Michele Hewitson interview: Julian Wilcox

Julian Wilcox wants the boss's job ... but says heaps of other people do, too. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Julian Wilcox wants the boss's job ... but says heaps of other people do, too. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Before being allowed an interview with the Maori Television star, Julian Wilcox, there was a bit of a grilling from a scary boss lady.

She was quite stern about the peg, MTV's Anzac Day coverage, and would obviously have preferred that the interview was all about that and not about the star. What was I going to ask him about? Him. His career or his character? Both.

But the star was completely laid back about the idea, although he seemed more interested in introducing me to every single person who works at MTV than in being interviewed.

It was my own silly fault, for doing the interview in the lobby. But it was almost worth it to watch him make a silly bugger of himself by introducing me to some chap he hailed like a brother and who he said worked in production and who didn't work in production at all.

I'd have been mortified; he wasn't. He claims to be so used to making a silly bugger of himself that he, and everyone else, just takes it for granted.

This is possibly the reason for the grilling.

I did tell him that because I was frightened of the boss lady, I'd better make sure he gave MTV's Anzac Day coverage a big plug but he just banged on for a bit about how it wasn't just important for MTV, but for the whole country. So I'll do it for him. (I don't want her ringing me up.) Do watch MTV on Anzac Day; it does a terrific job of the coverage, and the star's pretty good too.

He looks like a star. At least he does on the enormous billboard outside MTV headquarters. He has a lovely smile. He might be rather handsome. He once said, as a joke, that the first time he appeared on the telly he looked pretty cute. This is a joke because, everyone says his wife, Maia, is the really good-looking one, and that they can't work out what she sees in him.

He wouldn't show me a picture of her on his phone because he doesn't like to talk about his family. Her legendary gorgeousness would, he said, have to remain a mystery. So the first thing I did when I got home was Google her. She is gorgeous and I can't work out what she sees in him either.

He's not even a star, according to him. I wanted to see his office. He doesn't have one. He has a tiny desk, exactly the same size as everybody else's desk, in the newsroom. What's the point in being the star if it doesn't get you an office? "Nah. I'm a pleb." He might be. He does the shopping at Pak'nSave in Mt Albert. Pak'nSave!

He wouldn't tell me what he gets paid but says he knows that it's a lot less than his counterparts at TVNZ and TV3. But he wasn't complaining and he said he is very comfortably off and he knows a lot of people are "doing it hard". He says he doesn't have a flash house (he and Maia - a doctor, and daughter of composer Hirini Melbourne - and their three kids live in Mt Albert) and that he isn't much interested in money.

But would he go to mainstream telly if he was offered a big high-profile job with lots of money? He said he'd never been asked, or not "formally", but that, no, he wouldn't because he wanted to work at MTV from the moment it was mooted. (He used to work for TVNZ's Te Karere, so perhaps he was such a pain when he was there they wouldn't have him back. That's pure speculation, of course. I have only his word that he is a pain, although after an hour of having a prod at this character of his, I'm inclined to believe him.) Anyway, what he really wants is to be chief executive of MTV.

I wondered whether it was diplomatic to be announcing in an interview that he was after his boss' job. But he says that's the great thing about MTV, that it nurtures people who do want the top job. He says there are "heaps" of people who want it. He'll probably get it; he'll talk his way into it. As he says, he's "not backward in coming forward".

I did wonder whether, if he had been the boss, he'd have sacked himself in 2005. I didn't put it quite like that. I put it like this: He was lucky he still had any job at MTV. He said: "There is that." He got the boot. "A lot has been said about that Michele. We won't go into that. It was a long time ago."

He got the boot for disloyalty, for having had something to do with stories appearing in other media about MTV staff being asked to declare whether they were affiliated to the Maori Party (something like that; he wasn't about to illuminate me.) Honestly, what was he thinking? "Oh, I think enough has been said about it already."

Did he charm his way back in? "No! I possess very little charm."

I had asked somebody who knows him what he was like, and she said: "Funny, charming and ... short."

If it wasn't his non-existent charm, then he must have had to eat an enormous amount of humble pie to get his job back. "I am always eating humble pie. Ha, ha." What a slippery answer. He's very good at them; most good interviewers are. I asked, for instance, in an attempt to flush out whether his natural inclinations were Right or Left, who he liked best: Willie Jackson (he does a morning show, in te reo, on Jackson's Radio Watea) or John Tamihere.

"Ha, ha, ha! That's a really good question." That's what people being interviewed say when they want to buy time before answering the really good question, as he knows better than most people. His eventual answer was: "Do they come separately?" That was a really good answer, slippery as an eel, but I did have to admire it. He looked horribly smug after he'd delivered it.

This might be one of his "litany" of foibles. That lack of charm might be one. I was going to disagree with him until I asked whether he was a journalist or a broadcaster and he said: "I always say broadcaster because I always say journalists are wankers." So he doesn't lack for cheek, which might be another word for charm. He is also not funny.

He says he takes things, especially his job, too seriously. He has always taken things too seriously and he demonstrated this by telling me that when he was head boy at Te Aute College he once gave his best friend "a black mark for insubordination". I thought he must have done it as a joke, but no. "I told him to do something and he didn't do it."

His best friend is still, amazingly, his best friend. I hope he's since apologised. "No, because I still believe it was the right thing to do".

He tried to tell me that there is no room for big egos at MTV but rather ruined this rosy picture by then telling me that "a lot of people would say I've got an ego. And they're probably right. I'd like to think that I have a sense of humility." Oh? He once said that he suspected that he had "a great propensity for a lack of humility". So one of these statements is rot.

"I think you do have to have a sense of self-confidence . Sometimes I might take that to the furthest degree. Perhaps further than I should try to." He says there are people who would say he was bordering on arrogant. Would he agree with them? "It would be arrogant of me to say I don't."

Do I believe any of this? Does it matter? He is a very good television interviewer, and Native Affairs, which he fronts, won best current affairs show in last year's film and television awards. So you'd think MTV would want to talk him up, but it turns out, again according to him, the biggest challenge is getting him to shut up. He says he talks too much and generally makes a nuisance of himself by interfering in other people's stories. "I'm a pain," he said, failing utterly to sound contrite about this.

He has the cockiness of the spoiled youngest child he says he was. He was the only one of the three siblings to be sent to boarding school (the family finances hadn't allowed for his brother and sister to go) and he is, he says, "a mummy's boy".

He arrived at Te Aute aged 13, and cried every time he had to go back, but God knows why because he loved it. He wasn't raised to be "very Maori" and couldn't speak Maori or do a haka when he arrived; he still retains the evangelical fervour of the convert about things Maori. In an ideal world he would always speak Maori; he thinks in Maori and has been known to sleep talk in Maori.

He wasn't supposed to become a broadcaster; "There was a thought" that he would become an Anglican minister. But he got a radio gig when he was still at school and girls would ring in with requests and the single-sex boarding school boy thought that was pretty neat, and that was that.

Just as well, really. He's a terrible teller of porkies - he calls it "fudging" - so the church had a lucky escape. For one thing, he claims to be 5ft 11in (1.8m). That's the least of it. I asked whether he'd ever done anything he was ashamed of and he told me a really dodgy story about taking his 11-year-old son to a Hurricanes game at Eden Park and walking out before the end in a sulk because the Blues were winning.

Then he refused to get on the train with Blues supporters because he was wearing his Hurricanes get-up (which he wears to work every Friday.) So he made his boy walk home to Mt Albert, which is a 45-minute walk and then lied ("fudged") and told him it was 20 minutes. Then he lied ("fudged") to his wife about this sorry episode. He claims to have forgotten the details of the fudging.

I had come to see why the scary boss lady might have been concerned about an interview about his character, which, he'd have you believe, is thoroughly rotten.

I would very much like to believe this. (He did call me a wanker, after all.) So it pains me to have to admit that he is funny and charming. But if he's 1.8m I'll eat my potae.

- NZ Herald

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