When Hayley Holt stepped out on the red carpet at the Huawei Mate 20 New Zealand Television Awards last Thursday, the politician-turned-Breakfast host looked every bit the star in her shimmering, floor-length Hailwood gown.
But if anyone had told her 12 months ago that she'd be up for the Woman's Day TV Personality of the Year prize, she'd have thought they were completely bonkers.
"This is just the most surreal end to a very surreal year – 2018 has been so wonderful," says Hayley, 38.
"And for it to end like this, well, I almost have to pinch myself!
"I'm in shock. After coming third twice on Dancing with the Stars, I was always the bridesmaid, but now I've finally won an award and it's going straight to the pool room – well, the bar at my parents' farm anyway.
"I don't want to say this is undeserved because I trust the voters, but I'm really, really humbled because the nominees were all such amazing humans with personality plus. It's incredible because one year ago, I didn't even think I'd have the opportunity to be on TV, let alone win an award for it."
Since replacing broadcasting legend Hilary Barry as host of Breakfast alongside Jack Tame back in January, the ex-Green Party candidate has proved she's a natural – winning a legion of fans and high praise along the way.
But Hayley admits that when she first got the coveted TVNZ job, she was almost overwhelmed with self-doubt.
"I never thought for one moment they'd actually choose me," she explains.
"I had major imposter syndrome – I was going into a building filled with reputable journalists and I didn't feel particularly reputable myself."
The star's TV experience might have included eight years presenting sports show The Crowd Goes Wild and a stint hosting politics series Back Benches, but she still felt underqualified.
"I hadn't come from broadcasting school – I'd come from the school of life. I was worried about all sorts of things like my pronunciation and whether I knew enough facts. I mean, you have to get things right on Breakfast. I was also terrified about what people would think of me in that role – whether they thought I was suitable for mainstream media."
But right from the start, the former ballroom dancer and professional snowboarder promised she would protect herself from hurtful criticism by avoiding online comments.
"There's some nasty stuff out there and I don't think any good can come from reading the things people say about you – it's a form of self-harm. It's served me well and the blinkers are still firmly on."
And a year down the track, single Hayley – who took her beloved mum Robin to the TV Awards – is feeling more at ease in the role than ever.
"It's just a dream job. I get to meet the most amazing people and I've got this new family here. I get to wear beautiful dresses and make-up, and I just feel so lucky to be part of it all."
The hours are undeniably tough, though, and Hayley admits she's still getting used to the shock of her alarm clock going off at 3am each weekday.
She gets through the morning thanks to strong coffee and adrenaline, before heading back to her bush-clad West Auckland home around lunchtime for an afternoon of serious rest and relaxation.
"I'll get my prep for the next day out of the way and then just laze about," she tells. "I'll read a book in the sun or watch a series on TV. I aim to go to bed about 7.30pm, but it's usually closer to 9.30 or 10."
And the bubbly star, who recently celebrated four years of sobriety after a well-documented battle with the booze, has become strict about only socialising on Saturdays.
"I'm basically a recluse during the week, but on Saturday, I catch up with friends and family, and sometimes go out for a bit of a dance. I'll sleep for 12 hours on Friday and Saturday nights – it's heaven!"
As well as the odd hours, Hayley has had to get used to a greater level of fame now she's beamed into people's living rooms every morning. Everywhere she goes, she can feel others' eyes on her and hear their whispers.
"It's definitely different and it can be a bit disconcerting," she admits. "It means I need to be on my best behaviour all the time. I do quite like to be loud and uncouth, but I save that for at home now."
Hayley also admits that being in the public eye means she can't help but worry about her appearance.
"I'd love to say I'm relaxed about all that, but I'm actually quite vain – I get it from my dad," she giggles.
"I'm a child of the '80s – it was drummed into us that we should look a certain way. But I love that young people now are so much more comfortable and confident in their skin, and proud of their bodies."
Hayley recently discovered Pilates and hot yoga, where she sweats it out in a heated room twice a week, and is delighted with the results.
"It's horrible, actually, but you feel incredible afterwards. I've started changing shape, I feel tighter and more toned, and I'm getting abs when I didn't even know I had abs! It's great for your skin and for the mental health too."
But as she tucks into a cheese scone and flat white, Hayley admits she's never been one to obsess about food. "I just eat when I'm hungry. Everything in moderation, as they say."
With just a few more weeks on air before the Breakfast team takes a well-deserved summer break, Hayley is looking forward to switching off her alarm clock, catching up on sleep and hanging out at the beach.
She'll likely flit between the home she shares with two friends, her parents' place in Warkworth and anywhere else the wind takes her, but she's most looking forward to having no plans at all. It's an approach that's in stark contrast to her co-star Jack, who loves to have things organised, she laughs.
"It blows Jack's mind that I have no plans in place, but for me, that's the only way to do it – just live the moment. Like Thelma and Louise!"
And she'll be channelling that relaxed approach when it comes to meeting the man of her dreams after a short-lived attempt at online dating earlier in the year.
"I went on a few dates, but it's kind of weird – it all felt so manufactured," she admits. "I'd rather just let things happen naturally. I'm a bit of a hippy like that.
"I always used to think, 'Will this be the summer when I fall in love?' But I'm approaching it differently this year because it's better to have low expectations.
"I'm really happy as an independent lady, but at the same time, there are lovely things that come with having a partner, like cuddles and someone to take the rubbish bins out. So if it happens, that would be nice, but I'm perfectly OK on my own too."
As well as continuing to grow in her role on Breakfast, Hayley's big goal for 2019 is getting a foot on the property ladder. She's hoping to buy her first home, either a small apartment near the city or a modest house on a decent section that she can add to over time.
After many years of having flatmates, she's decided it's time to try living on her own.
"I guess that means I'm finally growing up, but I'm still the same old me," she insists. "I'll never lose that sense of childhood wonderment!"
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