Ahead of her debut on The Project, television presenter Kanoa Lloyd tells Kim Knight how she nearly became a massage therapist.

Start with the smile. Even if your mouth's a bit dry, and your lips are sticking to your teeth, and you feel a little bit like you might wet your pants, there you are: Smiling.

"If you smile," says Kanoa Lloyd, "You can probably get your first line out. If you get your first line out, you'll probably remember your first question."

What will the former weather woman bring to MediaWorks' 7pm Hail Mary?

"Just my weird smile. Dry mouth. Possible bathroom disaster."

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Also, and most obviously: a sense of humour.

Lloyd is one-third of the permanent roster that will present The Project, in the slot most recently occupied by Duncan Garner and Heather du Plessis-Allan. An early press release said the programme would be "informative and funny".

Kanoa Lloyd, Jesse Mulligan and Josh Thomson will host The Project on Three.
Kanoa Lloyd, Jesse Mulligan and Josh Thomson will host The Project on Three.

According to its jazz-hands-at-the-ready teaser, it will be "a show in the know ... about how things go". Her co-hosts are Jesse Mulligan (who is keeping his Radio New Zealand slot) and Josh Thomson, comedian and actor. The executive producer is Jon Bridges, who has spent the last seven years with 7 Days.

So, more news as light relief?

"I understand the eye-roll," says Lloyd. "But I also think it's okay to click on stories about the Kardashians and that doesn't make me a bad person ... It's not like your brain has only got so much capacity for stuff. It doesn't mean, if I've clicked on that Kardashian story, that I've depleted some brain cells. I'm going to be ok, and I'm still going to care about health and education and the state of global politics ... it's treating the audience as smart enough that they can consume both of those things."

Four weeks from launch and Lloyd sits in her West Auckland living room pouring coffee into mismatched, handmade pottery mugs. Start at the start. A smile; some history.
"I was born in Gisborne Hospital, but Ruatoria is my turangawaewae. My parents didn't really have any fixed abode. There was a bit of moving around that East Cape area, and then up into the Coromandel and back down again."

When she was a baby, her parents lived with the potter Barry Brickell (once described as a "bush Leonardo da Vinci") and worked on his now legendary Driving Creek Railway. Her mum was living in a cowshed when her parents met. Later, the couple got a house bus. Later still, home for her and her mum was her grandparents' house.

"My dad, unfortunately - he just wasn't really good at expressing his feelings and they weren't in a very happy relationship.

"He came out the other side and decided he wanted to be a drug and alcohol counsellor and he did a lot of work in the Maori mental health space."

Today: "Our relationship is pretty good. He spoke at my wedding. We get on really well, we're friends. We don't have a very typical father-daughter relationship."

Those handmade coffee cups, she says, may be a legacy of her childhood.

"I like to dig up treasures and find them in different places. I think I attach a lot of meaning to objects. Some people might call that hoarding - organised hoarding - but I think that comes from moving around so much when I was little. You couldn't attach too much meaning to things. Stuff came and went and came and went.

"Now that I've got older, and got my own place and stuff, I can put things down and know they'll stay there until I decide it's junk and throw it out."

Kanoa Lloyd is going from weather presenting to host of Three's new 7pm show, The Project. Photo/Guy Coombes
Kanoa Lloyd is going from weather presenting to host of Three's new 7pm show, The Project. Photo/Guy Coombes
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ast December, Lloyd turned 30. "I was kind of excited to get there. I was also planning a wedding at just about exactly the same time. So it all got bundled up into this ball of, yeah, just life moments, I guess.

"While I say I wasn't scared about turning 30, I think I'll always be paranoid about throwing a birthday party for myself. I'm just convinced no one will come, and you might get food poisoning and someone won't like the music. So yeah, I just had a wedding."

Five days, up north, in a camping ground. Friends, food, 50 dozen beers, swims, cricket and, in the middle, a marriage to Mikee Carpinter, the freelance director and editor she met through a friend.

"Growing up, my parents were separated and I was sort of raised to think you didn't have to be married for your relationship to be valid.

"I never, ever thought I would do it. And then I met Mikee - which is just like the most nerdy, dorky thing to say."

Their favourite things, she says, are food with friends and adventures. She is, she thinks, a natural at adventures.

"My dad has definitely connected me to the beach and the forest and a love of the outdoors, even though I sort of thought I would have absorbed some more of those skills by osmosis.

For example: "I've been fishing with him a million times. I know how to do that. Turns out when it comes to actually sitting there and tying that weird little knot to get the hook in, it's trickier than it looks. But also my dad has given me an inflated sense of confidence that I can do those things. I'll always have a go."

Like this summer. Lloyd has been gifted an enormous, live crayfish. She is not going to watch it thrash in boiling water; there is no time to drown it. The crayfish, she decides, will die by knife.

"And I stabbed the knife in, and it's like under my hand, and I was like 'come on Maoriness, we can do this", I'm yanking this knife back and forward and it went still and I took off my hand and then it was like 'waaaaaah' jumping around the kitchen. My friend who was staying with us came into the kitchen and went 'oh for goodness sake' and dropped it into the pot ... AND ALL THE POWER IN THE HOUSE WENT OFF!"

And that is the story of Kanoa Lloyd and a ghost crayfish called Jeff.

"Everytime something went bad on that holiday, we were like 'Jeff is coming to get us'. But I just truly believed that since I'd seen my dad do that kind of thing, I was pretty confident I'd be able to do it."

This crayfish story comes out of the blue. She has, until now, been gently and graciously proffering coffee and life history in her standard, 30-something-newly-wed living room (Flox lightbox, cushions, wool rugs, glorious black and white portrait of her nana, Lula, whose mother's name was Kanoa). Suddenly, for a few, very exciting moments, you are totally alongside this wild woman wrestling a possessed crustacean.

Kanoa Lloyd is leaving her stint presenting the weather to host The Project, Three's new 7pm show.
Kanoa Lloyd is leaving her stint presenting the weather to host The Project, Three's new 7pm show.
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loyd is a good story teller. A craft honed, perhaps, in children's television. Her high school years were in Dunedin where her teenage rebellion, she says "was to become a really boring nerd!" She was an achiever who got a job with Squirt, the Saturday morning show made in the southern city (alumni include Dominic Bowden and Jason Gunn).

"Matt Gibb would pick me up in the boss' Audi TT, which was the coolest car I could possibly imagine at age 16. He'd pick me up from my all girls' school [Queen's] and whisk me off. I'd be, 'Oh guys, I'm just going to do my television job'.

"It was super-cool, unbelievably cool - and what I fell in love with there was working with adults who treated me like an adult and were interested and interesting and had these really full, rich lives outside of what they were doing, but also gave a shit about working puppets and writing scripts. They took it seriously, they didn't ever talk down to their audience, they didn't ever go, 'Oh, it's just kid's television'."

It wasn't, she realised, all that glamorous. "But there were a great bunch of weirdos in this thing called television and maybe I could grow up to be a person like this, with a weird house and a million, bazillion books and a local pub at Port Chalmers. It was that, that I really fell in love with."

And then - true story - she became a massage therapist. University just didn't work. She dropped out after seven months, tired and unmotivated (and later diagnosed with glandular fever). The next year: "I wanted to do something that was vocational and used my hands and was about other people."

There was biology and anatomy and the life-changing discovery that having someone else touch her feet was not as terrible as she had imagined. "Now, I'm like 'GIVE ME A FOOT MASSAGE!' Anyone. I don't know you and I don't care. 'Give me a foot-rub'."

Massage therapy turned out to be a short-lived career. "I worked for approximately one day. Then I auditioned for a job in Auckland." Lloyd won a spot on Sticky TV. But it's weather presenting that the 7pm viewer-demographic is most likely to remember her for.

Mark Jennings, former head of news at MediaWorks, says creative director Ant Farac ("a shrewd judge of talent") put Lloyd forward.

"I liked her immediately," says Jennings. "Sure of herself, but very open in her thinking. Funny, but in a self-deprecating way. It also became apparent during our chat that she actually watched 3 News regularly and could recall which reporters had worked on the big stories."

Lloyd pays tribute to that news team - she sat in a pod that comprised entertainment veteran Kate Rodger, Pacific Affairs correspondent Michael Morrah and The Nation host Lisa Owen.

"I love it that Kate takes Mark Wahlberg as seriously as Lisa takes John Key."

The Project will run the gamut. Who would she rather interview?

"I think I would find politicians more intimidating than Mark Wahlberg."

Because?

"Because he's just kind of abdominals with teeth on top."

Unlike Key?

"I've seen the photos on his Instagram!"

And then, more seriously, "Because I come from music and entertainment, I trust myself to prep for an interview like that. Whereas with politics ... it wasn't until the end of my high school years before I even bothered to turn my attention to politics. I feel like I could do an interview with John Key, but I wouldn't be as excited about it."

There is an elephant in this room. The 7pm slot is precarious. Story, launched in the aftermath of the Campbell Live axing, lasted 16 months. How long is the MediaWorks commitment to the new show?

Dead silence.

The publicist, who has until now been working quietly on a laptop, replies: "No comment. That would be a fair answer."

Does Lloyd know what KPIs are being put against The Project?

"Nope," she fires. "I'm just excited to get started on it. I'm thinking about starting it, nothing else."

Kanoa Lloyd will host The Project alongside Jesse Mulligan and Josh Thomson. Photo/Guy Coombes
Kanoa Lloyd will host The Project alongside Jesse Mulligan and Josh Thomson. Photo/Guy Coombes
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loyd has been described as "young, hip and Maori". She'll take hip, but not hipster, wonders if she can still claim "young" at 30 - and learned, during her stint in front of the weather map, that not everybody is as comfortable with calling this country Aotearoa as she is.

When Lloyd, who is Ngati Porou, introduced te reo to her reports, MediaWorks copped complaints.

"I like language, and I like what I understand of te reo Maori and I like playing around with words so I was never trying to make this bold political statement and I was not trying to piss anyone off.

"I just think that a lot of people my age speak like that. Maybe my assumption when I started out was that we would all want to hear that, and we would all get it, and if we didn't get it, there's a picture of what I'm talking about right next to me!"

Some of the comments hurt, she says. "But what it actually turned into was this super-inspiring korero that swept around all sorts of places in the country ... if people are having this healthy, robust conversation because of something I say, it doesn't really matter anymore what I thought when I said it".

Te reo should "definitely, emphatically" be compulsory in schools, says Lloyd. "So I understand people politicising it, because I just think it's a travesty that te reo is not something people can choose to have if they want to."

How will she use te reo on The Project?

"Maybe I should figure out what 'project' is in Maori first!"

Lloyd had to develop a thick skin on the weather desk. She was also - though she takes this considerably less seriously - criticised for how she dressed. Specifically, she was advised to sack the stylist who was "dressing her like an old lady".

Her Twitter response was in the third person: "Kanoa dresses herself and she loves this dress. Maybe Kanoa is an old lady at heart? Maybe that's okay?"

Mostly, says Lloyd, "I thought it was super-boring to be talking about what a woman is wearing, instead of listening to what I'm talking about. I wondered if people found what I wore unusual because I'm a size 12, and not a size 6 - and I'm super-comfortable about the way I look, but I'm also aware that I don't look like a model.

"But also, it's the news! I'm not going to go in and wear my jeans and bloody jandals. I have to wear grown up clothes. If I just wore what I wear normally, I don't think people would take me seriously. The problem is we take joy in what we wear, and you know, I do love clothes, I love putting on something that makes me feel special. And to have that turned around and used against you is a real bummer."

She's young, hip, female and Maori. That's a lot of targets for the misogynists and misanthropes.

"I can't control how somebody reacts to what I'm doing or what meaning they prescribe to it. But I always want to go to work and be proud of what I do and leave each day feeling like I didn't mess up too badly, that I didn't break anyone.

"That's what I'm there for. Trying to do my best. Whether I get it right or not, at least I can say I'm a young Maori woman and I'm doing my best and that's all I would suggest anyone else do."

* The Project starts on TV3 tonight at 7pm.