A stellar storyteller: Toni Street

Toni’s is a story of heartbreak and hope, as she puts it when describing her book, Lost and Found. It was the same sentiment, interspersed with her ‘bookwormish’ charm, echoing through the room when she held Toni’s Book Club in Christchurch earlier this year. Metropol Deputy Editor Nina Tucker finds out more.

Discussing the tragic loss of three siblings, surrogacy, multiple health problems, and a life in the spotlight, Toni used one thing she’s best at – telling stories to bring people together.
It was Reese Witherspoon’s Instagram that inspired the idea. “I had been following Reese’s Book Club on Instagram and thought it would be great for my Coast Breakfast radio show. I love reading and it grew from there.” Initially a segment on the radio, it gained so much traction that Toni set up a live event.

The sibling-like relationship between her and colleagues Sam Wallace and Jason Reeves, who joined her at the Book Club, offers an authentic, feel-good experience on the airwaves and in person. “We tease each other in good faith, but pull each other up when we need to.”

Her book, and the subsequent Book Club was an incredibly therapeutic process. It was an opportunity to voice topics she had battled yet never shared. “When you lose someone, particularly when that person is a child like my brother Stephen who died at 14, it’s incredibly painful for everyone to talk about. I still struggle to talk about his death now. The book brought up those conversations, and I heard things from my mum and dad that I had never heard before,” she reflects.

Toni’s face was plastered on billboards and marketed across Auckland and Christchurch. Despite a career in the public eye, Toni found it strange to have the focus on her. “It was weird, especially when I had to voice ads that said, ‘Toni Street’s Book Club.’ It was kind of a Ron Burgundy moment.”

She’s quickly becoming a household name, yet a selfless Toni remains focused on how she can use her story to aid others. “I love connecting with people and sharing my life story and helping people wherever I can.”

Toni’s time in the spotlight hasn’t always been as glamorous as she made it look. When undergoing treatment for the rare autoimmune disease Churg-Strauss, Toni was determined to keep on. “Fronting up to host Seven Sharp every night was hard, but staying at home moping was harder,” she says.

Between the stories she tells on the radio, through her book, or to her almost 90,000 Instagram followers, Toni’s purpose is to foster togetherness and aid others. “I love that I can say what I’m thinking at any minute of the day and get support from people that are going through similar things. It’s a real lifeline for people.” To keep it a safe space, Toni strictly limits who she follows and has a no-troll toleration policy. “It has to be uplifting,” she declares.

It’s fair to seek positivity, given Toni’s experienced more than her fair share of heartbreak and loss. She lost her twin brother Lance to leukaemia when they were both 18 months old, and sister Tracy Ann, who was born a year after losing Lance. Sadly, Tracy had no kidneys, and after just 14 short hours earthside, her machines were turned off. Tragically, in unfathomable circumstances, Toni’s brother Stephen was crushed by his quad bike in a farm accident.

It was the resilience from such loss so young that made way for her strength. “I’ve always had a natural drive to succeed and to bring others with me. I think that’s partly genetic but also the way I was raised.” On each impossible day, it was for her family that she stayed afloat. With her husband, former Super Rugby player Matt France, who she met while studying at Lincoln University, she shares three delightful children. “I adore being part of my children’s lives, whether coaching their netball and cricket teams or running through their lines for theatre,” she says. Toni tells me that her two daughters have been cast in G&T Production’s Matilda in September, Juliette as Matilda, and Mackenzie as Amanda. “Anything we get to do together, I cherish,” she says.

Anxiety still creeps up on her, like reminders of her past. “Losing my siblings has undoubtedly made me more fearful of losing my children. I still struggle with this sporadically. I’ve recently been thinking about how my eldest daughter isn’t far off the age Stephen was when he died and that is terrifying.”

Unsurprisingly, weekends are just as impressive, as expected in a family with the natural talent and dedication that comes with Toni and Matt’s genetics. “A typical weekend is rugby for all three kids in the morning, followed by theatre rehearsals for the girls in the afternoon.” Then, it’s an event or birthday party in the evening, or their “favourite downtime activity,” a family movie night.

That’s followed by a Sunday of slightly more relaxation, with a walk on the beach, shopping or housework, and netball practice finished with a parents versus kids match at the local school.

How she juggles it all can only be explained as otherworldly. “Luckily, I have heaps of energy and I enjoy being busy. I have an incredibly supportive, organised, and hands-on husband.” Toni laughs that the stage her kids are at means they are her priorities for now. “I put my kids first and myself second, probably to a fault at times, but I am also acutely aware that these days don’t last forever.” She adds how great it is that her current passions, sport and theatre, align so well with their kids.

Five quick-fire questions:
Favourite sport to report on? Cricket or netball.
Favourite food? Hot chips or any form of seafood.
One thing you can’t live without? Sleep. I’m an 8-hour plus girl, or I’m miserable.
Best Mum hack? Pre-made meals on sports days.
Advice to your 20-year-old self? Don’t worry about the end outcome, put your head down and work hard doing what you love. The rest will take care of itself.

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