Michele Hewitson interview: Jay-Jay Feeney

By Michele Hewitson

Fun, laughter, anxiety and sadness have all shaped the radio host's life.

Jay-Jay Feeney. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Jay-Jay Feeney. Photo / Sarah Ivey

What a funny job Jay-Jay Feeney has. She said, at the end of our hour: "I haven't said a single funny thing!"

Her job - she is the co-host, along with her husband, Dom (Harvey) and Mike (Puru) of the Edge's morning show which won Best Morning Show at the Radio Awards last week - is to be funny and happy and silly, and always, up.

She goes on air and talks about herself, and Dom, and their life together, including their attempts to have a baby.

They have had four goes, through IVF, and are about to have another, although this time, she says, they are not going to talk about it. Except she already has, because she was asked on breakfast TV and because she says she had to tell the truth.

She has talked about becoming legal guardians of her brother's son. She was getting her nose pierced on air the next day.

"I don't want my nose pierced! I'm 38 years old!" She has had her nipple pierced on air.

The last time she took her top off, except at home, obviously, was to have her breasts massaged by a guest celebrity wielding a tanning mitt.

How do these glimpses of a private life alongside having a visiting celebrity rub your breasts with a tanning mitt work as entertainment? Don't ask me. She doesn't know either.

She is known for, and there is really no other way of putting this, getting her tits out and she absolutely hates doing it. She feels sick for days before. She says she hasn't done it for ages, she thinks since November, and that's it, she's not doing it any more. She's too old.

I said I was pleased to hear this, because, what an awful thing to think you have to do for your job.

But why has she done it, if she hates it so much? She seems to always either be on a diet, or madly exercising, and then not dieting and not exercising, and then hating being fat.

"I'm just a girl. That's what girls do."

She isn't remotely fat, but she's certainly not model-thin either. She says she's been "insecure about my body", most of her life. So, even weirder, then, that she has gone naked (with a sticker over the lower bits) and taken her top off so often.

She said: "You don't understand my job!" Well, no, I don't. Not when it sounds so horrible.

She feels sick, she says it's "humiliating" and PR companies contact her to ask if she'd go on their diet programmes.

Isn't that a bit rude? Oh, she doesn't mind. She gets the products free, and she'd be on a diet anyway and she's the one who says she's fat.

She's pragmatic, even about being humiliated for a living.

"It's only boobs," she said, valiantly. And "I just don't look down."

More perkily: The tanning gag got a couple of hundred thousand hits on the website. It's all about ratings and getting attention.

When I Googled her, I got an invitation: See Me Naked. I declined. I wasn't going to look at somebody naked on the internet and then have lunch with them the next day.

She thinks what people listening to her on the radio think is that: "I'm a lot more fun than I am. I used to be heaps of fun! I'm in my 30s now. I'm a mother. I don't go to bars and get drunk every Friday night any more."

I've met her once before, at home, when I went to interview her husband about getting suspended from the show for airing a really rude ditty about a celebrity lesbian. She fussed about a few crumbs. We talked about whether watching celebrity lesbian pornography was okay. They both said it was; I said it most certainly was not.

They like to say that they are "open-minded", whatever that means, and this is true, to a not very kinky point. I thought it very strange that while "this guy is molesting my boobs" in a radio studio, her husband is watching.

I said he must be some sort of pervert and she said: "He is! He's totally pervy. Not at home. He's all talk. He's boring at home."

I said I didn't want to know any more about that, thank you very much, but serve him right. It was his idea that his wife have her boobs tanned on radio.

Another weird thing about their jobs: Their on-air relationship is about getting one over the other, as loudly as possible. This relationship bears almost no resemblance to the couple at home who are, as far as I can see, quiet, decent and sensible, even grown-up - or, in his case, mostly so.

She has to pretend to be at least a decade younger than her age. She has to play at being a yahoo, an airhead, a clown.

I thought: It must be exhausting being her; it would probably be exhausting interviewing her.

She said: "On the radio it's like you're a different person. You're braver."

Does she like the person she is on the radio?

"Umm, not a hundred per cent ... It's a sort of alter ego that you have, like if you get really drunk ... and you might get up and dance on tables."

She seemed, when she arrived, slightly subdued but I realised later that this is what she's like when she's not in character: Quiet, thoughtful, serious, and an odd combination of ego and nerves. She is more fragile than you'd expect. She is also, almost always, tired.

She gets up at 4.20 every morning, and goes off to work to play at being the happy, happy, bouncy character she's paid to be.

A couple of weeks ago she broke down on air. "Yes, I did." What happened? "Oh, f***! I'm just ... exhausted."

She went home, slept all day and the next day went to the doctor who prescribed "happy pills". And "I've never felt so normal in all my life! I feel so happy. I've been depressed a lot since I was young."

Of course when she went back on air the way to deal with the public breakdown was to have the piss taken out of her by Dom and Mike, which involved a parody of the John Kirwan TV ads about depression. "You've got to think of a way to make it live on air."

She suffers from severe anxiety, and probably always has. She saw a shrink when she was 20, because she really was depressed and "didn't want to be here". She says this in so casual a way that she could be talking about somebody else. Perhaps she is. She seems to have been capable of separating her personal life and her professional one, despite, or perhaps because of sharing so much of it on air. She says it can be therapeutic.

Her private earlier life is horribly complicated. Her mother had her when she was 16, and she never knew her father until recently. She found him on Facebook and also found she has another three half-brothers, only two of whom so far know about her.

Her father is in the middle of a divorce and his wife only found about his daughter, literally, "the other day".

She had a nice stepfather, her Feeney father, who walked her up the aisle at her wedding - although they are no longer speaking; there has been a falling-out over her brother, the father of the child she and Dom are raising, who has been in prison; and she assumes because she told him she found her biological father.

There was a horrid stepfather who hit her and her mother and there were times spent at a refuge and holes in the walls and vicious dogs which were set on people, and, of course, poverty.

She was determined from the time she was a little girl to be a success, to have enough money, to get on with things, and she did.

You have to wonder why she didn't go off the rails. She says it's because she had to "be strong for everyone. I was looking after my mum".

And then she had a panic attack a few years ago and her doctor said she had anxiety. She says, despite having been a "worrier" and a "high stress" person and "a drama magnet" all of her life, she really didn't know what anxiety was.

I wondered if she had any idea why she had a breakdown now - you'd think the IVF, finding her father, adopting a child from a troubled background, living such a public life might all have contributed, but she thinks she was simply very tired.

She isn't seeing a therapist. "Nah."

She once saw a cognitive therapist, after the panic attack, and learned "tapping", which involved tapping her face to make negative thoughts and issues go away, but she thought it was "kooky as all hell", so stopped doing it.

Now that was funny. She has been known to be kooky, although I don't think she is particularly.

She is, oddly, not at all silly, ordinarily. Still, she and Dom are preparing for their latest IVF attempt by doing the following: Not vacuuming under the bed, sleeping only on green sheets, placing wooden elephants by the bedroom door, and other completely kooky as hell things. This is Feng Shui; neither of them believes in Feng Shui. They have been given a 25 per cent chance of conceiving a child. The treatment costs $14,500.

She says Dom is desperate for them to have a biological child.

"I could easily just accept that this isn't going to happen ... [but] it would complete his life."

Hence the Feng Shui, and the naturopaths and the detoxing they've both been doing all year.

"You've got to try everything. What harm can it do you to sleep on green sheets? And if it works, we can go, 'well, maybe it was the green sheets'!"

She said: "This is a very deep conversation we're having!" So she told me (it was my own fault for asking about Dom's porn collection) about going away for a few days and coming home to find a DVD in the player, in the bedroom. It was, since I idiotically asked, women dressed as schoolgirls.

Me: "No!" Her: "Yes!"

She didn't mind a bit. She put it on Facebook and Twitter.

"Why would you mind? I don't care. I mean he's not sick about it! If he was sitting there reading these pornos every day, I'd be a bit concerned."

I had to ask: Does he ever ask her to dress up as a schoolgirl?

"No. We're not that kinky. To be honest, we're very boring."

Then she said "Oh God!", just as I said "thank God!"

She meant that she was supposed to be selling that good time girl on the radio, not the boring one off the radio.

I mean that I was glad she wasn't.

Off air she's easy to like a hundred per cent.

- NZ Herald

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