Annette Presley: Internet queen

By Michele Hewitson, Michelle Hewitson

In a photograph in yesterday's Herald (see More Pictures above), Annette Presley wears a clinging frock with a neckline invariably described as plunging. The founder of internet provider Slingshot also sports a coat made up of rings of black and white furry stuff.

I'd seen her the day before and had to ring her back anyway because, as I pointed out, "I didn't so much forget to ask a few things but I didn't get the opportunity because somebody else was asking too many questions." But while I had her on the phone, what was that she was wearing? It is, she says, "a raccoon fur. FAKE raccoon, Michele. Fake."

She tells me that her characteristically cheeky stunt of applying for Theresa Gattung's job in a full-page newspaper ad means that she'll be on the telly news, "so that'll help your story, won't it?"

This is nice of her. Perhaps she'll give me a plug in advance of the nice long one I'm supposed to be giving her here. She wouldn't put it quite that way but it's the gist of her many instructions about what I am to write. "That's a good challenge," she says, "write some inspirational stories. I hope this one might be one. That would be a dream for me because I do believe in what I'm saying otherwise I wouldn't dedicate myself to it."

Her company is about "making a difference". If I should be so churlish to add that it is also about keeping Presley in fake fur and real bling, that would be snarky.

"New Zealanders have this thing: it's the tall poppy syndrome and unfortunately reporters perpetuate that. Hopefully you're not going to do that. Because it should be about inspiring and motivating people rather than pulling down people who have succeeded, and I know you won't do that to me."

It would take a far greater force of nature than my puny efforts to do any such thing. If she was not so obviously sincere and good natured it would be tempting to say she asked for it.

What she does ask, well, demand, actually, is that I use my marvellous success in life to inspire other people. According to Presley, I should go around saying "hey, I'm Michele and I've become a successful journalist!" This sounds like taking the mickey but it's not. I say, visibly cringing, "New Zealanders don't go around boasting!"

"Oh," she says, "I think that's sad. Don't you want to help other people become successful like you? You're successful. Do you think you are?" I don't think she does sarcasm.

I'd much rather she helped me become really rich. She won't say how much she has but it was around $70 million last time she and husband Malcolm Dick made an appearance on a Rich List. She says her salary is $40,000 a year which is what she says she'll do Theresa Gattung's job for. The poor thing. This is absolutely true, she insists, and tells me to ask her accountant in the office next door. The accountant is off sick. But she must think I'm really thick if she thinks I'm going to take this to mean she lives on $40,000 a year. That wouldn't keep her in shoes. She has 120 pairs.

She does lots of speaking and gives the money to charity. This is what she calls "sending the lift back down". The speaking is "inspirational, motivational". She says "feel the fear and do it anyway" four times in half an hour before I meanly ask her if this is her favourite slogan.

"Yeah, it seems to be, doesn't it. It comes from my heart, that's what I've always done. I wrote a speech based around it and now people repeat it back to me." I say I think it may have been around for a while and she says, "Oh. Well, I didn't know anyone had a copyright on it."

She didn't grow up with money, but discovered she had "the guts and the determination and stickability to do it all the way. That's what I try to teach other people". I wonder whether she thinks, though, that people either have these things or they don't. "I can't answer that because I'm not a psychologist." What she really means, I figure, is that she can't answer that because it would involve an element of doubt and you can't do, or teach, such things unless you absolutely believe them. And she does.

If I ever do decide to be successful, I'll ask her to be my mentor.

Which would serve her right because she just about drove me mad: with her questions, her bossing and her motivational speak.

At one stage I am driven to say,"now, stop interviewing me. I'm interviewing you. You're very bossy". To which she replies, "I know. I get described like that. But I'm interested in people. So ... I could have gone to school with you! How old are you? Did you go to Papatoetoe Central and Papatoetoe Intermediate?"

I say "no" which stops her asking another question for, oh, at least 30 seconds. But this particular line of questions is my fault. We are the same age and, had she gone to Papatoetoe High as she longed to do instead of being packed off to the nuns at McAuley High School, we would have briefly been at school together and I foolishly told her this.

Anyway, she says she's glad now that her parents decided to send her to a Catholic girls' school. "The nuns are fairly disciplined and, I guess, self-sacrificing. You learn something from them. It's impossible not to, really. You think I'm bossy? They redefine the word bossy."

She, on the other hand, is just a good saleswoman. She tries to sign me to Slingshot within five minutes.

When I ask whether the Christianity took, she says, "No, I believe that God is good in all of us. I don't think there's a person sitting on a cloud going: 'Michele, don't you write those naughty things about Annette. Don't diss her. Diss someone else. Be niceto her'."

So, not as bossy as God then. She says that, actually, she's nervous. "But you know what? Feel the fear and do it anyway. There is a real need for people not to be scared, for example, to meet with people like you." If this is true, I would very much like to meet her when she's feeling confident.

She doesn't mind being called aggressive. "Yeah, sure. Absolutely." I figure she discovered her aggressive side when she was, say, 4 or 5. This is not psychology, just a lucky guess. "Oh okay. Possibly." At 4 she saw a little boy who was in a go-kart. She wanted it and "so I smacked him in the face". She would like it to be known that she has never hit anyone since.

Loud and pushy is fine too. She has a laugh like a kookaburra and fingernails like the sheilas on Footballers' Wives. You are not going to mistake her for a shy, retiring type.

Not when her face is on billboards around town. I thought this must be strange but she doesn't give it much of a thought. She's too busy to think about what people might think of her image. "I think if I worried about that I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning."

What was "a bit scary", she says, was when her marketing department told her they'd have to Photoshop the picture because, "they said, 'you've got a three-metre high cleavage'. Would you like a three-metre high cleavage of you on a billboard?"

This is one of her crazy, unanswerable questions. I give in and say "Sure. Why not?"

"Okay," she says, "why don't you go and do it next weekend?"

I thought she would be in celebratory mode given the unbundling of Telecom. But she says despite what her friends call "the unbungling ... there's nothing to actually celebrate yet".

I suggest that she won't know what to do with herself if she's not scrapping with Telecom.

"I could go and spend more time with my children, spend more time doing things I enjoy doing. If New Zealand becomes a really truly level playing field." Of course she would. She unleashes the kookaburra and concedes, "Probably not. I'd just find something else I passionately believe in. New Zealand needs more people that aren't afraid to stand up. I hope there's going to be more in the future."

"Oh, go on," I say, "Do your feel the fear thing, one last time."

"No, no I'm too scared," she says, screeching away. She's perfect hell to interview - she says she'd return the compliment - but what a time we South Auckland girls could have out on the town. I wonder if she'd let me have a wear of the raccoon wrap?

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