Brent Hansen was 29 when he left New Zealand with his wife Philippa Dann for a trip around Europe. The Radio With Pictures producer was instead hired by the new MTV Europe channel where he rose to become editor-in-chief. He lives in London.

1. You must have seen a lot of celebrity ego in your time: how did you deal with that?

Celebrity is a devalued word. Anyone with access to media in any form becomes a celebrity in their own lunchtime so celebrity usually carries negative connotations for me. Self-importance, egomania, over-exposure and promotion of lifestyle beyond that of most people has led most of us to have an unrealistic idea of what to expect from life. I had friends through work, of course, but I deliberately didn't hang out with rock stars. Who were my friends? Well, I don't want to say. I knew when I left my [MTV] job they wouldn't be my friends any longer. I never wanted to be in thrall to the system. I would have [staff] who would deal with artistic management and the record companies which would leave me able to make more objective calls when needed. Did I see excessive demands? Oh yes. Absolutely appalling stuff. Not just pop stars but corporate people that beat you down. I hated all that. I'm a very level-headed person.

2. Why do so many New Zealanders do well internationally, in your opinion?
I think we're natural bounders in the sense that we jump across boundaries. We certainly aren't afraid to take an opportunity that's given to us. When Pip and I decided to leave New Zealand we wrote to MTV and said what we'd been doing, that we were having a six-month sabbatical in the UK and could we visit New York to see what MTV was doing. By the time we got there, there was a letter waiting for us saying sure, come to New York, but that MTV was starting its first channel outside the US and would we be interested in a job? Working in New Zealand I'd done a lot " interviewed Bowie, broadcast a telethon, we did interviews with rock stars pretty much every week. I was pretty au fait with a lot of stuff and I'm sure I was cheaper than the British to employ. You get luck and you have to surf the opportunity.

3. You studied history and English literature at university: which would you choose - books or music?
Music hands down. Everything I do relates to music one way or another. I listen to music all of my waking hours. Even when I was working on Radio With Pictures and, more pertinently MTV, I always sought wider and wider perspectives in my musical education. It is both a passion and a pleasure. I have eclectic tastes. Reading is therapy and intellectual stimulation but music is in my blood.


4. What are your earliest musical memories?
I was born on the day that Little Richard recorded Tutti Frutti. I clearly don't remember that moment, but growing up in the 1960s and 1970s we were so lucky. The transistor under my pillow at night fed me a steady diet of Beatles, Stones, The Byrds, Pretty Things, the Who and Hendrix. It was magic. In 1965 I saw the Stones at the Theatre Royal with my dad. The show opened with Ray Columbus and the Invaders, into The Newbeats then Roy Orbison before I was thrilled by the charisma and chutzpah of the cocky Stones. I was addicted to music thereafter.

5. What did your parents teach you?
Kindness, good manners and to follow my heart. I was the eldest of four growing up in Christchurch, a very independent and somewhat mature child and as long as I didn't get into trouble I was encouraged to seek those things that stimulated me. My parents really never tried to mould me. I was allowed to be my own person. Is my mother proud of my career? I wouldn't know. We are all proud of our families and apart from that I don't think they make a big deal of [my work] We're low key kind of people.

6. Who was the better Radio With Pictures host: Karyn Hay or Richard Driver?
Truthfully, that is impossible to answer. When Peter Blake offered me the job in 1982 Karyn was already the presenter. I learned my chops with her and we had a generally stimulating work relationship. I was sad when she resigned. Dick was my choice of replacement. He also had an idiosyncratic style.

7. You ended up in charge of an enormous multinational brand and business: where did you learn how to do that?
I had no business acumen but I went from programming director to being president of the company. I hired a number two from [French business school] INSEAD and I became the philosopher while he drove the business. I had to decide the nature of what we were going to do, the creative style and tone, I regionalised which is a very difficult process, I knew the art of it was important. I played Len Lye videos for a bit and always a wide range of the new and that was accepted because I knew the big stars - Madonna, U2 - did better alongside the edgier. And people followed me. It turned out I was a born leader though I didn't seek to be. I guess it's because I wasn't a bullshitter, I had a relationship with pretty much everybody in the business, I walked the floor, and I stood for the heart of the brand. I'm not hugely creative but I'm very good at working with creative people. I am, above all, a fan.

8. Did you have low periods?
At the beginning of the big jobs, I would sometimes wake in the night and think "I'm not qualified for this" but then I'd think, well no one really is. We were pioneers. I have never had what I would call a real low. I am a survivor at heart. Having a wonderful relationship with my wife helps. She is a very constant person. I've had a charmed life business-wise and always respected that fact. I have good luck.

9. What did you do when you left MTV in 2006?
I did nothing. It was a shock to the system at first but I felt I had to be big enough to walk away and not be another middle-aged guy who's not leaving one situation and had to own another. I didn't feel I had to prove myself to anyone any more. I turned 50 and I could see MTV was becoming a different beast and I was OK with that but I didn't want to be associated with it.

These days I spend a lot of my time educating myself. I go to an art gallery most days. I have interesting friends and see lots of culture. I listen to radio a lot - KCRW in San Diego, National Public Radio in the US. I love Radio New Zealand National. They do a great job on a much smaller budget. I'm on a couple of boards and I'd like to be on a New Zealand one.

10. How Kiwi do you still feel?
I prefer to see myself as a New Zealander, not Kiwi. Kiwi seems a bit try-hard, a bit colloquial to me. A Kiwi is a bird, a fruit. It seems a bit unaspirational. It's easy to keep in touch with New Zealand because of the internet but I do feel like a stranger here. I am an outsider - I always have been, I think, and that's how I've been successful. I don't really understand all of New Zealand but it is still my seminal influence.


11. What do you dislike about New Zealand at present?
There could be a bit less sport and a bit more focus on the arts. It's saddening to see the widening of the gap between rich and poor. There's so much conversation about Auckland property prices and so little about the number of people below the bread line. People at the low end of the market aren't all bludgers. There are plenty of bludgers in corporations and on the upside of life, people who get a free ride as well. Most people are just trying to make their lives work.

12. Where and when are you happiest?
I am always happiest with my family. This makes Christmas so special and life-enhancing. Our two children, Marley and Cassidy, are now young adults, and have turned out to be lovely people and friends. Marley is in Wellington and Cassidy in Brighton studying. I love being in NZ too. I am, and always will be, a New Zealander and there is nothing like home. Being on the board of the Southbank Centre, the UK's largest publicly funded arts body, often gives me immense pleasure as well. I have grown to love so much what the arts have to give. Without art, life is much the poorer.