Monday, October 3, 2022

The Joy Mentors: Hilary Barry on News Cleave, Ambition and Finding Joy in the Little Things

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Welcome to our Joy Mentors series. Over the next few months, Capsule will be profiling people we consider joy mentors – people who are not only examples of a shining light but use that light to help others as well. 

This week, and in honour of our first birthday, Kelly Bertrand speaks to Clapback Queen and purveyor of joy, Hilary Barry.

When you think of Hilary Barry, what comes to mind? Giggles? News cleave? Clapbacks against Karens and triumphs over social media trolls?

Well to be fair she’s all of those things – not to mention a damn fine broadcaster and journalist – but in the years since the lovingly dubbed ‘Hilz Baz’ waka jumped from Mediaworks to TVNZ, New Zealand has had the chance to see just who the self-proclaimed ‘lippy suburban mother of two’ truly is: joy, personified.

(Although, squeaks of it did come out from time to time on the 6pm news – ‘Hilary Barry giggle’ compilations on YouTube are fire.)

Ever since Covid19 entered the conscious vernacular, Hilary has been at the front and centre of ‘Operation Get Aotearoa Through This Pandemic Shitstorm’ (our words, not hers, but what else would you call it?!). Armed with a television show, social media accounts, a plastic tiara and her own signature blend of goofy pragmatism, she and co-host Jeremy Wells fronted every weeknight at 7pm to try their best at cheering up a bewildered nation.

Joy, says Hilary, can be found in even the most strange and sad of circumstances.

“It’s funny, when you talk about joy because for so many years – not wanting to sound like a complete wanker, but you know how some people have a particular thing or phrase they say to themselves?” she asks. “I’ve thought about this one for years and years and years – I remember listening to a talk from a very wise person, and they said, ‘we should all be asking ourselves: do you bring joy to the world?’. I’ve never forgotten that, and I would have been a teenager at the time. It’s not something that I always achieve, but I do strive to do it.

“Otherwise, I feel like, what is the purpose of all this, if it’s not to experience joy, and to bring it to other people? So I do honestly ask myself, maybe not every day, but very often, am I bringing joy to the world? And I tell you what you have to do. You have to ask yourself some tough, tough questions. You have to question yourself a lot. Are you being negative? Are you bringing other people down? All of these things disable you when you’re trying to being joy into the world. And look, that’s tough – especially over the last 12 months.”

Interviewing Hilary Barry is quite remarkable. I’ve been a writer for 10 years and have yarned with pretty much every famous face in New Zealand (let’s be honest, there are not too many) and most have been perfectly pleasant and lovely. But I’ve never had an experience quite like a phone call with Hilary who, somehow, despite the fact I can’t see her face, makes the chat feel like we’ve just ordered a good glass of merlot and we’re sitting by her fire, ready to have a good goss and, naturally, solve the world’s problems. She even laughs when I offer a very creepy ‘Can’t wait to see some more news cleave!” sentiment that was SUPPOSED to be supportive but came off as rather pervy.

Hilary sporting both her ‘Formal Friday’ tiara and the aforementioned #newscleave (Image/ Instagram)

She’s legendary amongst her fellow journalists as ‘the person’ you want to interview. Remarked one publicist, “she’s never forgotten what it’s like to be newbie journo” and it’s very true. Indeed, Hilary was one of the first people to agree to be interviewed by Capsule, back when we were a bunch of newly-redundant former magazine writers who had a crazy idea to make their own website (click here for that one!)

It was one of those said writers – Emma Clifton specifically – who had the original idea for a ‘Joy Mentors’ series after realising that the pandemic and all its effects had profoundly shifted our priorities.

“I don’t want a JOB mentor,” she realised. “I want a JOY mentor.”

Enter Hilz Baz.

“That’s such an awesome concept,” she tells. “And I tell you what it is – it’s finding the joy in all the little moments, the moments you think are insignificant, but are actually what life is all about. For me, it’s watching sunrises. I LOVE watching a sunrise. Even if it’s a cloudy day and there’s only a spec of sun that comes through, it makes me happy. It can be raining. I don’t even care.

“There’s a quote – for the life of me I can’t remember it, I’ll send it to you – that’s essentially about finding joy in the mundane; you spend half you life cleaning, going to the supermarket, vacuuming. It’s figuring out how to enjoy that.”

Hilary has certainly managed to find it in her job over the last few years, since she farewelled Three’s 6pm news and morning shows in favour of TVNZ’s Seven Sharp.

It’s here, she says, that she’s finally found ‘her place’, and most certainly over the last few pandemic-filled months.

“It was just everyone seeing how batshit crazy I really am,” she says with a laugh. “It kind of opened the door to that. You all just finally saw me being me. Well, I don’t dress up as much as I used to these days!”

It’s a marked change from her long career as a 6pm newsreader where she did her utmost to “keep a lid” on her larger than life personality.           

“I’m naturally… well, the one to get the giggles and all the things you can’t do on the 6pm news. All these things – Covid lockdown, being 50, you kind of get to the point in your career where you need to just have a bit of fun. And I’m more than happy to be the instigator of fun.”

For a woman who has conquered many media – radio, TV and most recently social – Hilary says she actually isn’t, or has never been overly ambitious.

“I never expected to be on a show like this. I went into journalism and I was very earnest about it and news reading… although obviously my personality never quite matched my job. But I enjoyed it, and I just always thought, ‘this is my thing’. But there was something missing in my life. Going back to talking about joy, I think I had lost the joy, probably, towards the end of my tenure. You cover those serious stories night after night, it’s hard to find the joy sometimes.

“Transitioning to a show like Seven Sharp was almost accidental, but now I really, really feel that I’ve found my happy place. I really, really feel I’ve found a job that brings me joy. There’s so many great Kiwi characters out there, and it’s quite liberating, being myself on the telly. I’ve never been overly ambitious, but I do like a challenge.”

Success, for Hilary, is pretty simple.

“It’s to, both in my professional life and my personal life, do things that bring me joy, and make me feel like I’m making a contribution. Where I am now, it’s those core values I hold dear aligning in my personal and professional lives.”

Like a lot of people across the country, and indeed the world, Hilary felt her priorities shift with the pandemic, and she relished the time she spent with husband Mike and their two boys, both of whom have now moved out of home. But mostly, she’s realised just how lucky we are, mate. [Go on, sing it.]

“It’s given me focus on what matters – how much I actually love being in New Zealand and not leaving the country, and how much I love the people. And how wonderful the community is when a crisis happens, and how we all just get on with it and look out for one another. There’s been a lot of joy in the last 12 months, although it’s been quite an unsettling time. I’ve found it unsettling too – I found myself feeling anxious in ways I never have before – going into lockdown and feeling ill about what that would mean. But I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the most valuable thing is now knowing what is really important to me.”

And with that, the Cool Aunty of the Nation signs off with a cheery farewell and best wishes. And 10 minutes after our interview finishes – and as I’m still trying to figure out how the hell to enjoy vacuuming – the promised email pings into my inbox with the quote by writer Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Life clatters within the living, with all their mentalities and psychologies, and when they die and the clatter within them subsides, it continues in their children, and one comes to understand that the clatter was the main thing, the clatter was the point, the clatter was life.”

Oh, and the secret to enjoying vacuuming.

“You enjoy it when it’s done!”

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