‘When I told him, we both cried,’ Cassie says. Photo / Michelle Hyslop
She was a hard-nosed business advisor on The Apprentice Aotearoa and she hasn’t exactly been mincing her words on Celebrity Treasure Island, but when Woman’s Day chats to Cassie Roma, the successful entrepreneur is forced to wipe away tears not once, but twice.
The first time is when we ask the San Diego-born star what personal items she’s packed for her stint on the TVNZ 2 reality series.
“I brought a picture of my grandma and I,” replies Cassie, 40. “She’s my hero and she’s tattooed right here on my arm. She’s with me every day, which I think she’d be stoked about.
“She was an Englishwoman who moved to a German-speaking town of 200 people in the middle of Missouri just after World War II. She was a storyteller and she taught me to tell stories.”
Her eyes welling up, Cassie continues, “She was my protector when I was a kid. In her eighties, she would still call me up on the phone and be like, ‘Did you see Eminem singing with Elton John at the MTV Music Awards?’ She was my soulmate.”
Her grandmother’s name was Roma and when Cassie split from her ex-husband, she took that as her surname as a tribute. A tear running down her cheek, Cassie tells, “She knew my whole family would have that name before she died eight years ago.”
The second time the emotions bubble to the surface is when we discuss the aforementioned ex Ted. Now proudly gay and a big supporter of the queer community, Cassie says she was 35 when she came out to him.
“He was the first person I told,” she shares. “Breaking that bond of a heteronormative relationship and changing our family was hard, but he was so good about it. He’s an old-school rugby player and he’s 15 years my elder, but when I told him, we both cried.
“He said, ‘This is your secret to keep and I will hold it strong for you until you are ready.” And he did just that. I’d trusted him for the 15 years we were in a relationship and to know that trust, even in a time of heartbreak and pain, was going to move forward, that set us up for the strong relationship we have now, co-parenting a 16-year-old.
“My ex-husband and I are now very close – even closer than when we were married.”
At the same time as she came out, Cassie’s style changed – she stopped wearing her usual business suits and heels, and also quit straightening her trademark blonde ‘fro.
“I was straight for so long, so when I came out, everything was a little curly, not just my hair!” she quips. “I wore makeup that didn’t suit me and it used to take me 40 minutes every morning to get ready, but I came to a realisation that I didn’t have to play a certain part.
“I finally felt so powerful in myself and I figured that if somebody didn’t like my boots, my double denim or my tattoos – if they were going to judge me for those – then screw them! They’re not the people I want to work with.”
Cassie has since married “balanced, loving, kind, patient and giving parent” Carly, and her girl Chelsea is now “the most talented videographer and video editor I’ve ever met”.
The star raves, “My daughter wants to be in movies, tell stories and change the world. She asked me if she could go to university in the States and I felt like such a bad mum because I told her she didn’t need to go to uni – she’s so talented, I’d hire her right now!”
Despite their close family bond and her tendency for tears, Cassie insists she’s not worried about potentially being separated from her wife and daughter for more than a month while on CTI.
“They’re the brave ones for staying home,” she insists. “I’m the one who gets to go away and have fun!”
Besides, Cassie regularly travels overseas for work and to visit her loved ones back in the States, having recently celebrated her 40th birthday in Tennessee.
She laughs, “I ran away to Nashville and turned 40 in a dive bar with my best friend.We got drunk in a cowboy bar, then I fell asleep on the grass outside. It was the best time.
“I feel like my life begins now. This is a new chapter and Celebrity Treasure Island gets
to be a part of that too.”
Celebrity Treasure Island airs weekly, Mon-Wed, 7.30pm on TVNZ2 and TVNZ +.