When Angela D'Audney launches her book next week, she won't be speaking - because she can't. CARROLL DU CHATEAU on TV's bravest battler.
Seven months ago, when Angela D'Audney was diagnosed with a brain tumour "as big as a ping-pong ball" we thought she was a gonner. Two weeks ago, when her publicist told me she could not do her interview because her speech was failing, and that often she couldn't finish sentences, I told the newsroom to get the obituary in order.
But when I called to speak with Nicky Pellegrino, co-author of D'Audney's book Angela: A Wonderful Life! (Penguin, $27.95), she told me that D'Audney was busy getting a new outfit made for her book launch at TVNZ on Monday and the public launch lunch at the Carlton Hotel on Tuesday.
Says Pellegrino: "For her it's quite exciting, something to look forward to. She loves parties."
And of course, it must give D'Audney a certain satisfaction that the organisation that has used her, then dumped her, then picked her up again so many times during the past 35-odd years is laying on a party in her honour.
"She's outlasted a lot of people who axed her - that's for sure," says Pellegrino. "She's been dumped and fired and had to claw her way up. Now she can say, 'See, I've outlasted a lot of you and here's my book!"'
True. The 215 pages of the unashamedly one-sided story that takes D'Audney through her 57 years glints with almost-forgotten names that, at the time, were far more important than hers: Julian Mounter, Mike Lattin, Lindsay Perigo, Paul Cutler - she worked for them all, from South Pacific Television's Weekend News to TV3 telethons to Kaleidoscope, One News, the lot.
Overall Angela shows that behind the cute, gap-toothed smile is a professional who loves her job, works like hell and revels in the spotlight. "She's kept everything since she started, all these old clippings that chart television almost since its beginnings in New Zealand," says Pellegrino.
Running parallel to D'Audney's professional life is her personal one - full of men, sleek European cars and racy poodles, also swinging from good times to bad.
First there was her father who, she writes, was a brooding, macho character who left her mother, older sister Teresa and Angela for good when she was about 14, and is possibly the reason for her man troubles.
Then came the handsome Haddo D'Audney, with his mother who refused to speak to Angela - presumably because she was Jewish. Despite the parental opposition, Angela and Haddo married when she was 21. They divorced seven years later.
"I don't want to be critical because that's not fair, but the truth is, Haddo wasn't all that good as a broadcaster," writes D'Audney. "I had started to get lots of attention from the public and that was another source of contention between us. Haddo didn't like being known as Mr Angela D'Audney."
Next came a man (who does not even get a name in the book) who tried to fleece her of her money. But typically, D'Audney fought back.
"I thought, 'Bugger it, my money is in that house and I want it. I'm not going to have it sitting over there [the couple had moved to Australia] with him.' So I started legal proceedings. Eventually he returned the lot, with 10 per cent interest."
Dave Blythe was a pilot who flew for one of the copper mines in Australia, but after meeting Angela on the beach stayed in New Zealand for six years. "We loved each other and had such lovely times ... Dave is living proof that, although I might have made a few mistakes in my time, bad men haven't been a pattern in my life. I do know how to pick the good ones sometimes."
Then there is Rob Webster, a long-term partner who is still fighting D'Audney through the courts, looking for a financial settlement - and apparently undeterred, or unmoved, by her illness.
"The last few years Rob and I were together I knew our relationship was hideously wrong," writes D'Audney. "Often I'd get home and the house was in darkness, the dogs hadn't been fed and would have pooped inside, and Rob would be holed up in the garage. But I couldn't end it with him. I was trapped in the relationship by Rob's need of me ...
"A year after Rob and I split he took legal action to get a financial settlement out of me. He wanted a lot of money and I didn't think he deserved a cent ... I've worked hard over the years so I'd be financially secure later in life. I don't owe anybody anything. And if I've got a fight on my hands, well, I've never been afraid of that."
Even now she is ill, when most people are surrounded and nursed by women, D'Audney's special caregivers are men, particularly Mike van der Wal and Michael Brewerton, who she dreams of driving through Italy with - with the warm wind in her hair. "Perhaps one of the reasons I've never had a big gang of female friends is that I never wanted to gossip about the things that interested women," she writes. "A great advantage of my men friends is that they're usually happy to talk about my abiding passion - cars!"
As she says later in the same chapter, after describing buying her MGC (an engine on wheels) she "naturally" needs high-performance cars. "Second-best has never been okay for me - I always wanted to play for the A team!"
Then there are the poodles, which she adores too. Her current couple are black and white beauties - Norma Jean and Marilyn.
One of the other interesting things about D'Audney, who appears from the outside to have enormous confidence in her physical appearance, is a belief from childhood - absorbed from her father - that she is unattractive.
As she writes, "'You're fat,' he'd tell me. 'No man is ever going to be interested in a girl like you.' ... That sort of thing has stayed with me all my life. I still have this pathetic need for male approval."
Despite - or maybe because of this - D'Audney has flashed her flesh regularly during her career, earning herself trouble more than once for super-short skirts and too much cleavage. But little deterred her.
Remember when D'Audney, acting in a TV drama called The Venus Touch with Bruno Lawrence and Grant Tilly, bared her breasts? As she writes, "My character was trying to get her husband's attention because the sex part of their relationship had gone out the window. There was one scene where I was sitting up in bed trying to get his attention, so I took off my top. Now that's what married people actually do, so I thought it was in context." In 1979 no amount of context would have permitted topless TV. But D'Audney, already the darling of New Zealand television, could do no wrong. There was one day's outcry. "The next day they got boxes and boxes of mail saying, 'Don't worry Angela, we love you.' And I thought, 'God, for them to have forgiven me that must mean they really do care about me."'
D'Audney, who Pellegrino describes as a "straight talker", has little time for artifice.
"I've lost count of the number of dentists who have told me that I really ought to do something [about the gap between her front teeth] ... The last time I said to the woman, 'I don't want anyone to talk to me about the gap between my teeth. I'm not interested. Don't do it. I've got really, really good, strong teeth ... The audience love it because it's my trademark. I think it's one of the things that has endeared me to the public. They realise that I'm a real person and that's why they relate to me. I'm not a glamour person, I'm real."
It is an attitude that D'Audney refuses to drop. Throughout the past six months she has held on to her hope, called on the optimism inherited from her mother who, at 80, is now ill with multiple sclerosis, reluctantly paid for the expensive drugs and carried on.
Even the court case with Webster is turned sunny side up. Says Pellegrino: "She keeps joking to me, 'At least this business with Rob's keeping my mind off my illness."'
Despite ever-increasing incapacity affecting her speech, hand and leg, meaning she can no longer do the things she loves best, D'Audney is determined. Pellegrino worked with her to get the book out in six months flat.
"One of the big tragedies of Angela's illness is that she can't speak very well and can't drive her cars," says Pellegrino.
"She's still very much coming to terms with her disabilities. She's always believed in mind over matter and with this sort of thing going on in her brain she can't get control of it.
"But she's still at home in the little house in Kohimarama, still walks with the dogs."
And she will make those book launches next week if it kills her.
Caption2: LOVING LIFE: Angela D'Audney poses for a promo for the Gulf War broadcast to the troops in 1991. Left, with John Hawkesby at the launch of the Variety Club; and with one of her beloved cars, a Jag Mark 2.
Morning incident. At the time I assumed it was stress-related and, when I described to him what had happened, my GP thought the same thing. Not stress from my TV work - I've been doing that for almost 40 years and long ago learned to handle the particular brand of nerves and tension it brings.
No, I was stressed about the hideous situation I'd got into with my ex-boyfriend Rob Webster. We split up three years ago and now he's suing me for a financial settlement. Needless to say, I don't think he deserves a cent and so, with the help of my lawyer, I'm fighting him.
It's a nasty, messy business that has been taking up huge chunks of my time. I've had to spend hours going through old bank statements and financial documents, and the entire thing has been emotionally and physically draining.
I explained all that to my GP, and he agreed I had every reason to be stressed. But by this time my speech was much worse, slurred even. And I was having to search for my words too, so it wasn't just my speech, it was my very grasp of language. My doctor must have had his suspicions. To be on the safe side, he said, there was a neurologist he'd like me to have a chat with at Auckland Hospital.
The neurologist was 98 per cent sure it was stress-related as well. But, just to eliminate that last little 2 per cent, he suggested I have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. They did the scan straight away, which surprised me. I'd thought I was just popping in for a quick chat with the neurologist, and never envisaged being whisked away for tests.
An MRI scan is incredibly noisy - it sounds like a jackhammer, which I hadn't realised. When they went to put earphones on me I said, "Look, I'm not fussed about listening to music," and they told me, "No, sorry, it's to protect your ears from the noise!" But I didn't let them cover my eyes. I wanted to watch because I found the whole procedure fascinating.
I was watching the people in the control room. To begin with there were only two. Then one went to the phone and another came in. "We're just going to pop some dye in so we can have a better look," they told me. That must mean there is definitely something in there for them to look at, I reasoned.
By the time they'd finished, there were five people in the control room and there was no doubt in my mind I had some bad news coming my way.
Once it was over I went in to see the neurologist again. He had all these pictures of the inside of my head spread out across his desk. As he looked up at me his face was absolutely ashen.
It was incredible. There was this thing inside my head that was pure white and the size of a ping-pong ball. "Where the hell did that come from?" I asked. It was a struggle to concentrate on what he was saying because I was so flabbergasted by the sight of this thing in my head.
It was a brain tumour, of course. A big one. Without surgery I would have just seven to 10 days to live. If I hadn't had those stumbles on Late Edition and Good Morning, if I'd left it a few days before seeing a doctor ... it didn't bear thinking about.
The diagnosis was a huge shock and there was a lot for me to take in. The whole thing felt surreal - almost as if the clouds and traffic were all flying past at full speed outside and we were inside, frozen still.
I wasn't frightened or tearful. It was all too unreal for me to be upset. I just sat there in his office looking at this bloody great thing in my head and I was fascinated.
Then we had this crazy argument about me driving home. "You're not allowed to drive under any circumstances," he told me. I was astonished. "My E-Type is down in your car park and I have to get it home," I insisted.
Silly, really. Perhaps I was focusing on the car instead of the enormity of what was happening to me. But I don't think so. At that stage I still couldn't believe it was real.
That was on Thursday. The next day I had a battery of tests to check for cancer elsewhere in my body. They scanned me all over for melanoma and checked things like my liver. But there was no sign of anything except the brain tumour.
At the end of a long day I met my neurosurgeon, Andrew Law. He gave me the bad news straight away. "This is pretty grim," he told me. That sobered me up and made me realise there was a certain finality to this. Finally, the tears started to flow.
But I wasn't crying because I was frightened of dying. My tears were more for what I was going to miss, the things I wasn't going to have enough time to do.
There were so many questions I needed to ask Andrew Law, so much I had to understand. I fought to control my emotions, so I could take in what he was saying and make the right decisions about my future.
In the next three days there wasn't time for any more tears. I had so much to do before I went into hospital that I needed to stay focused. I kept waking in the night and making endless notes about things I had to remember to get done.
I knew there was a chance I might not make it through surgery, so on Sunday I wanted to see as many of my really close friends as I could, in case this was my last chance to say goodbye. We gathered at my house and had a very special afternoon.
Today, Monday, before I went into hospital, I was whisked around town depositing legal documents and paying bills - so much to organise in those four days that changed my world for ever.
My friends have been wonderful. They took today off work so they could get me organised. They helped me pack, then brought me here to the Ascot Hospital and settled me in. And then they all had to leave and now it's just me lying on this bed alone, thinking things through properly for the first time since this whirlwind hit. And staring out of the window, wondering what I'm doing here and what on earth has happened to my life.
* To book for Angela D'Audney's lunch and book launch with Bennetts Booksellers, on Tuesday December 4 at the Carlton Hotel, phone Sofeena on 366 5633. Tickets cost $50. D'Audney, in her brave new dress, will be the guest of honour. Nicky Pellegrino will speak on her behalf.