Beyond the news desk – Wendy Petrie’s career reset and why she is saying ‘yes’

Photography Andrew Coffey Make-up Emma Peters (Alepha Beauty)

When Wendy Petrie lost her job as prime-time news anchor on TVNZ’s 1News after 14 years on the telly, you would be excused for thinking it didn’t affect her in the slightest.

The ever-professional Petrie put on her brave face and maintained the neutrality that she has always presented. At the time she admits she was “crumbling inside” but was determined to be professional and hold her head high with integrity and practise the ‘jazz hands’ analogy she’s a fan of.

“It might not have looked like it hurt, but it did hurt because I’m human. And it wasn’t just me. Scores of people were made redundant during that time,” she says. “I just kept performing, I kept doing the news and tried to be professional and I didn’t storm out of the newsroom, which I may have felt like doing. That really helped me because I continued to do the 6pm news for two more years, which was wonderful, and I still continue to work for TVNZ and I feel very grateful for that.”

Petrie, 51, was also conscious of being a good role model for her three children. She didn’t want them to see her angry or upset and her approach has paid off.

Becoming a sought-after keynote speaker at events is something she never expected, and there have been other wonderful surprises along the way.

The week Good caught up Petrie, she’d MCed a conference with Sir Graham Henry, read the news on Newstalk ZB, presented the midday news on TVNZ’s 1News and MCed the Breast Cancer Cure charity event in Christchurch where her impromptu catwalk strut, complete with 90s pivot turns reminiscent of her days as a Benson & Hedges Fashion Awards model, delighted the audience and made news headlines.

“There was a great vibe in Christchurch, and it seemed like the right thing to do, to not just showcase 18-year-olds on the catwalk,” laughs Petrie.

After years of doing the same job, her work week is now mixed up and unpredictable.

“It’s been a real adjustment but I’m enjoying it and relishing the different opportunities,” she says. “I’m still getting to know my new identity and who I am. Before I could hide behind that professional news anchor face. I didn’t have to be me, but when I lost my job, I had to strip all that back.”

Petrie understandably groans at overused, clichéd expressions like “silver lining” and “pivot”, though she admits these words do represent her current reality.

“It’s been really good for me, and I needed a refresh,” she says. “I’d been doing the news for 14 years, doing the same job day after day. I’m grateful to have been forced to rethink what I want and while it has been tough and difficult, I also think it has been great. I really appreciate much more in my life, and having the flexibility to do different jobs and meet amazing people, I’ve learned so much along the way and still am.”

Looking back

In June 2020, when Petrie found out her role as primetime 6pm news anchor was going as a result of a job restructure caused by the Covid pandemic, it was hard for her to make sense of the decision because the news team had been working so hard during lockdown and it was a very busy time. In fact, ratings had never been higher!

“It took me a while to come to terms with that. Also, the public nature of it all was intense, as suddenly I was a news headline,” she says. “I did a lot of running over that time because that’s the way I think about things. I also greatly appreciated the huge outpouring of support I got from the public and wonderful messages of support which I hadn’t expected. I then tried to focus on what was important to me, which is my family and friends. It helped me get through by having all that support, but it’s definitely been a difficult process and you need coping strategies. I’ve always tried to achieve in my life and to be suddenly told I wasn’t needed any longer felt like I wasn’t good enough.”

Running reset

What helped get Petrie through was pulling on her trainers and pounding the pavement. She’s found taking the time to exercise every day keeps her balanced and is good for her mental health.

Since having kids, running has become an important wellbeing ritual for Petrie – a space where she can reset, and where ideas and thoughts begin to flow.

“When I’m running, I feel like I’m free and I often get my best ideas and come up with life solutions,” she says. “It’s really important, especially as you get older, to spend time doing what makes you happy. For me, those endorphins from running help me every day.”

Her passion for running started out as half an hour to herself when she could no longer get to the gym as a young mum. She began running longer distances as she got fitter, challenging herself to run further, and now has two marathons and multiple half-marathons under her belt.

“When I ran my first marathon, I needed a challenge and to do something for me. It was an amazing feeling to accomplish something like that,” she explains. “You might think you can take shortcuts in a marathon or life, but you can’t. You need to do the hard work, persevere and learn resilience. You have to do the training, and the challenge is scary but the feeling when you cross the finish line is epic.”

It’s been two years since she’s run an event and she has no immediate plans for another. Instead, she’s content with regular 45-minute runs with friends, or longer runs alone with a podcast. She also balances running with a bit of Pilates.

Plugging into podcasts

Listening to podcasts while running has also helped Petrie’s mindset while kickstarting her freelance career.

“I often come back with maybe one or two gems or life lessons, but that’s enough. That’s all you need, just one or two words or a few ideas to really motivate and inspire you. It’s a really good reset listening to people who are incredibly inspiring.”

Favourite podcasts include The Briefing for her interest in news and current events; The High Performance Podcast, Super Soul by Oprah Winfrey and How I Built This, featuring stories of how people have built amazing businesses.

“You realise that everyone starts from somewhere, everyone has setbacks and difficulties, and you are not alone, and you stop feeling sorry for yourself because everyone has disappointments in life and it teaches us resilience,” says Petrie.

She also has her own podcast – The Word with Wendy Petrie – on which she talks to Black Fern Ruby Tui, Olympic rower Emma Twigg, Silver Fern Maia Wilson and Kiwi rally driver Emma Gilmour, to name just a few.

“I admire elite athletes who have undoubtedly pushed though some very tough times to achieve greatness. I am intrigued about how they have overcome difficulties and setbacks. They always have amazing stories of overcoming the odds and for me with sporty kids, it’s inspiring but also reassuring to know they didn’t just suddenly jump on that podium and claim victory with ease.”

Self-care rituals

In addition to running, a self-care practice Petrie takes seriously is being the best version of herself.

“I’m always rabbiting on to the kids about being the best version of yourself. I think that is a really good way to look at life and not compare yourself to others because you have to be you.”

Regular catchups with friends for a coffee, wine or exercise is also good for her soul. She recently did the Spirited Women 2022 event, an adventure race, with a group of friends – which was mainly about having a weekend away with the girls, debriefing, having a wine and enjoying each other’s company.

“It’s one of those events where you think it’s a great idea, then you’re thinking ‘why are we doing this? This is so hard’, and at the end, ‘yay, let’s do it again’!”

Stepping into the new

Petrie is now practising saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities, even those that frighten her. That has included being invited to be a keynote speaker and talk for an hour about herself and what she has learned over the years.

“It was a wonderful therapeutic thing to do, to go over my life and what I’ve learned. And it was also really challenging and frightening,” she admits. “The adrenaline is definitely going when you’re reading the news on live television but it’s a completely different story to drop the anchor face and talk about yourself with people you can actually see in the room, as opposed to looking down the lens of the camera.”

Since that first keynote speech, she’s done a couple more, which have been uplifting and pulled her out of her comfort zone.

“So saying ‘yes’ to everything, and also not taking myself too seriously,” she says. “I’ve always said, ‘look, it’s only the telly. I’m not saving lives. At the end of the day if I trip over a word on TV, it’s not the end of the world, the next day’s a different day’. So I think not taking yourself too seriously also helps.”

She has also welcomed the role of Breast Cancer Cure ambassador. “My auntie died of breast cancer and a few of my friends have recovered from it. Everybody knows someone that has been diagnosed with or sadly died from breast cancer.”

In 2022 she and her eldest daughter Addison modelled for the Tees for a Cure campaign, which raised funds for Breast Cancer Cure. She’s also on the board of the Find Your Field of Dreams’ charity, started by Sir John Walker.

“We help young people from South Auckland’s greatest areas of need through sport. As I grew up in Manurewa, I want to help where I can,” she says.

Recently Petrie also relished the freedom to travel, accompanying husband Ross Peebles to Spain and Portugal with a stop-off in the States to visit Addison, who is on a rowing scholarship at the University of San Diego.

Career highlights

During her tenure on 1News, she also travelled to some fantastic places. Stand-outs were covering the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing and the royal wedding between Kate and William, which she describes as a joyous time in London.

To date, Petrie, who began her journalism career in radio, has enjoyed many career highlights – including landing a job on the news as a presenter in Canada when she was 30 (on the CTV News Channel) and becoming a substitute newsreader on the CTV morning programme Canada AM.

“It was amazing stepping foot in another country and managing to get on TV as a news presenter on a 24-hour CNN-type network. I learned so much and then I came back home and I couldn’t believe it when I landed the job presenting the six o’clock news with Simon Dallow.”

Since reading her final official news bulletin as news anchor on 1News at Six, Petrie has continued to present the news, filling in on Breakfast, 1News at Six, Seven Sharp and several other TVNZ news bulletins.

She’s also been named one of the best-dressed women on David Hartnell MNZM’s Best Dressed List, though she doesn’t take that very seriously. “Next year I’ll be on the worst-dressed list, so I don’t really pay much attention to that,” she laughs.

Over the years, like any person in the public eye, she has copped some criticism – especially in the early days, when she was told her lipstick was the wrong colour or somebody hated her jacket or didn’t like the way she put her arms on the desk.

“You end up, as a news anchor, having this kind of veil of neutrality – you’re trying so hard not to offend anyone,” she says. “One thing about getting older is that you start to care less about what people think and almost have a good laugh. As long as my friends and family think I’m alright, that’s all that matters.”

What would be her advice to her 20-year-old self? Work hard because hard work does pay off, don’t give up and persevere.

“A lot of people just give up if something doesn’t go their way so persevere and also have fun. I was keen on getting my career started, getting my degree and starting a job. I wish now that I’d taken more time to see the world and have a bit more fun.”

Taking on 2023

Looking to the year ahead Petrie plans to continue filling in as a news anchor when required and remain a face on the telly because she loves presenting the news and wants to stick around.

“There’s been a lot of criticism in the past that 50-year-old women disappear from TV. I don’t want to do that and that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed on the news. I want to be seen as being 51 and still on TV and I’m representing a large portion of the population.”

She’s also helping to build up her husband Ross Peebles’ new content creation company, The Workroom, and with much more life balance and variety in her life, she realises she is much happier now, in retrospect.

Petrie has also begun voice training work with presenters from Les Mills and reporters at TVNZ, something she really enjoys.

“I needed a refresh and it’s been a rollercoaster and still is, but I’m doing amazing things and meeting these incredible people doing different jobs and I’m relishing that,” she says. “As I said, I want to be a role model for my kids and for others, so I think being professional, continuing to work and putting on a brave face helped. It was right thing to do.”

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