There were three Kings in town this last week and while the cream of Māori business dined with the Māori King and his guest the King of Tonga, across town I had an audience with New Zealand's favourite son and newly crowned King of Aotearoa - as New Zealander of the year, Mike King.

While one meeting was dealing with the dollars and cents of GDP and the rapidly growing Māori economy, Mike and I were talking about the rapidly rising river of MHI (Mental Health Issues) and how kindness is the currency of success for those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide and other identity challenges.

Mike had only one request when he called me up for a kai 24 hours before he would be crowned King of kings up in Auckland, and that was "Bro I'll find you and you find the best steak in downtown Tauranga".

Not an easy task when we don't dine out at night, other than a biannual pilgrimage to Somerset Cottage, the king of kai for us.


When Mike arrived at Nomad restaurant, I gave him the whakapapa on the Māori owner who chaired Avalon, a special needs trust, and how he deserved a shot at serving up a steak fit for a king.

So we gave it a shot.

They say the way to a man's heart is his puku and if there were a happier set of happy puku in town after our Nomad steak then I would eat my potae.

"The best I have eaten ever - and I have sampled the best steaks on the planet," beamed Big Head. Big Head was the nickname given to Mike when he was a kid, and the cornerstone character in his korero earlier that day over at the Mount, to a young group of Bay Pathway kids looking for love and acceptance.

To sit in the back of this group of 40 teenagers and watch Mike weave his magic is equal to any concert or stand-up comedic character he once was before he became a warrior for the I Am Hope charity he heads.

Back in the day in a previous life when I was married to a stand-up comedian, Mike and I were close. The one-liners we belted out at each other - as we belted the little white ball around Chamberlain Park Golf course were worthy of a wider audience – in my humble opinion.

Interesting bunch the stand-up set. Turns out they too struggle with a lot of self-doubt and mental health issues and after 20 years plus of sobriety between us now, it is easy to understand why applause junkies hunger for acceptance from their audience.

So there we were sipping on soda water and laughing louder than anyone else slurping chardonnay by the bottle. There were so many similarities in our journeys through life that have led us to a similar place where kindness is the currency to measure success if we are to make the world a better place.


He really does radiate when his mouth, mind and puku are in perfect harmony and the korero from the brother from another mother was as rich as the sweet sauce drizzled across our steaks.

My take away treats from my dine-in dinner with the King are these:

"Kids don't learn by what we say, but what they see us doing."

"The current crisis in mental health is a sinking ship. We are currently funding a sinking ship and we need to build a new one."

"Empathy is everything and giving our kids value is crucial."

"Kids need firstly love and secondly they need to know their thoughts and opinions are valued."

"I have talked and met with 200,000 kids and 90 per cent of them are getting their self-esteem from the approval of others. Why? Because they feel they are not getting it from the adults in their lives."

Amen to that Bro, it is exactly what our homeless need.

My after-dinner coffee question gave me back an answer worthy of any Steven Colbert comedy writer.

"What do you think about Trump Bro?"

"All in all he's just another d*** with a wall."

The final question from the Bay Pathway kids summed it all up. "Will you be doing a game of halves again soon Bro?"

"Why, when I can do this" and "I'm done with that half of my life."

Walking away after wishing him well for the awards the next night, I couldn't help hoping this time after five shots at the title, the king would be crowned.

This time when the big head with the small ego and huge heart for our tamariki walked up on stage in his white dairy company gumboots, the gift he has given to over 200,000 kids would be honoured.

When we measure success by mana and not money, we get a level of leadership our next generation deserves in life and for me, life is a game of two halves when it comes to our newly crowned New Zealander of the Year Mike King.

Tommy Kapai Wilson is a local writer and best selling author. He first started working for the Bay of Plenty Times as a paperboy in 1966 and has been a columnist for 15 years. Tommy is currently the executive director of Te Tuinga Whānau, a social service agency committed to the needs of our community.