It was Nick Leggett’s charm and personality that won over the people of Porirua, who elected him as the youngest mayor in New Zealand.
But the once chubby politician had to lose a whopping 30kg to capture the heart of the most important person in his life – his fiancée and true love Emily Pita.
“Although I have always been confident, I never felt good about myself when I was overweight,” the 33-year-old admits. “But when I started to lose the pounds, I felt more worthy. As I began to care about my body, I felt in a better position to actually care about someone else.”
His vivacious personality helped him score a dream job, aged 31 – now the man who was once unlucky in love, has also found his soulmate.
“I feel privileged to actually be sharing my world with a genuinely nice guy who has found his calling in life,” says Emily, a kitchen designer.
It’s hard to believe the popular mayor, who became the leader of his hometown in 2010, would ever lack confidence.
As a child, Nick was obsessed with politics, and eventually became one of the youngest people in New Zealand to be elected to the city council – a politician, aged just 19.
“I’m really proud of where I come from and of Porirua. I wanted to be involved with furthering our city,” Nick says.
Although his career was on the up, Nick’s health was taking a back seat, and he slowly started piling on the weight, eventually tipping the scales at 110kg.
“I’ve always enjoyed food and ate a lot. In my twenties, I wasn’t doing much physical activity and was gaining weight,” he explains.
After six years as a city councillor, Nick took a break from politics to travel around Europe and spent six years in commercial real estate.
He returned to politics in 2010, when he ran for mayor and won. Nick had become a poster boy for his cherished city and wanted to look healthier.
“I was young. I should have looked and felt young. I just wanted to be a good face of the city,” he explains.
He took the initiative to lose the weight just three months into his term.
He underwent a 30-minute lap-band operation, which restricts the amount of food that goes into the stomach.
The changes for Nick were immediate, and he lost 12kg in four weeks, eventually dropping from 110kg to 79kg.
“It’s not a miracle cure – it just controls your portions. You have to exercise and be active to get the best impact,” he explains.
“It changed my life and my personality. I now have a lot more energy.”
Shedding the kilos not only made Nick a much happier person, but it also provided him with the confidence to look for love.
Emily came into his life when she added him as a friend on Facebook in 2011. Nick began to notice her status updates.
“I thought, ‘Who is this stunning woman?’” Nick says.
He eventually built up the courage to ask a mutual Facebook friend to set them up.
“There was an instant connection. We talked for five hours on our first date. I knew after 10 minutes that this was very serious stuff, and I hoped that she felt the same way.”
Luckily, the feeling was mutual.
“He’s a genuine guy,” says Emily (28). “You know someone is the one straight away and Nick was that person for me.”
Their romance blossomed and Nick’s whole perspective on life changed.
“I’ve put a lot of time and energy into work and making things happen in Porirua. It’s now great to be able to spend time with that special someone, who I can share things with.”
The pair are so smitten, it came as no surprise when Nick popped the question last month during a romantic walk on Wellington’s Oriental Parade.
He proposed with a borrowed ring, allowing Emily to choose her engagement ring days later. She was touched by the gesture and accepted Nick’s proposal.
“It was a lovely occasion. Very romantic and special,” Emily gushes.
The couple plan to walk down the aisle in spring next year. For now, Nick is focusing on the local body elections in October and being re-elected.
Emily is excited at the idea of becoming a potential mayoress in the city she grew up in, and says she would’ve fallen for Nick regardless of his weight.
“There are more important things than the physical aspect. We have a great time together and he cares about people. That’s why I love him.”
Photo: Neil Mackenzie • Make-up: Sharyn Butters