There’s a mischievous glint in little Zach Peebles’ bright blue eyes as he cuddles up to his mum. The lively three-year-old just can’t help himself – his hands slide from around her neck up to her head, and an instant later her perfectly coiffed hair is a dishevelled mess as he playfully scrunches it up.
This is the Wendy Petrie viewers of One News never get to see. On our TV screens she’s always immaculately groomed and utterly poised, and it’s hard to imagine her with a hair out of place.
But when she’s with family, it’s a different story. Wendy’s the kind of mum who happily rolls around on the floor with her kids, giggling and shrieking. She’s not precious about the way she looks, and when Zach leaves her hair standing on end, she laughs and ruffles his in return.
It’s been seven years since mum-of-three Wendy (41) started reading the news on New Zealand’s most-watched news bulletin alongside Simon Dallow, and she knows Kiwis probably have set ideas about what newsreaders are like, based on what they see on TV. But what you see is not what you actually get, she says.
“I know we can come across as a bit robotic and uptight. But we are the same as everybody else. We’re just doing a job that requires us to have our hair and make-up done, to wear a fitted jacket and be quite serious.
“I’m not that person. When people meet me, they say I’m more relaxed and down-to-earth than they expected. You can’t show that on TV. You can’t be relaxed when you are reading stories about people being killed in Syria.”
In fact, people often don’t recognise her because the off-screen Wendy is very different to the on-screen version. Her hair is naturally curly when it hasn’t been styled for TV. When she goes out on the weekend, casually dressed with no make-up and a head full of curls, people don’t twig that it’s the same person who’s on their screen five nights a week.
“I look quite different and people sometimes do a double take,” says Wendy. “They know I am familiar, but they can’t figure out where they know me from.”
As far as Zach and his older sisters Addison (9) and Liv (7) are concerned, Mum is just Mum and the fact she’s on television is no big deal.
“They’re quite blasé about it. Ross [husband Ross Peebles, a TV director] and I have never made an issue about it. When Zach was smaller he used to go up and kiss the screen, but to them it’s just normal.”
Wendy says being a mum has changed her priorities – and while she loves her job, the family is her main focus.
“When I first started out I was very driven. I wanted to be on TV so much. I worked in Toronto for three years and was there when 9/11 happened. I thought nothing about getting into a car and driving to New York.
“I would think twice about that now. I love what I do and have been very lucky to do things like go to London to cover the royal wedding, but now my life is much more about my kids.
“I love the fact that the hours I work mean I get to spend time with Zach in the morning, but I do miss being able to pick up the girls from school and taking them to activities.”
When Wendy looks back on her early days in the One News job, she wonders how she did it. Her second daughter Liv was just five weeks old when she started presenting the news.
“It was pretty stressful. I was taking over from Judy Bailey and people were looking at me thinking, ‘Who is that girl?’ I was trying to get used to the job and a new baby.
“Luckily it was my second child and I knew what I was in for. Maybe the timing was a good thing in a way. I was too busy worrying about Liv and her feeding and sleeping to worry too much about work.”
When Zach was born, Wendy took three months off work. “I’ve always treasured every moment I have with Zach – I knew he would be my last child.
I think I’ve been much more relaxed with him than I was when I had the girls. Although it has been hard work, and having a third child after quite a gap has really changed things, it has been wonderful.”
Zach is adored by his family and easily forgiven for missteps, like messing up his mum’s hair.
“He’s the light of our lives. His sisters spoil him so much. If he wants to play with their toys, they just hand them over,” says Wendy. “It’s like he’s got three mothers. Addy is at an age now where she can do things like get Zach’s Weet-Bix for him, so at the weekends I can stay in bed.
“I do feel guilty about the things I miss out on when I’m at work, but you have to try and juggle everything. Every working mum goes through it and you just have to do your best. That’s what being a mum is all about.”
At home with the TV One star and the boy who lights her life Wendy loves her job, but as a mum of three, her focus is family
‘I’ve always treasured every moment I have with Zach’
Wendy says reading tragic news stories has become tougher since she became a mum. “You’ve got to be professional but some of these stories do get to you. One of the worst ones was the death of the New Zealand triplets in the Doha fire. They were the same age as Zach and that was so awful. I could feel my bottom lip trembling as I read it. The Kahui twins were another one – what happened to them was terrible. When I was a reporter, I used to cover some terrible murder trials without any problem – but now that I’m a mum I find the really tragic stuff tough.”
THE WENDY FILES: SURPRISING FACTS
Despite her successes, not everything Wendy touches turns to gold.
1 She’s not a very good cook. “I’m pretty hopeless in the kitchen. Luckily Ross can cook,” she says. “If my friends invite me over they say, ‘You can bring the garlic bread Wendy’.”
2 Although she grew up playing netball, swimming and doing athletics, when it comes to tennis, “I just can’t seem to hit the ball.”
3 Packing is not her forte. “I’m okay at packing for the rest of the family, but when it comes to just me, I’m terrible. If I go away with girlfriends, I end up having to borrow things because I will have forgotten so much.”
PHOTOS: EMMA WATSON • HAIR & MAKE-UP: CLAUDIA RODRIGUES • STYLING: EMMA AUBIN