Newshub Nation Backstory: New National Ōtaki MP Tim Costley shares Air Force background and emotional story behind Missing Wingman Trust

How well do we really know our politicians and the personal values and experiences they bring to decisions that affect us all?  

Newshub Nation's Backstory series goes behind the scenes into our political leaders' lives and childhood photo albums.  

Riding the blue wave, Tim Costley has been elected as National's new MP for Ōtaki.  

Costley was born in Palmerston North to two high-school teachers, which he said was great, "until I was also at the local high school".  

As a middle child, Costley said, "Life was hardest for me, I got the worst of everything.  

"Or, in my version of history I did," he laughed.   

One of his earliest memories is going to the Ohakea air show with his dad and he remembers being told about his grandfather's role on a bomber crew during World War II.   

"I remember looking up there at the pilots going, that’s what I want to do."  

Costley was determined to be an Air Force pilot and said he "never gave up on that".  

At the age of 17, after getting through most of the application process to be a pilot in the Air Force, Costley was told at the final hurdle that his leadership was "too task-oriented".  

"I think what they were saying was, 'You need to go and grow up'," he said.   

Looking back, he said that they were probably correct.   

After three years at university and a little more life experience, he was accepted into the Air Force.   

"As soon as I was put in the front seat, it was amazing," he said.   

Costley ended up in Afghanistan, working for the special forces' contingent over there, which he described as an "amazing opportunity".  

He was also the first Kiwi sent overseas in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.   

For him, the best experiences came from the people he met.   

"One thing I know that I will treasure the most from my Air Force time is the people," he said.   

He admitted to getting emotional before he first left for Afghanistan while writing his wife and daughter a letter, just in case he didn't return.   

"This might be the only thing she'll ever have to remember me by," he said.   

"That kind of gets you when you think about that."  

Another emotional moment for Costley came when he lost his friend Nick Cree in a plane crash.

"It was when I'd been in Afghanistan a week that we got the message that a friend had been killed back home," he said.   

Costley said he had spent a lot of his career with Cree.  

"I'd sort of followed him through, just always a couple of steps behind.  

"When I did my flying instructor course, he was the one teaching us," Costley said.   

"It was on that course that we were both having our first kids at the same time."  

After Cree's death, Costley founded the Missing Wingman Trust, a charity that looks after Air Force families when someone is killed, wounded, injured, or ill.   

"I just remember, sitting by myself over in Afghanistan thinking, 'There'll be all this support around them right now but what's going to happen in 18 years'.  

"I wanted to make sure that there was going to be something there, that will never take the place of Nick, but could maybe just fill a little bit of that gap."  

Costley said that his whole life is "run by women".  

"My wife, my three kids, my mum, I've got no chance," he laughed.  

"But they are awesome, and they are all so different," he said.   

He said that between his three daughters, he learns so much.   

Recalling how he met his wife, Costley said "My version of the story is, I played it really cool, and I might've mentioned I worked at Ohakea, definitely didn’t say I was a pilot.  

"Her version is, 'Hi, I'm a pilot'.  

"She is just amazing, I can't say enough good things.  

"She would have me talking about her, but I just can't say enough good things."  

Costley hopes that his proximity to Wellington means that in his new role as an MP, he will be able to still see plenty of his family and have the odd morning at home, but admits, "I'm realistic enough to know that they will be few and far between".  

Watch the full video for more.    

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