When Polly “PJ” Harding made the decision to quit her high-profile radio gig in Australia and return to Aotearoa, she knew she was making a bold call.
“On paper, I had the dream job in Melbourne,” she tells Woman’s Day. “We were on billboards, which was surreal, and it was very high-adrenaline and fast-paced, but I always knew I was going to come back to New Zealand.”
There were some major factors at play when PJ moved home in April last year – her father had died of cancer in 2019, the long lockdowns in Victoria had taken a toll and she’d been apart from her boyfriend, Brendan “BJ” Campbell, for months.
Now, a year later, she’s happily ensconced in the Wairarapa, her boyfriend is now her fiancé and the pair are expecting their first child. So PJ’s big move has definitely paid off, even if she had to read headlines about leaving her career “at the top of her game”.
Smiling, she insists, “I really have no regrets about coming back. There have been some very tough moments, but I had to listen to that voice inside my head.”
PJ took a quick trip to Melbourne to find a place to live, then nipped back to Queenstown for a New Year’s Eve party with friends. It was then she first met BJ – and, yes, that was his nickname before they met!
“I’d been secretly looking for a guy for ages, but when I finally stopped looking, that’s when it actually happened – always the way!” grins PJ, adding that she fell in love with BJ early on in their long-distance relationship.
However, the arrival of COVID-19 meant that reunions were soon impossible and she started to feel isolated. “A key component of successful long-distance is making sure you’ve got things to look forward to and that was bloody difficult when you literally cannot travel.”
PJ was open with her co-host Jase about her struggles. “It was a difficult decision because our show was doing really well and we had an incredible audience,” she says. “I came to a fork in the road when I had to make a really tough choice.”
PJ slowly started planning to move back to New Zealand without worrying her colleagues. “I did it incrementally, although people got suspicious when I sold my car!” she remembers.
When she first arrived back home, she continued to co-host the show from a radio studio in Masterton, but PJ quickly realised Jase really needed a Melbourne-based co-host.
“Coming off the show, I had a bit of an identity crisis because it was such a big part of my life – I was grieving a part of myself,” says PJ, adding that memories of her late father were also hard to navigate.
“Grief catches up with you in interesting ways, and I really did have to come back and be still to feel it all. I’ve gone into this hermit phase, which is very unnatural for me, but sometimes you do have to slow down instead of always asking, ‘What’s next?!'”
What has made settling into a new home and community even more exciting is the impending arrival of their first child. Although PJ says she used to be “so socially awkward around children”, the past
two years convinced her she wanted to start a family.
“For so many people, COVID really re-established a lot of priorities,” she says. “Not being able to see BJ for seven months reinforced that what really mattered to me was home and family.”
PJ and BJ got engaged in 2020, but she reveals she always knew they’d have a baby before getting married. “As women, there’s always such ridiculous pressure trying to navigate a career and having children. It’s not easy, but this feels really right.”
After being such a big name in radio for so long, Polly says, “I’m in this position of getting to create my dream life, and I want to make sure the things I do are right and will be well-received. The fear of failure is confronting, but I’m learning I really do need to rip the Band-Aid off!”
Already in the works is a podcast, where PJ will sit down with interesting guests each episode, taking her back to the interviewing and communicating roles she misses so much. She’d also like to do a bit of writing and she’s definitely not shutting the door on any future radio work.
But PJ’s biggest project right now is, of course, the baby – just don’t think you’ll be able to guess the name.
“Everyone thinks we’re going to call the baby CJ, which we’re not!” she laughs.