He’s one of the most popular and recognisable faces on New Zealand television, but after nine years as the star of some of the country’s biggest programmes – including New Zealand’s Got Talent, What Now and Breakfast – Tamati Coffey is leaving not just our screens, but New Zealand. For now, at least.
“It feels right,” explains Tamati (33). The presenter has been an irrepressibly cheerful and entertaining presence on TVNZ’s Breakfast since 2007, and this year cemented himself as one of the country’s A-listers when he hosted the country’s highest-rating show in a decade, New Zealand’s Got Talent.
“I feel as though Breakfast is going through a bit of a transformation. It’ll be in good hands and I’m excited for where it’s going, but I don’t see myself as part of that current team. “I feel a little bit old-school – when I first started Breakfast, Pippa [Wetzell] had just been confirmed as the host alongside Paul Henry and Peter Williams – we were the team.
“Since then, Paul left New Zealand and has come back again. Pippa’s had another baby and is back on screen. I’ve done my time as the weatherman. I need to close that chapter, sign it off and start another one.”
Tamati and his civil union partner Tim never do anything by halves – their flamboyant wedding last December proved that – so they won’t be hanging around. A few hours after his final morning show on Saturday, December 15, the couple – along with Tamati’s parents, Rangi and Gerald – will board a plane to England, where they will stay with Tim’s parents in the Cheshire town of Runcorn.
“Ever since our wedding last December, we’ve been promising Tim’s family we’d visit them ‘one day’,” says Tamati. “Now Tim’s auntie is sick and he really wants to spend some time with her before she dies. And as Dad has hardly ever travelled – he only got his passport last year – we wanted them to experience this with us while they are in good health.”
The couple is spending Christmas day in a British pub as part of a tradition in Tim’s family, and New Year at British holiday park Butlins – a huge family complex famous for its Redcoats and funfair style. Tamati and Tim will stop off en route in LA for a few days – “Tamati’s mum says she wants to walk down Rodeo Drive like in Pretty Woman!” smiles Tim – before embarking on their next adventure.
“We’re not really planners. We can’t tell you what will happen after the first three weeks!” says Tim, who has resigned from his position as a teacher at an Auckland girls’ Catholic school.
“This year has been exhausting, but incredible – my whole career has,” says Tamati, who is leaving their “babies”, dogs Ali and Anzac, at a friend’s house until Rangi and Gerald return in two months. “But I promised myself I’d do an OE and I want to do it before we settle down and have kids, which is something Tim and I really want.”
Tamati’s OE has been on his to-do list for 12 years. “I promised myself I’d do it at the end of high school, but I got a job, so it didn’t happen,” he explains. “Then I was going to take it after university, but I got What Now straightaway. “Then Breakfast came along and it grew from there – Intrepid Journeys, Dancing with the Stars, New Zealand’s Got Talent – I haven’t stopped.”
It’s clear that despite the trademark twinkle in his eye, Tamati is tired after a busy year. “The last nine years on TV has been a non-stop rollercoaster. I really want to tick this off my list before I get too old.”
And the decision isn’t just for his and Tim’s benefit. “We really want to do it before we start a family. You can’t go traipsing around like this with kids. When we become parents, we want to enjoy it.”
Enjoying the moment is a tenet the pair swear by, to the point they got matching tattoos saying, “Everything is as it’s supposed to be... right now” on their forearms a few weeks ago.
“We need to be where we’re supposed to be, living in the moment,” says Tamati. “Having kids is such a big undertaking. We want to go away first, do this for ourselves, then come back and put our heart and soul into setting up and settling down.”
This is a decision which won’t include their two-bedroom central Auckland house, which the pair lovingly renovated 18 months ago. “When we come back, we won’t live like we do now – across the road from bars and restaurants, always out and about,” explains Tamati.
“ It’s incredible that we have this place that’s all ours, but I want to find a place out in Coatesville or something, where I can have chickens, the dogs can run free without us having to worry and we can bring up our kids. I just love the idea.”
While the couple have fairly definite long-term plans for a family, the short-term is far more flexible – although Tamati has left the door open to return to series two of New Zealand’s Got Talent, if it happens.
“It’s a great show and I’d jump at the chance to be part of it again,” Tamati says. “But we’re open to any opportunities that come up. Thanks to my civil union with Tim, I have British residency, so if the BBC want to call me up, then I’m here!”
While neither Tamati nor Tim will be focusing on work while they are on their travels, Tamati says he’s put in a few calls to see if he can visit the set of Britain’s Got Talent when it begins filming next year. “I’m hoping I can just hang out, maybe be their coffee boy, see what it’s like,” he muses.
But despite the couple’s tears at leaving, neither have any doubt they are doing the right thing. “It’s time for Tamati to live a normal life for a while,” says Tim protectively. “For years now he’s made TV that’s warmed people’s hearts, got up at 3.30am every morning and shared so much of himself with people. He loves his job and he’s really good at it, but it’s taken its toll.”
Like the time he had two hours’ sleep so he could film the first semi-final of New Zealand’s Got Talent, look after Tim when he had a painful back operation and be on the couch for Breakfast the next day.
“It was the first semi-final so it was important,” says Tamati. “I finished Breakfast, came home and got Tim, dropped him at the hospital, saw him wheeled off and got to the Talent studio for 11am. “It was awful. I love what I do, but my heart wasn’t on stage. I wanted to be sitting in that little hospital room.”
After filming finished at 11pm, Tamati dashed back to the hospital, persuaded the reluctant staff to allow him in despite visiting hours being long over, and spent an hour with Tim, eating stale hospital sandwiches he had saved for him, then headed home for a nap before a 4am start at work. “I’m pretty tired. It does you in after a while,” admits Tamati.
“Mostly, I’m just looking forward now to being the normal me, which I don’t think I’ve been for a while. When I operate on such little and broken sleep, I don’t think I’m really me. “I want to go back to being my happy, joky self. I don’t want to be the tired, grumpy me that tells Tim not to talk because I have to go to bed.”
Whatever else the next few months have in store for Tamati and Tim, one thing is for sure – they’ll have fun. “Because Tamati’s so recognisable, we often have to hide out in New Zealand, but we love going out and meeting people,” says Tim.
“I love New Zealand – it’s home. I love the warmth of people and the privileges that come from doing what I do, but I’m looking forward to being one of the crowd for a while,” adds Tamati.
“I’m really proud of the TV I’ve made, but I’m really excited to be taking this next step. I have no idea what will happen, but I do know that wherever I am is where I’m supposed to be. It’s going to be amazing.”