New Zealand broadcaster and the self-described ‘lippy suburban mother of two’ Hilary Barry entertained the virtual masses of Ryman residents yesterday as the Level-4 Covid 19 restrictions raged on.
Hilary was first up in a series of zoom speakers and events that Ryman has put together for residents this week cooped up at home in lockdown.
Yesterday Hilary spoke about her career, her most memorable moments and what she thought her most important role in society was - to more than 300 residents watching on.
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From landing her first job for $19,000 on Paul Henry’s radio station Today FM in Carterton to borrowing a jacket from her mum to read the news bulletin as she “didn’t have one”, Hilary has had a varied career on-air and screen and said she ended up reading the news “by accident.”
Starting off working for Paul Henry in Carterton she said, “I got a remarkable education in what it was to be funny, to be entertaining, to read the news and to know what was interesting to talk about on the radio, that at 21 I didn’t appreciate. I did many years later though! You don’t learn these things at journalism school.”
Moving to Radio New Zealand’s station in Masterton she joined the Amateur Theatrical Society just to “make some friends”. She was given the lead role in their local play. However, feeling like radio was going nowhere for her and tired of working on her own she thought about a slight career change.
“I wanted to learn and be in a bigger newsroom. With no other opportunities on the horizon, I began to throw my CV around to TVNZ and TV3.
“Funnily enough I got a letter from TVNZ saying sorry, no chance. But TV3 wrote back and said, you know what? We have an opening in Christchurch. Would you like to come and be a reporter on TV?
That was the birth of Barry’s career on television screens around New Zealand. As to how she ended up reading the news? It was a “complete accident,” she said.
“My boss rang me up and he said look, we have no one to read the news tonight. You are going to have to do it.
“I was terrified. I had no training, no experience, I had no clothes. I had to pop around to my mums to borrow a jacket for that night.
“I was the last cab off the rank. Everyone else was either away sick or on holiday. My heart was beating so hard I was sure the public could see me moving at the same time as my heart.
“It ended up being “not great, but it wasn’t terrible!”
Hilary is no longer the ‘last cab of the rank’ with incredible achievements under her belt.
Hilary Barry on screen at Keith Park, one of Ryman Healthcare's newest villages.
Some of her favourites and most memorable include the royal wedding of Kate and William in London, half an hour interviewing Oprah, who “kept holding my hand to make sure I was fine,” and covering the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, where she slept in a campervan on the side of the road.
Her most intrepid and scariest story was going into the world’s largest refugee camp in northern Kenya bordering Ethiopia.
“There were El Shabaab militants running riot on the border and people were escaping in their thousands from Ethiopia into Kenya.
“It was not only a heart-breaking story but a really dangerous story too. Everywhere we went we had two armed guards with AK-47’s. When we drove from the UN compound into the refugee camp we weren’t allowed to stop. If we had got a flat tyre the car wouldn’t have stopped, it would have just continued driving because it was that dangerous.
“It’s not till you get home that you realise how intrepid some of these stories are that you choose to go and cover.”
Throughout her career, Hilary said the biggest thing she has learnt is to be herself, embrace who she is and let go of what she refers to as imposter syndrome, where she feels that voice of self-doubt.
“People relate to other people on-screen being real. When I first started in television, I tried to be a perfect reporter with no emotion, just absolutely straight. Then over time because I’m a naturally vivacious person, that personality would accidentally come out.
“For the later part of my career, I’ve embraced being who I am. Being comfortable in my own skin. If I get the giggles, I get the giggles. If I shed a tear over something, so be it. It’s easy for me to say that now too as I’m 51 and I’ve kind of got the confidence to be myself.”
Although she said her career has been weird for her children having a mum on TV.
“They die a million deaths at the age they are now when people chase me down the street for selfies because we live in that selfie generation. They are so embarrassed; you don’t see them. They are just gone, they vanish into thin air.”
As to what makes her tick and such an upbeat person? She said moments from her past have made her realise that life is short and fragile. Her father died young and her mum survived cancer.
“I want to live every moment of every day in joy. I want to bring joy to the world; I want to take every opportunity that comes up. I want to live a great life.
“I was in church and the pastor asked everyone, do you bring joy to the world?
“It stuck with me. I certainly ask it of myself every week – Do I bring joy to the world?”
Coming up today at 2 pm Ryman is holding a virtual education session with Gordon Russell, head winemaker at Hawke’s Bay winery Esk Valley.
On Friday September 3 residents will also receive a Father’s Day special Happy Hour in a Bag and an Engage Newsletter.
And on Friday afternoon at 3.30pm, Ryman favourite Andrew London will perform a lockdown special live online.