makes me laugh when people tell me
I look thinner in real life than in photos. Of course I do, because I’m not in a billowing dress that makes me look enormous!”
Like other celebrities, however, Rachel is not without options, thanks to Twitter – a medium she loves, and has used in the past to correct false stories about her love life.
“I try and ignore a lot that’s said about me, but when it’s my personal life, it’s different,” she says. “It makes me feel very vulnerable.”
But watching Rachel Hunter joking around on the beach, it’s easy to see how she has survived 28 years in the fickle world of showbusiness.
The supermodel, talent judge and mum of two is undeniably endearing. She laughs easily, reacts quickly, and her passion for life is hard to ignore.
Whether she’s talking about the country’s problems with child abuse and mental health, or the fates of contestants whose hopes are in the hands of the public vote, if an issue comes to Rachel’s attention, she cares about it and has an opinion.
At one point, she even brings the shoot to a halt to help rescue a baby dotterel that walks onto our set after being separated from its mum.
But love or hate her, and she accepts that people do both, Rachel is a Kiwi institution.
And while she will leave our shores when NZGT ends next month, swiftly heading to Scotland to watch Liam’s international debut at the ice-hockey world champs, she guarantees that it won’t be long before she returns to New Zealand.
“There’s so much more to do here,” she explains simply.
“I love it here. Whatever I do next, I’ll always keep coming back.”