Broadcaster Helena McAlpine's adventurous spirit was in evidence at an early age; as a teenager she became a champion rifle shooter, rebuilt tank engines and learnt to fly a plane.
Born in London in 1978 to an English mother and a father from the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, McAlpine went on to a varied career in her native England. She moved to New Zealand in her early 20s, after meeting and marrying a Kiwi. Realising she was a performer at heart, she began making contacts and was soon working behind-the-scenes in radio, eventually scoring an on-air role at The Edge.
In 2007, McAlpine won a coveted role as female co-host on TV music channel C4, taking over from Jane Yee to work with co-host Phil Bostwick. McAlpine was made redundant from C4 in 2009, after structural changes at the channel.
The same year as her redundancy, McAlpine was diagnosed with breast cancer, at just 31. She then transferred her performance and communication skills to a high profile role as a breast cancer awareness campaigner. As part of that work she set about organising a campaign song for the Breast Cancer Foundation — an all-star version of Chris Knox classic 'Not Given Lightly'.
As well as her breast cancer campaigning, McAlpine also worked in PR and event management, and continued to do freelance broadcasting and small stage and screen acting roles, including cameos in Shortland Street and this episode of The Jaquie Brown Diaries. She made a striking appearance with her post chemo shaved head in her friend Hollie Smith's music video for 'Mamma'.
After her cancer diagnosis became terminal in 2012, McAlpine was the subject of a moving episode of Jam TV series NZ Story, talking about the challenges of living with a terminal illness, and a large and varied bucket list she had begun ticking off, as health allowed (including successfully catching a shark, voicing a cartoon character and stroking a honey badger). She also appeared on an episode of Māori Television's The Nutter's Club, talking about her struggles with depression.
In the last years of her life, McAlpine met and married her second husband Chris Barton, who knew of her terminal cancer diagnosis from the start. She died peacefully at her home on 23 September 2015, with family and close friends by her side. She had just turned 37.
NZ Story - Living Every Moment (Television Documentary) Director Lisa Metivier (Jam TV, 2013)
'Helena McAlpine' Johnson and Laird website. Accessed 24 September 2015
Suzanne McFadden, 'Falling in love in the face of death' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, November 2013
Campbell Live (Television Interview with Helena McAlpine) (TV3, 2012)
Unknown Writer, 'Not Given Lightly - Single' (Press release). Amplifier website. Loaded September 2012. Accessed 25 September 2015