Us Two: Charlotte Yates and Emma Robinson

Charlotte Yates and Emma Robinson.
Ross Giblin/Stuff

Charlotte Yates and Emma Robinson.

Charlotte Yates and Emma Robinson are civil union partners living in Wellington. Yates, 54, a singer-songwriter, has recently released her seventh studio album, Then the Stars Start Singing. Robinson, 51, is an actor, producer, director and photographer, and now also a published writer, with a short story appearing in an upcoming anthology of New Zealand fiction, Fresh Ink.

EMMA: I knew of her before I actually met her. I was living in London in 1991 and friends of mine sent me a mixtape – in the days when you did – and that included her song Red Letter, which I played a lot on my little Walkman wandering around London.

In 1992, I helped organise a benefit concert which Charlotte performed at. We were properly introduced in 2000.

 

In 2003, she asked me to direct a music video for a song called Ruins of Love. We had a great time working on that – she was really happy to go with my ideas, which included her having to take some dancing lessons so she could do a duet. She only had two criteria: one was I wasn't allowed to pretend she was straight and I can't remember what the other one was – I think she wanted some shot of her playing.

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'I'm an unstoppable force, and she's an immovable object.'
Ross Giblin/Stuff

'I'm an unstoppable force, and she's an immovable object.'

 
 

She proposed to me. She had talked to a friend and said that she wanted to ask me if I would become civilly united with her. She was planning to wait and save it up for a special moment but once she'd made the decision she said she just had to blurt it out. I was actually asleep. She woke me up and asked me.

The first time I asked Charlotte to read something I'd written I was completely terrified because I wanted her to like it so much. I respect her opinion and she reads a lot, so that was quite stressful.

When the kids were younger and both living at home, if I had to go away for work, I knew Charlotte would pick up the slack. She's a very supportive step-parent. She'll go to parent-teacher meetings when I'm sick.

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Charlotte's been a professional musician and, apart from early on, that's all she's ever done. She's completely confident in who she is, and that's very attractive about her. She's encouraged me to be more confident about myself as an artist, definitely.

She's an avid recycler. She'll pick up a screw off the ground and take it home 'cos it might be useful for something. She's living the green life as much as she can – it goes back to that thing of we both really enjoy nature. She trained as a vet, initially.

When I'd first see her perform when we were partners, I'd feel that sort of "nervous on behalf of" feeling. But now I can just enjoy the show. Often I'll be videoing the concert or taking photos. At her album launch a couple of weeks ago, she said: "Just be there as my girlfriend, don't bring the camera."

She tried to do this challenge a few months ago where you had to have 24 hours where you didn't swear or say anything negative. It took her three days to get through it. It had me quite frequently in hysterics because she wouldn't even realise she'd gone: "What a f...wit!" and the clock would reset.

CHARLOTTE: Right at the end of the music video shoot, she told me she actually had one functional eye. She's technically monocular, but you'd never know. I went: "What, you tell me this now!"

We got on really well. It felt like she'd been there all the time. Things changed within about 18 months of that.

We'd moved in together; she's got two lovely girls. I thought: "Let's solidify this, game on." I liked the kids very much and we all got on.

Both kids were musical. I kind of got them set up with music lessons. Suddenly there was a real piano at home and I hadn't had that since I lived with my parents. So I started playing more. Vita, the older girl, really wanted to learn the flute, so she did. I wound up accompanying her to her exams.

Em's kindly – and feisty, on occasion. She's also a really thoughtful mother. I couldn't have been with her if I didn't think she was a good mother, just from a pure animal husbandry point of view. She takes good care of small creatures, even when the small creatures are large, and obstreperous.

There's certain things she's totally neat about which is slightly at odds with a bit of a scattergram approach to life. I'm not like that. Making the bed, I'm like, whack the sheets on – she'll be right – pillowcase, away we go. But no. We've got hospital corners if Em's on to it. It's like, how can you do that when there's socks strewn from here to Africa?

Emma says I'm an "unstoppable force", and she's an "immovable object". So there's lot of talking, we talk things out relentlessly till they're done. That can be quite heated, but that's how we do it. We figure it out.

She's very pretty. It's particularly shallow of me, but I appreciate it. A friend said to me, when she met Emma: "Phwoar, how'd you score that?!" Quote unquote.

If people don't like my stuff, that's their choice and it doesn't bother me too much. A lot of Em's work has been quite behind the scenes even though she trained as an actor. Now she's doing more writing – releasing short stories and stuff – that's put her out front in a really different way, to a really different audience. It has been intriguing seeing responses to that.

Emma made me some pyjamas once. She got only got a metre of fabric. She made the pyjama bottoms that kind of went to my knees. I was like: "OK, I was thinking maybe I could have the whole leg." So she cut the hems off and attached some. The material doesn't match.

Fresh Ink can be purchased from selected bookshops and from cloudink.co.nz. "Then the Stars Start Singing" is available on iTunes and at charlotteyates.com

 - Sunday Magazine

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