My house, my bubble: As New Zealanders stay home to fight COVID-19, Fiona Connor is talking to well-known Kiwis about what's helping to pass the time, while learning more about their craft and passions.
Her signature warmth delivered with a beaming smile makes Tammy Wells one of our more recognisable national treasures, though many wouldn't know her by name.
Often regarded as 'the Briscoes lady', Wells is like another one of the family, often inviting loved ones into her home, but her chat is only focused solely on one thing - bargains.
Her radiant, never-changing appearance and bright tones are instantly-familiar during an ad break on local television channels, and for more than three decades she's been a staple in the living rooms of Kiwis.
But life in front of the camera is a world away from Wells' daily routine spent on her dairy farm in Canterbury with the chooks and cows.
In 1989, Wells landed her first Briscoes gig fresh off the back of completing a course on ‘Acting for TV commercials’ after working as a sound engineer in radio for 10 years.
In the years since, her job has opened up a world of opportunities working about one month out of a year.
Currently in lockdown with husband Michael and Schnauzer Alby, with her siblings Al and Nina nearby, like many of us, Wells is adjusting to alert level 4 constraints as the country unites against COVID-19.
She's able to take care of voice work for the Auckland office and record pieces to Whatsapp for Briscoes in her home and garden, with Michael or Nina juggling camera duties.
Wells takes Newshub inside her role as the lovable TV personality and explains how she's maintaining normality through lockdown and what's to look forward to on the other side.
Fiona Connor: How are you finding the time at home?
TW: It’s a rural property and there’s always lots to do, so it’s quite normal. I mostly feel I am able to embrace the restrictions. I am happiest in our garden and pottering so a lot of it is ‘business as usual’.
Michael was a dairy farmer who came and went all day so I am used to him being at home. We have a huge green lawn and our trees are really maturing so we have this beautiful setting to surround us. That really helps.
FC: Are there any changes you're struggling to adapt to?
TW: Things I struggle with….getting groceries. My supermarket is gorgeous and all the staff are so friendly and caring but have found the tension during shopping now is palpable. I tried to just get in and get out and get it done but then found I wasn’t being respectful enough of others in the supermarket so now don’t try to rush it and I try not to breathe throughout the entire operation… difficult… and not touch my mouth, face or nose.
It’s getting better and I think there are fewer people being allowed in now so it’s easier. I have been buying for my stepfather and his partner but would get so concerned I might inadvertently pass bugs to them as I delivered the items, so wipe the products prior to dropping them off and insist they gently wash the produce.
I find having to stay at least 2 metres away from others (outside the bubble) is understandable, necessary and bizarre. I love my friends and want to greet them. It’s weird.
FC: What’s helping get you through?
TW: Music. Listening to my favourite music, being in the garden, painting (pictures), baking and then eating it (need a sugar fix), technology to contact our sons and friends, getting up and getting ready for the day… putting on some makeup and treating it like a normal day.
We have been so lucky here in Christchurch, watching the big planes repatriate Germans and other nationalities back home. We had a number of Lufthansa 747’s depart and do a flyover the city to say goodbye and thanks, this week. It was very moving, very beautiful, very sad as it’s history in the making at the moment….but the joy of finding such thrill and wonder in such surreal, unprecedented times, too.
FC: Are you making your way through any chores you've been delaying?
TW: Yes, tidying up our sheds (with Michael) and getting our bikes out to cycle around the block. Really noticing the Autumn colours and trees, hearing the stags roaring in the distance, seeing all the piwakawaka in the garden.
FC: Have you discovered any hidden talents?
TW: Being able to film little segments for the company and do voice records… It's been a big thrill for me and very empowering.
FC: What good fortune has your role as 'the Briscoes lady' brought to you?
TW: It’s brought great things my way over that time, probably the best thing is being able to go to work up in Auckland and work with such a fun, kind group of other people over many years. I love the fun and banter we have on set, on location and travelling, it’s what makes it worthwhile. Our eldest son, James, has lived in Auckland since the earthquakes of Christchurch so it’s glorious to see him and his partner and catch up for dinner.
The people I work with and the people I get to meet. I feel very honoured. We did a ‘roadie’ around New Zealand in December last year and it was such fun, just touring, meeting people, hanging with a small group of us and sharing our lives over a week… brilliant.
Store openings are also fun because people get very excited to meet me and do selfies and videos. This bit cracks me up, to me, I’m just me. It’s good fun.
FC: You must own a lot of their products by now?
TW: Yes, I have a lot of Briscoes homewares in my house. After 31 years, of course I do. But it doesn’t look like a Briscoes store, it’s interspersed with old things, things found on the beach and my mother’s treasures. My favourite buy is my linen sheets. Soft, warm, elegant and beautiful.
FC: Are you recognised often?
TW: Yes, I am recognised, almost every day. The best thing to do is just acknowledge it, have a moment and then move on. It’s just normal and everyone is lovely about it. I am used to it.
FC: What's your favourite meal to cook?
TW: I don’t actually like cooking. I like to bake and I like to make desserts. I have a sweet tooth. It’s probably chicken Marbella.
FC: What does it mean to you to be from New Zealand?
TW: I’m so proud to be a Kiwi. I love that we are free and we are a tenacious bunch. We have space here in New Zealand and opportunity. I feel very blessed to call New Zealand home. Cantabs particularly have learned to adapt to the hardships of the past decade and adjust their lives.
FC: What's one piece of advice that you hope your kids learn from you?
TW: I love this question. I would remind them that they have an HP - a higher power. That their HP is always there and always loves them. And to not forget to thank their higher power, too.
FC: What would you say to anyone struggling to get through the lockdown?
TW: That this too shall pass. Try to use it as a precious time, as a gift, if you can, time to notice things, the birds, the quietness, the stars, the colours of the seasons. To find a bit of your own quiet time, each day. To eat with family, to dance and sing, to learn some new card games together or play a board game. To talk things out with friends. To realise that it’s ok to feel a bit shit.
FC: Is there anything you took for granted you won't after this time?
TW: Maybe I took for granted that I could fly to our sons or vice versa, at any time that we needed to.
FC: What's the first thing you want to do when lockdown ends?
TW: Probably to go back to my art lessons, or the freedom to go where I want, once more.
I actually feel safer in lockdown than the ambiguity of level 2 or 3. I like the fact that I don’t need to have the house tidy in case someone pops in, either (haha).
People’s jobs and small businesses and mental health and domestic violence are all a huge part of this equation too, and the sooner we do it right, the sooner we can return to ‘the new normal’. Our world is in such disarray, it needs a lot of love, healing and great respect to move forward.