Sunday, March 3, 2024

Negative Self-talk, Fear & Finding Love at First Sight: How Are You Today, Jenny-May Clarkson?

In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check out previous chats with people like Hayley HoltRoseanne Liang and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Today, we chat to Jenny-May Clarkson.

TVNZ One’s Breakfast co-host Jenny-May Clarkson is mum to twin boys, Atawhai and Te Manahau, as well as her husband’s two young teen daughters, Libby-Jane and Leah.

The story of how she fell in love with her husband, Dean, is the stuff of legends – it was instantaneous, with a proposal happening within 10 days – seven months later she was walking down the aisle, just a few weeks short of being three months pregnant with their boys.

Behind the scenes of presenting the news, Jenny-May has had her ups and downs, and is learning to deal with self-doubt, fear and imposter syndrome.

Jenny-May, how are you today?
You know what, today’s a good day! I say that because today the narrative and self-talk in my head is being kind – well, either it’s being kind or I’m keeping it at bay. What I’m learning on Breakfast, doing three hours live every day, is it’s a rollercoaster of emotions, negative-talk and self-belief. Sometimes the conversations in my 35-minute drive home aren’t very kind, but right now in this moment, they’re good!

How are you learning to deal with that chatter? Is it constant – even while you’re live?
It is. That comes with being live, you can’t take back what you say – not that there are many things I’d take back, to be honest – but you want to be the best that you can be. You want to give people the space to tell their story, or give over the information they need, or to hold them to account, and in order to do that you have to be present, you have to have done your research and you have to be able to listen, especially to hear what they’re not saying. 

It’s a privilege to provide the space for people to tell their story, but amongst that I’m battling my own self-doubt, y’know, always going “Oh god, I missed that question! Should I have asked that?” I doubt myself all the time in this job – but tell me, you must have done that at some point, right?

Are you kidding me? I totally have imposter syndrome. In every job I’ve ever had, part of me has been thinking, ‘when are they going to realise I have no idea what I’m doing?’
YES! I’m a fraud! Everyone is thinking, ‘what the hell is she doing?!?’ I believe most of us go through that, we just don’t admit it. I have these conversations in the breaks all the time with John and Matty and I believe that’s what has strengthened us as a team, having that vulnerability. I draw strength from them.

And what do John and Matty say when you tell them what you’re thinking?
They talk about the positives. I don’t want someone saying, ‘No, that was amazing,’ when you know it was shit. As a team, we don’t do that, but it’s all about putting it into perspective, because we’re our own harshest critic, we’re too focused on the thing we think we said wrong, or that feeling we had that it wasn’t going well.

Speaking of Breakfast, congratulations because it’s now a full year since you started on the show! And, what a year – particularly these last six months with Covid and lockdown. It must be a tricky juggle in the morning – how do you balance telling the news but still keeping things light, when the backdrop is the darkness of a global pandemic?
It’s tricky. Mornings are precious. At that time of day you have to be able to give people the news and what is happening, but also provide people with a bit of relief. Sometimes we nailed it, sometimes we didn’t. But the whole time we knew it really was such a privilege for us to still have been able to keep working and we understood how much fear and anxiety there was, so we tried to give people some space each morning where they could get the info they needed but also have a chance to breathe.

Jenny-May and the Breakfast team smile for the camera
The Breakfast team: Indira Stewart, Jenny-May, John Campbell & Matty McLean

That’s one thing I think your team has in spades – empathy. Empathy for the guests on the show, for the viewers, and empathy for one another – you really seem to have each other’s backs. To me that seems like it’s something that comes to each of you naturally – is that fair to say?
I think so, it’s naturally who we are as people. One thing John says to everyone is, “just be you. You can’t be anyone else! Don’t try and be what you think other people want you to be, just bring yourself”. I guess it’s that attitude and encouragement – because you’re sitting there doubting yourself – to know that the person next to you believes in you and thinks you just bringing yourself is enough, that’s powerful. 

And, maybe it’s just because I’m old, but I’ve got to a point where, it’s not that negativity doesn’t hurt, but I know whose opinion matters now. If someone says I’m not good enough, then so be it! There are things in your performance you can work on, which we do every day, but if people don’t like me as a person, that’s okay, but I’m not changing to be who they think I should be. Because you know what? I’m enough. At some point they might say here [at TVNZ], you’re not what we need in this job anymore and that will be okay, I won’t change to be someone else.  In 2020 we know that nothing lasts forever, so right now I’m enjoying the moment and the privilege of getting to do that and be myself.

Dang, that’s an amazing place to be in. And in 2020 there are a lot of people who are redefining themselves, or what actually matters most in life. There are probably a few of us – myself included – who have been forced down this path to realising that being yourself is enough. I used to place so much importance on a job title, and now I’ve realised that for all my friends and family who love me, my job title is actually the least interesting thing about me. Covid and so many mass redundancies – which have particularly happened to women – have forced some real reexaminations of ourselves. 
Oh, totally! And look, I don’t want to sit here and pretend I know what it feels like to lose your job in 2020 – I’ve had the privilege of getting to work right through Covid and keep mine. The one thing I’ve lived that I can compare that to is when I first made the Silver Ferns and then I got dropped. God, I’ll never forget it. I can remember the phone call, the days and weeks afterwards where I didn’t want to leave the house because I felt like a failure. I was so embarrassed. 

I had put everything into being a Silver Fern – it’s who I was as a person and I connected everything in my life to being a Fern. I thought no one would want to even be my friend anymore. It was a real wake-up call. Then, I clearly remember the day I got a card from my twin nieces, who were about seven or eight at the time and – god, this is making me emotional talking about it – the card said, ‘Aunty, we love you for who you are.’ And that moment made me go, ‘Oh my god, I’m still their aunty, I’m still a wife, I’m still a friend, I’m still a good person’. 

Now, I’m forever grateful for that experience, because from then on I wasn’t a Silver Fern, I was Jenny-May who played for the Silver Ferns. I got dropped many times after that and it never stung like that again. Now I won’t define myself by a title. But in saying that, it’s not like I don’t get afraid of what’s next. I often wonder what I’ll do, because, what am I even good at beyond TV? I’m lucky I have a beautiful husband who reminds me all the time that none of us know what the future holds, so let’s live in the moment and we’ll be okay.

It always blows my mind when you say things like that, because watching you from the outside, it seems like you could probably do anything. I mean, look at your past – you were a cop, you were a Silver Fern, you reinvented yourself as a sports reporter – now you’re a presenter on a massive show. We really are our own worst critics.
Yes, I mean thank you, but I just don’t have that same faith in myself! These are really hard conversations for me, because I have so much uncertainty around what else I can do. I mean, it’s not a new topic, because I think about this a lot.

How do you ground yourself and get out of that headspace of worry?
I guess it’s going home – because I have the same routine, I leave the studio, I clean the house and put the washing out, and prep dinner – that’s my love language, gifts of service and doing things for the family – then I take a nap  or a workout if I have the energy and then the kids are home – but those things ground me. Then I’m prepping for the next show.

What time does your alarm go off the next morning?
2.30! I’m in the car by 2.50 and at work by 3.30am. I have about 45 minutes to go over all my prep, then I’m in the make-up chair. I spend a few hours the night before doing prep too – it’s not like you can just rock up and interview the Prime Minister! And it’s not just about the PM, it’s all the other interviews – you put just as much time into those. And I know that might sound crazy, but for me it’s about holding that space and honouring who that person is. You might not have a title, but it doesn’t mean that your story isn’t just as important. That means there’s a lot of prep. 

Jenny-May and her husband, Dean cuddle in front of the camera
Jenny-May and her husband, Dean.

I have one more thing to congratulate you on, and that’s your fifth wedding anniversary which you just celebrated on the weekend! Did you do anything to celebrate?
Thank you, yes we did! This is where my husband is gold. He said, “right, we’re going away for the night”. I was worrying about all the kids and feeling guilty about leaving Nan and Pop to do it all and he said, “no, these are important things and we also need to show our children that we are important. We need to show them to value relationships so they can learn to value their own too”. So we went 10 minutes up the road and stayed the night and it was perfect. Just being able to do the little things – a 10-minute conversation without being interrupted, being able to sit and watch Ghost and see the whole movie through!  We’re pretty simple though – I think because we know what the things are that really strengthen our relationship are, and that’s having conversations. Sometimes hard conversations, but they’re what really strengthen us as a couple.

I still find it incredible thinking back to the start of your relationship. I really admire you two as a couple – you truly support one another in all aspects of life, you’re equals and your morals so perfectly align. Then I think how you met – a chance meeting one night in a bar, where it was literally love at first sight. You basically moved in together right there and then and got engaged 10 days later. How did you work out so quickly that he was The One?
I think the thing is I don’t see it as a chance meeting – I see it as we had to travel our own journeys and that at the right time we would meet. I mean, of course you don’t know that while you’re living life and going through your ups and downs and feeling hopelessly out of love. But I look at the age we were when we met – Dean was 39, I was 41. We’d lived some life! That first night we had all those upfront conversations, like, “do you want more kids?” All those questions you usually wait a while before asking in a new relationship. Well, I figured, I’m too old for that! At 41, if you don’t want kids mate, that’s cool, but I’m moving on! I think it was less about chance, and more that we were meant to be, we just had an individual journey to travel to get to this point together.

Dean’s a special guy. What has his love meant to you?
He always brings it back to, if you and I are solid, then everything else will work out, and he’s so right. When I sit in that chair at Breakfast, my strength is him. That feeling that he believes in me, when you’re loved unconditionally, there’s no judgement, and you know he’ll always be there – it’s a confidence I’ve previously never had. 

Jenny-May can be seen on TV One’s Breakfast, every weekday morning from 6 – 9am. Watch online at

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