Trudy Tapsell: Girl standing in the sun

  • 12/10/2015
Trudy Hineturama Tapsell
Trudy Hineturama Tapsell

By Paula Penfold and Eugene Bingham

Sitting on the couch with Trudy Hineturama Tapsell, going through her photos, you get the strong sense of how connected she is with her past. She'll reel off for you the story of her ancestors, how she's named after Hineturama, the third wife of a Danish immigrant who in the 1800s set up shop in Maketu, in the Bay of Plenty, and sold flax.

That Danish ancestor's surname was actually Felk, which he thought was too Scandinavian-sounding so changed his name to Philip Tapsell.

The translation of Hineturama, her namesake, is "girl standing in the sun".

Trudy's father was the late Sir Peter Tapsell – an orthopaedic surgeon, a prominent politician, a former Minister of Police, a Speaker of the House. He is in her photos alongside his wife, Trudy's mother, Diane, with Nelson Mandela, Prince Charles, the Duke of Edinburgh, and on it goes.

She thinks about her family and her ancestors quite a bit, she says.

"I think about way back. Sometimes I think, what have we done to deserve what's happened?"

What happened is something Trudy has never spoken of publicly, until 3D tonight. As you'll see, given her love for her family and the strength she draws from her past, it makes it all the more perplexing that one December day back in 1991, she killed her paternal grandmother – a grandmother she adored. She not just killed her, but in such a violent, physical way it makes you wonder how it was even possible of someone built so small.

What happened was the result of a psychosis that occasionally comes with paranoid schizophrenia. Trudy had begun to become unwell three years earlier, but refused to accept it.

"I thought it was just how it was supposed to be. I thought bizarre things, like I've got powers from God or something like that."

At first her family didn't accept it either. Her father, she says, would say, "Oh you know Trude, if you just picked up the things off your floor and put the things back in the cupboard, got up at six in the morning, went for a run around the block and had a cold shower, you'd be alright."

But after a while of going in and out of hospital he was one of the ones saying, "Take those pills; take those pills."

Sir Peter never wanted what happened to his mother spoken about. But now – with the blessing of her three siblings – Trudy is ready to take control of her own story.

She and her family have been approached by journalists frequently over the years, sometimes parked outside her house with cameras. Understandably she doesn't want that any longer, so she's talked to 3D.

It's an honest, candid interview that she hopes might make you understand the forceful nature of the mental illness that once owned her, an illness that through acceptance and medication she now controls.

This makes the translation of Trudy's middle name – Hineturama – seem so fitting. She is, finally, standing in the sun, extraordinarily leading the ordinary life she wanted for so long.

If you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one, you can find help through the Mental Health Foundation or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.