Labour leader Chris Hipkins has revealed more details of his life with his new partner, Toni Grace.
Hipkins announced the new relationship on election night and said it was “a highlight of the year”.
Hipkins gave a speech after conceding the election to National’s Christopher Luxon where he thanked his parents and children for their support and sacrifices - but also used the moment to make his relationship with Grace public
“There is someone else I want to thank tonight, someone that most of you won’t know, and that is my partner, Toni,” he said.
Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins and his new partner Toni Grace at the election night party. Photo / George Heard
Three weeks on, Hipkins explained he did talk with Grace before he revealed the relationship to the world, but it wasn’t exactly planned either.
“Naming Toni was kind of an impromptu decision,” Hipkins told Stuff.
The announcement sent the New Zealand public into a tailspin, with many questioning whether it was Toni or Tony (Hipkins later clarified she was a woman).
Days after the election he had not meant to “trigger that set of rumours”.
“It’s Toni with an ‘i’” he chuckled.
Toni Grace currently works for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on sustainability issues, but the couple first met 13 years ago, when Grace was at Victoria University and interned in the MP for Remutaka’s office.
“I thought I’ll pick my local MP to get a bit of a bit of work experience,” she told Stuff.
“It was a fun year ... we got along really well. We were good friends after that. But then, you know, our lives, kind of went in different directions.”
Chris Hipkins announced his new partner, Toni, during his concession speech. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hipkins told media on election night he always found it hard to talk about his family and loved ones.
“It’s not an easy job in which to have a new relationship and I did make the decision to not be public about that until after the election. I think anyone who starts a new relationship doesn’t necessarily want it to be on the front page of the paper right at the beginning.”
On election night, Hipkins thanked Grace for being with him every step of the way over the campaign.
Hipkins said Grace helped him switch off and relax during the last few months through their shared hobby of playing word games and puzzles together.
“Coming back after all this time I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like, would it be super awkward, would you be somebody with a big ego or whatever now that you’re PM or you know, some jaded politician, but it was just same old Chris...,” Grace told Stuff.
Earlier this year as Hipkins took over from Dame Jacinda Ardern as prime minister, he publicly revealed his separation from his wife, the mother of his two children.
Hipkins said he and his wife had decided about a year prior to “live separately” in a decision he described as being “in the best interest of our family”.
He stated his wife was “still my best friend” and the pair remained “incredibly close”.
The explanation, which he characterised as his “final comment on the matter”, formed part of his plea to New Zealanders to respect the privacy of his wife and two children.
“As a member of Parliament and as a public figure, I’ve worked really hard in the time that I’ve been in politics to keep my family out of the public limelight,” Hipkins said.
“I want [my children] to grow up with a typical, Kiwi-kid life. I want them to be able to make mistakes, I want them to be able to learn and to grow without five million people looking over their shoulder, so I intend to keep them out of the public limelight.
“I know that putting my name forward to be a minister, to be an MP, to be the Prime Minister, I make myself public property. I absolutely accept that, but my family aren’t and I ask that people do respect that.”
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