When rookie reporter Samantha Hayes first arrived in Auckland to present TV3’s Nightline in 2007, she was terrified.
“I grew up in Milton, then went to university in Dunedin and did a short stint as the arts and entertainment reporter in Wellington – I felt completely out of my depth in the ‘big smoke’ of Auckland,” explains Sam.
Now a journalist on TV3’s news and current affairs show 3rd Degree, Sam (29) admits, “It seemed so daunting.”
Luckily, one of the first people she met at Nightline was Claire Robbie, who was a reporter on the late-night news show.
“There was me, this country girl from down south, and Claire was this beautiful, sophisticated Aucklander who knew everything,” recalls Sam.
“She had her finger on the pulse. I was a bit scared of her – I felt like a little fish who’d been thrown into a very large pond. But she totally took me under her wing – now she’s one of my closest friends.”
Claire (33), who is almost eight months pregnant with her first son, laughs as she hears her friend Sam describe those early days. “You never seemed daunted at all – you always oozed confidence. You handled everything fine. I was the one who was terrified of live TV,” she says, admitting that on one occasion she was so nervous she considered “pretending to faint” while waiting to do a live cross from the field.
“You’re the one who loves it Sam – you’re a natural.”
“Maybe that’s why the TV gig works for me – I look completely calm even when I’m freaking out inside!” laughs Sam.
With a mutual love of world affairs, politics, environmental issues, health and wellbeing – fitness junkie Sam and Claire, a qualified yoga instructor, still exercise together almost daily. And the two women always have a lot to talk about, so much so it’s hard to get a word in as they chat throughout the make-up session for the Weekly photoshoot.
“That’s one of the aspects of Sam that I love – she’s a great reporter and is so interesting – she always has some story of where she’s been, who she’s met,” explains Claire, who recently returned to New Zealand after several years living abroad. “She fascinates me.”
“That’s the journo in me,” says Sam. “For my job I have to learn to be a jack of all trades, an instant expert in whatever field I’m reporting on. But I do like talking!” she laughs.
Indeed, Sam is instantly in reporter mode when the Weekly asks Claire about the five years she spent in Los Angeles, working as the marketing and events manager for elite Hollywood hotel Petit Ermitage. “Name some names, Claire!” she urges her friend.
“I worked from 9am to 4am on a constant basis, dealing with celebrities and Hollywood types – people who expected absolute perfection. It was pretty much the most stressful job I’ve ever had in my life,” says Claire.
The former news reporter famously organised Victoria Beckham’s 2011 English garden, pink tea party-themed baby shower, attended by A-listers including Demi Moore, Nicole Richie and Selma Blair.
Her day job also included arranging parties for the likes of Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria.
“Everything had to be top secret – we weren’t allowed to tell anyone what we were doing,” says Claire.
“Victoria Beckham’s party was ridiculous . We had umbrellas to protect guests from helicopters overhead, people were being snuck in through garage doors. It was crazy!”
The job also gave Claire a unique insight into the world of A-list Hollywood.
“The truth is, there are plenty of very famous people in Hollywood who live their lives completely under the radar and never get photographed. While there are always exceptions, for the most part, if a Hollywood celebrity doesn’t want to be seen, they don’t have to be. The people who are photographed are usually the ones who want to be.”
While Claire admits she learned a lot from her travels abroad, she is delighted she will be giving birth to her son, who she’s already named Jack Jozef Sniewski, in New Zealand, where Claire has returned permanently with her partner, trainer, nutritionist and life coach Luke Sniewski.
“I wanted to be around my family and have a little Kiwi baby, and Luke really wanted to move here – it was almost his idea, although moving from LA to New Zealand is taking a bit of adjusting,” says Claire.
Despite Claire’s advanced pregnancy, the pair already has big plans and have set up Jack & Olive, a wellness retreat company which combines yoga, fitness and nutrition at properties all around New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and back in California.
“Our retreats are based on Luke’s six principles for wellness – real food, movement, rest and relaxation, lifelong learning, community and love,” explains Claire.
“It’s based on what we had been doing together in LA, but I wanted to bring the retreats to New Zealand, to bring people here, and for Kiwis to be able to have the same experience.”
And Sam’s delighted, because it means she can finally get to see her friend more often.
“We always had the kind of friendship that meant we didn’t need to contact each other every day, but when we did meet it was as if we’d last seen each other yesterday,” she says.
“It is lovely though – I’ve always been more focused on my career than on having children. I turn 30 this year, and I still don’t know if I’ll ever want them – but I’m really looking forward to hanging out with Jack. Maybe he’ll change my mind!”
It’s not just the thought of playing aunty to baby Jack
that has made Sam so delighted her friend has moved home.
“As people grow up and follow their dreams, friends do inevitably become scattered, and it gets harder and harder to stay in touch, but I need Claire. She keeps me grounded,” explains Sam.
“I remember once I was devastated because I’d had a ‘blooper’ moment on the news which ended up on YouTube. I showed Claire – and she told me that if that was the worst thing that had made the internet, I should consider myself lucky. And she was right – I completely got over myself after that! Thanks to Claire, I’m not nearly as precious and uptight as I used to be about a lot of things. She’s a pretty awesome friend.”
And for Claire? “Sam’s an absolute inspiration,” she says.
“She’s a great reporter, she’s worldly, but most of all, she’s a friend who has always been there for me. She’s that friend I can always call and who will listen with no judgment – she just helps me move on.
“And as anyone will know who has a friend like that, who never judges, but just helps you find a way forward, it’s a precious gift. Sam’s the kind of person I want my son to be brought up around.”