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Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead

Beloved New Zealand TV and radio presenter Toni Street is known for her bubbly personality and natural charisma on-screen. In a MiNDFOOD exclusive, she reveals what’s behind the smile, her personal struggles with a rare disease and the importance of family strength.

Streets Ahead

Toni Street always pictured herself living in a quiet provincial town with a similar upbringing to what she had growing up. Taranaki-born and bred, she grew up on a dairy farm with acres and acres to run, explore and play. “I couldn’t have pictured my life now,” says Street, the eldest of five children. “It’s been quite an adjustment getting my head around the fact that we’re townies now.” Now settled on Auckland’s North Shore, Street and husband, Matt France, love the life they have created. “I’m still trying every day to keep it as simple for our girls – four-year-old Juliette and Mackenzie, almost two – as possible. We drive to our local dance studio, our local soccer, local swimming. I want it to be as community-focused for them as possible because I think that sets a solid foundation when growing up.”

DAILY JUGGLE

Like most young couples who are juggling careers, mortgages and kids, their days are busy. “You wouldn’t believe what you can do in a day,” she says. “This morning I took both girls to soccer, Matt met me there, we did the changeover of cars, he took both girls to swimming, then I went to work. He was at work before that. He’ll then come home, I will do a couple of hours while he does some work, then I get home – and before you know it, it’s the weekend.” As busy as this might sound, Street’s life is about to get a whole lot busier. Most of us recognise Street from her nightly role on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp with sidekick Mike Hosking. In the same vein as veteran broadcaster Judy Bailey in the 1980s and the weekly news show Top Half, the country has fallen in love with Street’s warm engaging appeal. Street is the perfect counterfoil to Hosking’s quick wit and acerbic commentary.

When she scored a new radio gig in the mornings on The Hits, she first turned to Hosking for advice. “I tell him he’s my career mentor and he goes, ‘Oh, I am not,’ then he sits down and talks to me for half an hour about what I should do. So he’s got a really good mind. I feel like he can assess a situation and he cuts through all the rubbish. He’s really honest and that’s what I like about him.” Trusting and valuing Hosking’s opinion is a key element. “As a 16-year-old who left school, he went into radio and moved up to where he is now. That’s as self-made as you can get,” she says admiringly. There’s no dispute Hosking is the highest-rating broadcaster in both radio and television in this country, and no better to give advice.

DIFFERENT WORLDS

Street’s friends aren’t part of the media clique. “I’m the 33-year-old boot-camping, wine-with-the-mums sort of bracket,” she says, laughing. Friendly with colleagues, she doesn’t hang out with many of them out of the office because she is “in different worlds”.

It is that very real down-to-earth nature that is so appealing and relatable. Without an over-reaching, grasping ambition to get to the top and eagerness to appear on telly every night, Street has a no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to her career and life that has seen her succeed in her early days as an intern at TVNZ. Life has, however, not always played out as she had perhaps thought it would. Her twin brother Lance died of leukaemia when they were only 18 months old. Her next sibling, sister Tracy, died two days after being born without kidneys. Her brother Stephen died in a quad bike accident on the farm in 2002. He was only 14 and it was at the same time as Street was about to head to university where she had won a sports scholarship. “It was just an absolute disaster,” she says. “It completely changed our whole world. We were heartbroken as we’re a close family.” At that stage, Street stops and her face crumples. That raw emotion is still there as her eyes fill with tears. “I get teary just talking about it,” she says. “He was not the baby of the family but he was the one we all doted on – the only boy. He was gorgeous – an olive-skinned, brown-eyed boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was very gentle and loving. Everyone loved Stephen.”

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LIFE-CHANGING

The impact was a life-changing experience. Street wanted to make life as good for her mum and dad as she could. “Because they’d been through so much, I wanted them to have a good life and the best way for that to happen was through my sister Kirsty and me.” Although the family eventually learned to live with the death, they never got over it. “I remember it hit me all again when I had kids. It’s one thing losing a brother, which was horrific, but then I realised what my mum had to go through when I had my own kids. She’s lost three of her own children. The prospect of that for me – I don’t think I could ever live after that.

It really made me have this new respect for my mum and dad.” What Street’s parents endured while still able to live a life so positively says something about this close-knit family. Still dairy farmers from Taranaki, they regularly have neighbours dropping in for a cup of tea and a chat. They’re strong country stock, and now live for their grandchildren. It was this loving family who again took a knock when Street herself was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition Churg-Strauss in 2015. Six weeks after her second daughter Mackenzie was born, she went into organ failure. “It was scary not knowing what was wrong and meanwhile, I was so sick I couldn’t even hold my baby.” She was finally diagnosed with this rare condition and will have it for the rest of her life. “I’m managing it well at the moment,” she says. “Essentially your immune system goes crazy – completely overactive – and floods your organs with white blood cells to the point where they go into failure. That’s what happened when they diagnosed me.” Street had a couple of surgical procedures, including the removal of her gallbladder, and nasal polyp surgery because the condition had flooded her nasal passages. “It was hideous. I had a newborn baby and I didn’t know what was wrong with me but as soon as I was diagnosed, it was manageable. That was a real relief because suddenly I knew what was wrong.”

SOLID SUPPORT

She remembers the physical and mental pain she went through, but she always lightens up when she talks about her support person – her husband. “I couldn’t even hold our six-week-old baby,” she recalls. “Thankfully Matt is very present and part of the process. It was a huge relief having a husband who could pick up things and run with it.” Street’s parents moved in and were just as helpful. “Part of my stress was that I was stressing them out too. It was written all over their faces. They were so worried. Seeing them looking at me – whispering, ‘Oh dear, this is really bad’ – affected me the most.” After heading home from the hospital, Street had regular treatment, including infusions each month. “They’re not nice at all. They make you have psychotic episodes, and you get very bloated because you’re on a really high dose of steroids.” She hopes to be completely off the drugs by the middle of this year. “You never know how your body is going to react, but I’m hopeful.” This time in Street’s life, she has learned the importance of clarity. “You figure out what’s important; it made me look a lot more long-term.” When she was first diagnosed, her major fear was: “I’m not going to be around to look after my girls and that’s a horrible thought. I actually live for them and whatever’s going to make their life the best. Your time is so precious.”

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