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Lucire 2012

In the driving seat Pearl Going’s more comfortable in her own skin as she tackles the Messner seven summits

The only way is up

Matt Malcolm talks to Sián-Pearl Going, the mountain-climber who’s caught international attention for her seven summits’ attempt, on being in the spotlight, working with photographer Tony Duran, and a surname that still connects her to rugby
photographed by Calypso Paoli


This is my new look,’ Pearl Going jokes when I meet her in her suite. Going is dressed casually in a pair of black leggings, an oversized black shirt and a navy blazer. Her much-coveted shiny brunette locks are pulled back into a pony tail and adorning her feet are a pair of navy Adidas trainers. While it is a look in stark contrast to when we last crossed paths, only those with an eye for fashion would recognize the shirt is fine cashmere, the blazer is silk, most probably Badgley Mischka, in the exact same shade of midnight navy as her simple sports trainers. The look may be new but the style remains. It’s been over a year since Going officially vacated her throne as the promising power publicist who had a knack for getting the job done, notifying clients via email she was putting down the phone, leaving everyone including myself speculating.

It seems the moment she slips on to the couch and tucks her legs up, almost child-like, wearing a face of flawless skin, the real woman that she fiercely hid away behind a front of high fashion and an air of detachment emerges: talkative, immensely warm, unafraid to appear vulnerable, yet also fiercely determined. I barely have a chance to turn on my tape recorder before the once-interview-shy subject is off and jogging through a variety of subjects: her mysterious change of direction, the need for different footwear and love.

Lucire: You were saying?
Pearl Going:
I’m obsessed with socks. It’s rather concerning, I never really understood how important a sock can be to a shoe before I started wearing trainers every day. I was always in heels so never really had much requirement for them but now I’m a little obsessed. I think the person who said ‘the shoes maketh the man’ was ignoring the fact that socks maketh the shoes.

What have you been doing in the last year that has bought about such footwear considerations?
I’ve been climbing mountains, mentally and physically. I did a total 180 in my life. I wear flats ninety per cent of the time now, much to the disappointment of my only niece who only just this year discovered fashion and heels. She’s a little gutted and puzzled. It’s like: why would you neglect such an amazing wardrobe? I spend weeks cut off from my emails and phone. Life is good, I like it.

I read somewhere that you were going to climb Everest?
I am. I reached a point last year where I just hit a wall, to be honest about it. I’d just done some huge media with clients, I suffered the loss of someone I loved a great deal and it really stopped me in my tracks. It’s funny because when you haven’t stopped for a very long time it can shipwreck you when you’re forced to. I was really numb and something needed to change. My dream wasn’t to put people on the cover of magazines. I loved my job but I think I loved it because it allowed me to hide myself away. I stopped wanting to be the person always in control of everything so I decided I was going to do something else. I think it shocked a few people. It’s so different, it’s not celebrity or fashion at all.

You’re not just climbing Everest though, are you?
No, I’m climbing the Messner seven summits, which is the highest point on every continent. I’m aiming to be the fastest woman to do so. It’s an ambitious goal but I think that is just a mark of my personality, I’m a very ambitious person. I don’t accept been told something I want isn’t possible, I push my limits and I’m not afraid to fall flat on my face.  
I also read somewhere you were going to climb Everest in Adidas?
That is a possibility. It would depend on the guys at Adidas Outdoor but if they came up with something that worked that I could wear to the top of Everest, I would consider it. I know Adidas has been to Everest but I’m not sure it’s been to the top before.

Has it been a shift in your thinking signing yourself over to brands?
No. Simply because I haven’t signed myself over to brands as such. At the start of my project I had a very educating experience where I had a contract put in front of me from a brand I didn’t end up working with that asked me to appear agnostic, basically meaning I wasn’t allowed to say I believe in God. It was a harrowing experience because anyone who knows anything about my family knows they are somewhat very staunch about their faith. It really shook me up and made me determined to never put myself in that situation again. I don’t want to be told who I am, who I have to be or what I can believe in, so I decided I would not sign any official deal from there forward with brands. Instead I’ve entered into more performance-based sponsor incentives with my brand sponsors. The only time I sign an official sponsor document is when it is with a corporate sponsor.

For those of us who don’t know, what is a brand sponsor?
A brand sponsor is a sponsor like Smith Optics, Skinnies, Adidas or Sony. Typically a brand sponsor is a product company. I’ve chosen to forego signing official deals to avoid having to deal with the feeling that I’m signing myself over. It’s a personal choice and while it means I could be missing out on certain benefits by choosing to make something performance-based as opposed to the security of belonging in entirety to a brand, it helps me sleep easier at night. I’m extraordinarily blessed that my brand sponsors have phenomenal people that I genuinely love working with. For me, in terms of sponsor dollars to pay for my project, it was always going to need corporate backing so if I’m going to work with a brand, I want it to be a situation where I love the stuff and I also love the people who make it for me.

What is a corporate sponsor?
A corporate sponsor differs hugely from a brand. Corporate aren’t so much interested in what you’re wearing or the media that goes with that. Their objectives are focused more on helping you facilitate a project that inspires their employees and customers. They are the ones that want the photo with their flag on the top, they want you to write content about what you are undertaking, and the challenges you overcome, for their employees and customers to read. They use you in their charity community projects: I was just up in Northland for a corporate sponsor visiting schools and talking about the importance of goals in my life. Obviously they are less visible and more behind the scenes, but they look for their returns in different ways, so you’re not signing a contract that says you have to appear agnostic or tells you in very fancy language [that] if you decide to have children you’re dropped.

Is that a common approach or have you been a little controversial in deciding to take that path?
I don’t know, mostly because I haven’t really given what other people do much thought. What other people do isn’t much use to me if what they are doing makes me feel uncomfy living my dream. I was fortunate in the fact I don’t have to rely on a brand for coverage or help with media. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or using, people are going to talk and write about it. The truth is I’m chasing my dream. I love feeling alive and I’ve reached a point where I never want to feel like I’m in a cag. To be happy I have to feel free—I think that is real simple and not that uncommon.

Fashion preferences aside, how do you think you’ve changed over the last year?
I think I’m more myself. I think a certain element of me was always putting up a front as a publicist. I’m not really that unbreakable hard core tough cookie that people think I am. It was a difficult job to really express yourself as a human being because you are always shielding and protecting others. You have to appear invincible because sometimes that is what is required in the job. You have to take the hits and keep moving forward. I cry a lot less in the shower these days. I sat down with a former editor, Hayley McLarin, for coffee last year and we had an absolute laugh about my change of career. It was nice because she was just like, ‘You came across as such a hard-ass, without ever been a total ass. I always thought you were an outstandingly smart operator how you handled certain situations.’ So that was nice to hear: she understood that I was just doing my job. Now I’m not doing that job, I am out of that cage, I am more myself.

You’re often labelled in New Zealand as a controversial figure. I’ve always found that weird given who you’ve worked with. What are your thoughts on it?
I think what people haven’t understood is what my job actually was. I went through a really tough time with it when I was younger with the emergence of blogs just as I was hitting [the] press. It even drove me in my early 20s to trying to take my own life, which was such a tough time for the people who loved me. It was a really shitty time. When someone becomes fixated on you that much you see it’s not actually about you—things people do are always in some way about themselves. My message to those with opinions is: have your opinion, that is fine, cool for you, because no matter what you say or claim about someone else, you’re not making yourself right about them. If you don’t know someone, you don’t know them. Get over it.

I always wondered about that because I know you as you, so it never crossed my mind to believe something in such stark contrast. How do you deal with people judging you on that crap because it must come up?
I can’t meet everyone, nor can I expect everyone to know me. My life is very public and what I do becomes news, so while some of the attention I get may be very cruel, I’ve had to take it on the chin. Some of it is: if you can’t handle scrutiny, don’t put yourself out there. However, I think if I could do it over again I would have spoken up, because some of the things I’ve been through—the invasion [of privacy]—is just ridiculous. It has taken me five years to reason that within myself. But when you’re a busy person with a very full life you have to put it aside. At the end of the day what people say or believe about others is actually a reflection of themselves. I usually find those types of people are the first to get up in arms when judged, but think nothing of judging another or throwing them under the bus to get ahead.

What would you have said if you could do it over?
Mostly: ‘It’s none of your business and just because someone is in the paper it doesn’t give you the right to go through their life with a microscope, judge them and demand answers to questions you have no right to ask in the first place.’ I wasn’t strong enough to say that then. I think I put up a very strong front so people kept on coming seeking blood—I don’t know for what exactly? Probably to make themselves feel better about their own crappy lives. I was barely breathing because of it. I’m different now: I take a more “screw you” approach to it. Now I’m more like, ‘Who do I think I am? Pffft check yourself out, who do you think you are?’ Because, seriously, who does anyone think they are to judge another person without knowing them?

You’ve worked with people like Tony Duran who is also controversial for different reasons. Did he ever get you in front of the lens?
See, and there you go, making assumptions. I feel as though you’re asking me if there is a memory card of me starkers hanging around. Tony is the most exceptionally talented creative I have ever met. There is so much assumed about him, but he is such a beautiful, down-to-earth person. He grew up in small-town Minnesota and he is still true to his roots. He’s not a wanker. He’s a big deal—he doesn’t take shit but he is not a wanker. That is why people trust him enough to let their guards down around him.

Do you think Duran will emerge as one of the most iconic fashion and celebrity photographers of our time?
Absolutely. Tony, in my opinion, is one of the most iconic photographers of our time. The thing I love most about Tony is when he does fashion, he always shows clothes as they should be. They always look absolutely beautiful but they never distract from who is wearing them. The man is a freaking genius. It’s not just photos he is über-talented with. It’s everything visual and words. He can make people passionate about the appearance of a pile of dirt. You give him dirt, that man will make that shit art.

You’ve been perceived as a glamorous woman. I read somewhere that you even judged Miss New Zealand one year and now you’re climbing mountains. Do you think it has left some people in a bit of disbelief?
Absolutely, although I have always been puzzled by the glamorous thing. I don’t find myself that glamorous. I think it is more [that] the only image people have seen of me is in heels or properly put together, and [the] next thing, there are these pictures of me on top of mountains. If I was looking in, I would be like, ‘What the hell?’ But people who know me have usually seen me in my PJs, or in track pants, on the couch like this. Everyone has a very personable side that only a select few see and when you’re living a life subjected to fair bit of scrutiny you tend to hide that side away and only show it to a select few. There are no such things as contradictions, just incorrect premises, and, yes, I did judge Miss World New Zealand in 2010.

Was it a huge change to go from wearing high fashion to mountain climbing gear?
In terms of what I’m wearing on peaks, it is very fashion-forward. I’m sponsored by Adidas Outdoor so I’m probably wearing the most fashion-forward gear on the market. They always have lots of great colours and cuts—I never feel like less of a girl climbing thanks to them.  Truth be told, I actually love all the Adidas stuff I get to wear—it fits my lifestyle these days—and Smith Optics makes amazing sunnies. I don’t feel like I’ve become less fashionable but my niece may disagree. I still love heels though.

What do you think people have got incorrect about you?
My mind boggles to think, probably a fair bit. The reality is I’m a bit of a girly girl, I’ve been maligned, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve grown up with scrutiny, I’ve learnt a few things and now I’m trying to be as honest with myself and as true to myself as I can by chasing a dream I’ve had since I was a child. People need to move on and understand everyone grows and evolves if they are interested in a healthy life.

I came across an article featuring the best dressed women at the Rugby World Cup. How do you feel about your new profession putting the spotlight on your family life when you’ve always been so private about it?
Ah, rugby, yes, I was subjected to a fair bit of that during the World Cup. I’m very blessed that I have a family that has allowed me to make my own path. I belong to something bigger than me that still allows me to be myself. It’s not so much that I’ve been secretive about my family—that is a bit impossible. My last name is Going and they’ve been in the public eye due to rugby for a good 50 years. I think it’s just that before climbing I never spoke to media or answered questions about my background, as I was doing something seemingly very removed from it. Now I’m doing something that brings it attention, makes it relevant. I love my family—I don’t really understand rugby but I am really proud of what I come from and I’m also very privileged to be loved by such an outstanding group of people.

Don’t understand rugby? Isn’t that somewhat illegal in a place like New Zealand?
Yeah, people love rugby in New Zealand. I think I just grew up around so much of it that it doesn’t really register any more. One time at primary school, this real over-the-top jock boy was just harassing people. He thought he was all that because he was the only kid in our year that could make the posts, so I decided I was going to show him up. I spent two weeks of school holidays learning to boot a ball over goal posts—I spent hours out there and solicited some pretty impressive help. When I went back to school the first day back I walked out picked up the ball and landed it straight across. That is probably the most interest I’ve ever shown in it.

Can you still make the posts?
Well, I’m not sure these days.  I have four sports-mad nephews who will no doubt read this and want to have a good laugh at their aunt so chances are I’m going to find out soon. The last time I made posts it was in a pair of Prada heels in Hong Kong for charity. They then auctioned my shoes off from under me at dinner. I went home shorter, barefoot and minus a pair of Prada; I wasn’t that impressed.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Everest. My sole focus is on the top of the world. Right now, it’s looking like I will be spending a fair chunk of my time leading up to Christmas based in Europe. It was something I was hoping to avoid, as I love to be in New Zealand but my body has been injured this year, so [I will be] spending a good block of time in winter conditioning up in Snowdonia. It also gives me a break from the constant attention so I can focus. It’s where Edmund Hillary prepared for his ascent and, according to plan, I will be climbing Everest next year on the 60th anniversary [of Hillary’s ascent]. The opportunity to spend time up there is pretty special. •

‘When you’re a busy person with a very full life you have to put it aside. At the end of the day what people say or believe about others is actually a reflection of themselves. I usually find those types of people are the first to get up in arms when judged, but think nothing of judging another or throwing them under the bus to get ahead’













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