Movers and shakers

There's Barak and Michelle, Jacinda and Clarke, Gemma and Richie, Harry and Ginny. Urban Dictionary defines a power couple as "A relationship between two people who are equally as cool as each other". Sarah Catherall chats with three quintessential Wellington power couples: Hanna Tevita & Nehe Milner-Skudder, Kat Lintott & Ben Forman, and James & Annabel Shaw. 

By Sarah Catherall
Photography by Anna Briggs & Joram Adams

Featured in Capital #66
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Hanna Tevita & Nehe Milner-Skudder

Lawsuits and rugby boots

While Hanna Tevita is called a rugby wife, her fiancé, Nehe Milner-Skudder, jokes that he is “a lawyer husband.” Hanna, 25, a commercial lawyer, and Nehe, 28, a professional rugby player, are engaged to marry later this year.

Sitting around the dining table in their renovated Island Bay villa, Nehe is recovering from shoulder surgery. He remains in a coaching and mentor role at NZ Rugby. The Hurricane and former All Black has recently signed a contract to go Toulon, France, to play for two seasons from December.

Hanna is a commercial lawyer at Simpson Grierson, and also an actor who has played leading roles in two Kiwi feature films, Fresh Meat (2012) and Terry Teo (2016).

The couple met about seven years ago in a student bar in Palmerston North on Hanna’s 19th birthday. Nehe was playing for the Turbos in Manawatu, and Hanna was studying towards a business degree at Massey University in Palmerston North, while also playing netball for the Manawatu under-19s. “When we met, Nehe wasn’t playing because he was injured. I didn’t know much about the Turbos. Growing up in Wellington I only knew the Hurricanes and the Lions.”

Hanna, of Dutch and Samoan descent, grew up in Island Bay, and attended Wellington East Girls College where she developed a love for acting. She was in her last year of high school when she secured the leading role in Fresh Meat, playing Temuera Morrison’s daughter. Last year, she had a cameo role in the musical film Daffodils.

“I love acting, which is like a hobby that I would do regardless. I always knew I needed something more behind me and that’s why I went on to study law,” she says.

The couple have spent many days or weeks apart, as rugby has taken Nehe around the country and overseas. But when he was in London for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Hanna watched in the stands as her fiancé scored the first try in the final.

Says Nehe: “Obviously it’s cool sharing it with the boys and you get a bit of man love but having the ones that you love there is pretty special.”

Says Hanna: “I was extremely proud of him and everything he had achieved that year. It was very emotional to see Nehe perform the haka in the final and then to go on and score. Truly an unforgettable moment.”

 Hanna was the co-president of the Pasifika Law Student Society, promoting the rights of Pacific Island legal students at Victoria University. Says Nehe: “She has done so much in her personal life. She did seven years study and also a lot of acting, but she is always supporting me and all those around her. She is big on service and being there for others.”

The couple haven’t yet decided what they will do when Nehe goes to France, but Wellington will be their long-term home. Says Hanna: “We are really supportive of what we each want to do in our own lives. He’s really supportive of me putting my career first. I want him to do everything he wants to set out to do, too. He doesn’t expect me to drop my life to support him. We try to be there for each other as much as we can but we’re realistic about each achieving our own goals.”

Kat Lintott & Ben Forman

Together, virtually all the time

Kat Lintott and Ben Forman watch their one-year-old daughter, Willoughby, toddling around their contemporary, stylish offices at Wrestler, a multi-media storytelling agency in Wellington.

The Wellington tech power couple combine their work and personal lives in the creative agency they co-founded and  run jointly on Jessie Street. Says Kat, who is head of VR/AR (Virtual/Augmented Reality): “I couldn’t imagine working with anyone else. We take the risks together, we’re creating something together, and if all fails, we’ve done this together.”

Wrestler was named New Zealand’s most innovative company in VR and AR by the magazine Idealog last year, and was in the Deloitte Fast 50 2018. With their team, Kat and Ben create stories and human-centred content for film, documentary, web-series, virtual reality, and augmented reality. “We see ourselves as storytellers who play across different platforms. We’re also the leaders in the VR/AR space, because got into it right at the start,” says Ben, the CEO.

Before they launched their company, Ben had a background in media and marketing, and cut his teeth making online videos. Kat, who has a degree in marketing and communications, previously worked for virtual reality start-up, 8I, and also as head of communications at Wellington airport.

They got together when Ben gatecrashed Kat’s party, and afterwards their first working stint was making videos for luxury hotels, which took them to 15 different countries in 2013 – with free accommodation and food in each. Ben shot the videos, and Kat produced them.

One of their first big clients was the shoe brand All Birds. Now they create cross-platform campaigns for businesses and agencies such as Education New Zealand, Kiwibank, Wellington NZ, the Ministry of Education, and Worksafe.

At a time when technology can get a bad rap, Kat – who is on the board of the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge – strives to ensure their content is values-led, and will “push the collective consciousness forward”. It should improve rather than clutter or stress people and the planet. They also try to make any Wrestler campaigns represent all ages, genders, races, and sexual orientations.

James &Annabel Shaw

It’s getting hot in here

James and Annabel Shaw share a home and a life, and they also share a number one burning issue – climate change.

When the couple met on a blind date in Wellington back in 2011, James was working for social enterprise Akina, along with a UK-based consultancy, and also campaigning for election to Parliament. Annabel laughs: “My friend hadn’t told me that James was running for politics. We met at an art gallery at a sustainability-type exhibition which was actually a campaign event.”

Three years after their first date, James was elected a Green MP, and was chosen as the party’s co-leader a year later. Says Annabel: “We had three years of James not being in Parliament, and the rest of the time he has been in politics. I’ve gone from when James enjoyed his work to being married to someone who loves his job and is really satisfied, and he’s doing work that is really important.”

Annabel, 42, is a teaching fellow at Victoria University law school. According to her husband, she is also one of the country’s top dispute resolution specialists and executive mediators. This year, she began a PhD on climate change dispute resolution – something she decided to do after she and James had been tramping over the summer of 2018, enjoying one of their favourite hobbies.

Now James is the Climate Change Minister, Annabel describes his role as “our work”. Her uncle, Teddy Goldsmith, was an ecologist and one of the first voices on global warming in the 1980s. “That was always something I was aware of before (climate change) was a thing. I knew that the planet was changing and we were going to be in trouble. Now this is James’ life work or a calling, and I love that.”

When James isn’t working, they start each weekend sitting down with a glass of wine on a Friday night to catch up on each other’s week. They like to walk around Zealandia, the Botanic Gardens, Te Ahumairangi Hill or the city’s walkways. They also try to get to the gym together once a week. “When James is home we share the cooking. He’s the master of brunches in our house. We like to entertain and have friends or family around for drinks or dinner, or go out and enjoy restaurants and bars,” says Annabel.

Annabel walked with her husband on the March 15 climate change march, and they talk about global warming and what New Zealand is doing about it around the dinner table. They drive an electric car, and Annabel has minimised their carbon footprint at home by putting in energy-efficient lights, and improving their home insulation. She has helped plant trees in the town belt, and also planted trees at home. They eat a mainly vegetarian diet.

Details of some of James’ work, such as the Zero Carbon Bill and the ETS (emissions trading scheme), for example, are confidential. “We do talk about the much bigger issues though,” he says.

With the topic consuming most of his waking hours, he says: “Some of the language that gets bandied around is not grounded in science and is apocalyptic. The situation is bad and getting worse and we can fix it. But the longer we take to do that, the more expensive and harder it gets. There is momentum building and I see stories every day of companies making huge breakthroughs and countries making some really bold moves. I think it’s really important we pay attention to those stories. There is really so much we need to do. We are only just getting started. Everyone has a role to play.”

Annabel sees the momentum and desire for action among her law students.

“Climate change is a very serious threat. I’m also hopeful we can do something about it if we all take action, and I’m heartened by the next generation: young people saying we need to take action. It’s not a matter of choice. That’s one of the reasons why I love being married to James, because it feels that we are involved in making that change.”

They often work at weekends, together at their desks in their home Northland. While James is away for work a lot, it helps that Parliament sits in Wellington. “We are both incredibly supportive of each other professionally. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing if I hadn’t met James,” she says.

While James is the household name, he smiles talking about his talented wife. “Annabel has the reputation of being one of the best mediators in the country. She gets called in to talk at conferences and is notable for her work. Occasionally I’ll be in the airport and someone will come up and say, ‘Hello, you’re Annabel Shaw’s husband aren’t you?’ which I really like.”

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