Jukka Hildén was still married when he spent time with Olivia “Chachi” Gonzales in the mountains of Peru. Now they are expecting a child together, and are soon to be married. The journey to this point has not been easy for either of them.
Dudesons star Jukka Hildén, 39, is getting a lot of affectionate attention this Saturday morning. His two children, Sisu and Lili, aged seven and five respectively, want to show their father how their mobile phone game is going, and are asking when they can go and buy slime to play with. Jukka and his 23-year-old partner Chachi Gonzales, who is a dancer, choreographer and actress, came to Finland earlier in the week from their hometown of Los Angeles to Helsinki, where there is still a shortage of toys in their temporary home.
In the midst of playing with the kids, Jukka embraces Chachi, who is pregnant with their first child.
The baby, a girl, is due in November. Jukka and Chachi both want her to be born in Finland, and so they will remain in Helsinki until the end of the year.
“Everything is so much cleaner and healthier here. We also want the older children to get to know their little sister”, Chachi says with a gentle pat on her belly.
Sibling relations are also one reason why Jukka and Chachi have been travelling so frequently between Helsinki and Los Angeles this year. When Jukka and his then-wife separated in 2017, they agreed that their children would live with their mother, in Finland.
“Being separated from my kids has not been easy. In addition, for the last four years I have been working practically around the clock most days. Last autumn, I reached the point where I was forced to think hard about whether the constant work was really making me happy. This year I’ve been focusing more on myself, my kids and Chachi and my own wellbeing”, Jukka says, with a kiss for his fiancée.
The couple first met two years ago during the filming of the Ultimate Expedition programme, and are still madly in love.
Jukka says that the journey to this point has not been easy, however.
“There have been people who didn’t understand our choices and my desire for happiness.”
A yes man no more
People are accustomed to thinking of Jukka Hildén as one of the Dudesons, the group of entertainers who have long been acclaimed for their madcap stunts and pranks. But there are a lot of things that TV viewers did not see.
Five years ago, before moving to the United States permanently, Jukka found himself wondering why he seemed to be in a continual rush. His own positive vibe, an essential part of the Dudesons spirit, was missing.
He decided to go to therapy.
“I realised that ever since childhood I had taken on too much responsibility for things, more than I should have. I was looking after my younger siblings and other family matters from a young age. And as the Dudesons were hitting the big time, I took on a larger and larger role in the whole thing”, he explains.
“I finally ended up as a yes man who wanted to help everyone in every situation. If someone called in the middle of the work day to ask just about anything, like where to find the best restaurants and nightclubs in Prague, I would try to help them out.”
Jukka has previously talked in public about his father’s alcoholism and his close bond with his mother. He received a lot of love and attention as a child, but no boundaries were set. At the age of ten, Jukka could be seen out on the town in Seinäjoki in the small hours of the morning, and no one seemed to show much concern.
“It was extremely cathartic when I could finally call my mom to tell her that I always considered her to be the world’s best mother, the person who gave me a good heart and a firm belief in myself, but that she hadn’t handled that side of things well during my childhood.”
Jukka’s parents would later divorce.
“I put all my savings into that dream.”
In therapy, as Jukka was dealing with earlier events in his life he made a list of his dreams for the future. In the end, he suggested to his wife, his sweetheart ever since childhood, that the family should move to California. The Dudesons had long since made their breakthrough in the US, and Jukka now wanted to export his production company’s series to international markets.
In 2015, the family moved to Los Angeles, to a 350-square-metre home. This demanded a serious financial investment.
“I put all my savings into that dream. Since I knew I would have to work exceptionally hard to make it in the world’s most competitive entertainment market, and would be away from home a lot, I wanted my family to be well looked after. I wanted to be sure they had a nice home and that our kids could have hobbies.”
For the next two years in Los Angeles, Jukka worked between 12 and 18 hours a day. This really paid off in the third year in LA, when the Dudesons sold their Ultimate Expedition series to YouTube for streaming on the pay-per-view Red channel. The deal was worth millions.
Jukka, the presenter and chief producer of the unscripted adventure competition show, was commissioned to assemble a cast of American stars. The show format had already been a hit in Finland under the name Huippujengi. In the YouTube version, the contestants would have to conquer Mount Tocllaraju in the Peruvian Andes, where eight climbers had died the previous year.
One of the aspiring contestants was Chachi. On going through her application, Jukka found that Chachi had grown up in Texas as the youngest of five children, and at the age of 15 had moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as a dancer. Not long after, she won the America’s Best Dance Crew competition.
“Jukka was very encouraging, unselfish and warm, with bundles of energy.”
Their first encounter at the airport was brief.
“Jukka rushed on the scene in a big orange hat and hugged all the competitors. I only remember the hat, and that he smelled good. I didn’t know anything about him, but afterwards I discovered that my brothers had long been huge Dudesons fans”, Chachi recalls.
“The Finnish ambassador to the United States once said to me that an excellent test of whether a woman can become your loved one and the mother of your children is to go into the wilderness with her in extreme conditions”, Jukka continues. “That would really reveal the truth. The thought came to my mind only afterwards. When we left for the mountains, I wasn’t looking for or expecting to find anything like this – I was already a married man, after all.”
Finding love in the mountains
During the trip, Jukka soon discovered that Chachi stood out from the rest of the stars with her positive and genuine character.
“That’s a rare thing in Hollywood. The other women began to feel down as the conditions got increasingly demanding, but Chachi’s radiant smile kept spirits up.”
The group spent three weeks in the mountains, without any connection to the outside world. Jukka and Chachi told each other about their lives, and became increasingly close.
Though shy, Chachi quickly noticed that Jukka was easy to talk to.
“In previous relationships, my partners were always controlling. But Jukka was very encouraging, unselfish and warm, with bundles of energy.”
Neither of them were bothered by their age difference.
“Although Chachi has gone through difficult things in her life, she still has a heart of pure gold. She is very mature, whereas I was often the most childish of all of us”, Jukka confesses with a grin.
The couple found that they shared a lot of interests, such as adventure and challenging themselves.
“Ever since I was a child I’ve loved motorcycles and exciting situations. Both Jukka and I are very action-driven people”, Chachi says.
“The new situation has of course demanded a lot from all of us at times. I raise my hat to everyone.”
After returning home, they kept in touch.
Meanwhile, Jukka was facing up to difficult decisions in his own life. He and his wife eventually decided to end their marriage.
“I had to look in the mirror and ask myself what really makes me happy. It was not easy for anyone, but we both wanted to put our children’s needs first.”
After that, Jukka and Chachi began their romantic relationship.
“I have always trusted Jukka and understood that his children would also be a natural part of our life together. We complement each other very positively. I’m shy in some social situations, but thanks to Jukka’s endless energy I can feel there’s no stopping me”.
Jukka is grateful that he had learned from example how a separation could be handled well.
“My parents’ divorce was the best thing that ever happened to them. They have both since remarried, and they and their partners are the best of friends together. Having said that, though, the new situation has of course demanded a lot from all of us at times. I raise my hat to everyone”, Jukka says.
Longing for the kids
Since last year, the couple have been living happily together with their two dogs, T-Rex and Bandit. Jukka and Chachi have irregular working hours. They both produce videos for their social media channels several times a week. Chachi has 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube, and the Dudesons have over five million. In addition, Chachi works as a dance instructor and as a brand ambassador for several large companies.
Due to the time zone difference between Finland and California, Jukka’s working days often stretch well into the night.
“When we moved in together, I started to feel lazy compared to Jukka, who’s a real workaholic. Now and again I had to tell him not to have meetings at four in the morning – come to bed already!”
“Being away from my children hasn’t been easy”.
Last autumn, Jukka began to feel that burning the candle at both ends was finally taking its toll.
“Working in America has been a lonely experience at times. Although I could get help from Finland when I needed, the time difference often made it difficult to ask for help. Finally I went back to a familiar therapist, who told me that I was no longer the same Jukka who had come to LA three years ago. I no longer had a gleam in my eye. The situation was made even tougher by being separated from my children, who now lived in Finland.”
“My ex-wife and I are still friends, and since separating we have spent holidays together and enjoyed our children’s birthdays together. But it was of course hard when I talked with the kids on Skype in the evenings and they would tell me about their day at school and kindergarten”.
During his time in therapy, Jukka began to devote more time to things that made him feel better, such as exercising and meeting friends. In addition, he and Chachi would make sure to have one night a week together, free from work and other commitments.
“Chachi has been a huge help in my recovery. She cooks Mexican food and has always been there to listen to my woes. It has also often crossed my mind that I would have had a far easier time if I had been content with a career in Finland, in the old familiar circles. But then I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill my ambitions, which in the long term have made me happier.”
“I can still see from Jukka that he is accustomed to doing everything for himself”, Chachi adds.
“No matter how tired he might be, he still tells me everything is okay, no need to worry.”
At the beginning of the year, Jukka began to slow the pace and travelled to Finland to spend time with friends during the filming of the Dudesons’ latest series.
“Over the last four and a half years I’ve been able to see the other Dudesons only occasionally. Then we got together for the weekend before shooting began, and laughed and cried together. It was amazing to see that we were still the same four schooltime friends who had always had their crazy dreams.”
A big wedding on the horizon
The calmer life also brought the happy news early in the year that Chachi was pregnant with their child. The couple had gotten engaged the previous August, and were eager to start a family.
The reality of becoming a mother has spurred Chachi to think back on her own childhood. She has had to break her ties with her childhood family, she says.
“My parents were not the best, and my childhood was never the most secure. There was a lot of conflict in the family when I was growing up. I want to create healthy boundaries and a nurturing environment for my own child. I couldn’t choose my childhood family, but I can choose what kind of family I create for myself now”, Chachi says.
“Chachi will definitely be the kind of mother she never had herself. She has always been brilliant with my children. She plays with them a lot and is always fully present, without glancing at her phone. Chachi doesn’t take the kids for granted – she’s thrilled to be able to help them get to sleep and to exchange videos with them, for example when my son wanted to tell her about losing a tooth”, Jukka continues.
“All our true friends have been invited to the wedding.”
The couple have packed their belongings in the US during their time away in Finland. They are looking for a new home in Los Angeles, where they return to at the turn of the year.
Jukka plans to keep a lighter workload in the future. Since he already has plenty of contacts in the city, he won’t be starting from scratch.
“Although I’ve always worked long days, I’ve never done it at the expense of my kids. I’m confident that the situation now is easier as both of us are working. I’m now a step closer to having a good balance between work and the rest of my life.”
The couple plan to marry before their child is born. The wedding will be held in the summer in Mexico, in the same place where Chachi threw a birthday party for Jukka and he proposed to his beloved.
“The aim is for a major celebration over several days – a big and beautiful, exotic party where people can get together from around the world. There will be people who have been part of my life throughout all the changes, people who have always respected my choices. True friends”, Jukka says.