He’s the tough guy of New Zealand boxing, but as Shane Cameron turned round to see his bride Tara Puke walk down the rose petal-strewn aisle on her father’s arm, in front of 120 family and friends in Shane’s hometown of Gisborne, the man known as “The Mountain Warrior” is captivated and visibly moved.
‘I don’t feel nervous. I haven’t felt nervous at any point, because I’ve married the girl I love – what’s to be nervous about?’ says Shane (35), whose daughter Georgia (8) is a bridesmaid on her dad’s big day.
“But when I saw Georgia walking up with her flowers, and Tara looking so beautiful – it was pretty emotional. I even shed a bit of a tear. I was telling myself to hold it together!’
It was a picture-perfect moment on an idyllic day for the couple of two years, who are expecting their first child, a son, in January. Tara and Shane, along with their guests, had all stayed in a nearby hotel the previous night, enjoying what became a huge family reunion (Shane has three brothers and his mother, Polly, has 11 siblings, who hadn’t been together for many years).
In one of several nods to tradition, Tara and Shane spent the night before the wedding apart, and didn’t see each other prior to Tara walking down the aisle. “We aren’t big-time traditional, but I wanted a few little things,” says fitness expert Tara (28), who wore a friend’s earrings as “something borrowed”. While she, Georgia, and sister Hilary were getting ready – including black nail art on Tara’s fourth finger, “Just in case he forgets which one to put the ring on!” – Shane was a few doors away with his brothers, Mike (38), Rob (37) and Gavin (33), who were charged with ensuring the groom arrived on time at waterfront venue, The Wharf. “Shall we Vaseline his eyebrows [for boxing]?’ quipped Rob, as the foursome struggled valiantly with ties and suits. “We’re more jeans and bare-feet people – this doesn’t come naturally!” laughed Mike.
Shane arrived punctually at 1.30pm – as did Tara, on the dot of 2pm. “I pride myself on my organisation – I like things done properly,” smiles Tara. To the strains of Chicaco’s You’re the Inspiration, Georgia was first down the aisle, where she received a big hug from Dad, followed by Hilary (25). Then, all eyes turned to Tara as she appeared at the door, wearing a stunning white gown, adapted by Auckland designer Polly Fong from a picture Tara had seen on the internet. The simple, backless, figure-hugging lace dress was highlighted with pearl buttons and a bow, and accessorised with a floor-length veil and white silk shoes, drawing gasps of delight from the crowd.
Shane’s uncle, Edward Hammond, gave a Maori welcome and blessing, before celebrant Raewyn Thorne – Tara’s close friend and teaching colleague – began the ceremony.
“We had no idea what she’d say – we knew our vows, but the rest was a surprise. Raewyn did so much research, and it made our ceremony very personal,” explains Tara, who was blown away when Raewyn produced a kete flax bag.
Out came a pair of tiny blue gumboots for their little boy, a soft toy to symbolise Tini (Tara and Shane’s adored dog), broccoli, in reference to the couple’s healthy lifestyle, and a pedometer for the baby.
“He’s going to need it for his fitness – he’s already being called the junior mountain warrior!” joked Raewyn.
Shane and Tara looked straight into each other’s eyes, as they promised to love one another until death do them part. The touching moment was only broken by peals of laughter as guests saw Tara’s tiny gold wedding band next to Shane’s brushed titanium ring, that looked beyond enormous in his bride’s sculpted fingers.
As Raewyn declared the pair husband and wife, and Tara beamed at, “My blond, blue-eyed Maori boy”, the party erupted into cheers and applause, while Shane was clearly very happy to finally plant a huge kiss on his wife’s lips.
The day was filled with good humour – a fitting atmosphere for a couple who have been inseparable since they met two years ago at a Rugby World Cup party on Auckland’s Viaduct. Tara was with her mate, The Almighty Johnsons star Ben Barrington, when she was introduced to Shane by a mutual friend.
“I got a call a couple of days later from the friend, asking if he could give Shane my number, but he never called,” laughs Tara. “So I sent him a text, saying: ‘What – are you too scared to text me?’”
“I was playing hard to get – but it worked, see?’ says Shane, as Tara squeals in mock indignation.
“But Tara’s what I’ve always wanted. She makes my life easy. With boxing, there’s a lot of pressure on me and my body, and Tara understands. She also remembers everything, which is good, because I forget all the time – I get punched in the head a lot! I need to be fed, I need to train, and come home to a clean house, which Tara’s really good at. I’m a little bit old-school – I don’t mean I want to sit back and let her do everything, but she does it anyway. At the end of the day, the saying is true – women come and go, but your mates are forever. Sex dies after however long, but Tara’s my mate. We enjoy each other’s company and it’s easy.”
And it suits Tara, too. “I’m really house-proud – keeping our home in tip-top shape is a priority for me, and I do think it’s my role as his partner to look after him,” she explains, while cradling the neat little bump she is carrying so elegantly.
“We also have the same goals. My Maori culture is very important to both of us – I have a BA in Maori and history. I’m also really fitness-oriented, to the point of obsession. He understands that I have to work out twice a day.”
And Shane can totally empathise. In the next few months, the cruiserweight will take on undefeated Australian Brad Pitt in a world title eliminator – his first bout since he lost to Danny Green last November, a fight which became infamous after TV3 sports commentator Howard “Dobbo” Dobson cried on air after Shane’s defeat.
While he has no idea how the fight with Pitt will turn out, what Shane is completely certain of is that he has found the person he wants to spend the rest of his life with. The couple’s love was plain to see, as they hugged and kissed after being declared Mr and Mrs Cameron on their wedding day.
“It’s quite a day all right,” Shane beams, as they head to a nearby paddock to take photos with the horses Shane loves so much – he’s very confident around them, and tenderly balances Tara as she puts on riding boots, so he can help her mount one of the animals.
“This is the way I was brought up – horses and dogs were a huge part of my life. I could ride almost before I could walk,” says the former shepherd, who grew up in Tiniroto, a tiny, 100-strong community outside Gisborne.
“As soon as I left school at 15, I got a job at a local farm in the middle of nowhere, where I lived in shepherds’ quarters by myself, then got up at 3.30am to tend to the animals. Farming was my life – I never dreamed of doing anything else, until I lost a couple of my dogs, so decided to get away from it all for a while and went to the UK, where I learned how to box.” And while rural New Zealand life is clearly very important to Shane, the country boy is the perfect match for Tara.
‘I was brought up in Tokoroa, where Mum and Dad still live, and I always wanted to marry a farmer – Shane’s not one now, but he understands that world,” says Tara, who worked at Shane’s gym, Shane Cameron Fitness, and now helps with paperwork and accounting as she prepares for the birth.
“We’ve only been together two years, but it feels much longer,” Tara says. “I am so comfortable with him. There’s nothing I don’t tell him, do in front of him, or share with him. It’s like the words of the song I walked down the aisle to – He’s the meaning in my life, he’s my inspiration.”
As they sit down to a dinner that included pork belly, roasted lamb and crème brûlée, it’s clear that Mr and Mrs Cameron are looking forward to a very bright future. “It’s been good, yeah,” smiles Shane, typically understated. “Even talking about it makes me emotional. But Tara’s beautiful, she’s perfect for me. I’m a lucky man.”
Photos: Emma Bass • Hair & make-up: Kate Smith, Reyna Mccracken, Anna Donnelly •Flowers: Wild garden flowers • Location: The Wharf, Gisborne.