1 Is the Farmers Santa Parade a Christian event?
It's really about the community coming together. Farmers' founder Robert Laidlaw was a Christian man but he never made the parade religious. He called it "a gift of fantasy and fanfare for the children of Auckland". It was the right call because New Zealand's now a big melting pot of different religions and over 82 years the parade's become a generational tradition. We do have one nativity scene float each year from a group called Christ In Christmas. I'm not Christian but I do come from a very community-minded family.
2 Has the parade become too commercialised?
Someone has to pay for it. My job's to make sure the commercial element enhances rather than detracts from the floats. They have to be family-friendly and have entertainment value. Sponsors can create their own float or come down to our warehouse and find something we can tweak to fit their brand. In the old days there were a lot more nursery rhyme-themed floats but we've moved to more licensed products because that's what kids want. Farmers' toy buyers find out what's hot and we rent branded character costumes from overseas.
3 How long have you been running the parade?
Twenty-seven years. My children have grown up with it. I ran my second parade with my eldest son in a pack on my back and for years I ran it from home. My friends know that from Labour Weekend till the paradethere isn't time for anything else. Sometimes you wish you'd be cloned into five of you. Every year we have to find 600 volunteers to work behind the scenes. It's a bit like a military operation.
4 What keeps you awake at night?
I have two recurring dreams. One is that no one turns up and the other is that I forgot the RTs [walkie talkies] and there's no way of communicating. This year I'm really worried people haven't got the message that the parade's starting an hour earlier at 1pm. We've advertised it widely but Aucklanders are creatures of habit.
5 What's your most mortifying Santa Parade moment?
The day Santa's float broke down. The parade had already started when I heard them saying on the RTs, "We've got a problem with Santa's float" and the next thing I see Santa coming past in a police car. I just thought, "No way. This is not going to happen." So I got Santa out and put him on the back of an open topped vintage bus.
6 What's your proudest Santa Parade moment?
Introducing the blue "honour line" in 1995. I got the idea from Adelaide and it works a treat. The kiddies go up the front and sit behind it. We did have one little kiddie run in front of a float to in 96 and of course the TV camera captured it but he was fine thank goodness.
7 How often have you had to postpone because of bad weather?
Only once. But it was the right call. The winds were so high that day the police closed the harbour bridge. Weather decisions are the most painful part of the job. If you cancel in the morning and the sun's shining at midday it's a disaster and if it's worse weather the following Sunday then it's an even bigger disaster.
8 When did you emigrate from South Africa and why?
My husband Neville got a job here in 1987. The Government had clamped down on the black movement and we thought it would explode. You can't build your life on quicksand. My boss said: "Pam you're making the biggest mistake of your life, there's only sheep in New Zealand." I remember driving down Queen St at 8am and there wasn't a soul in sight. I thought "What have we done?" but now I am so proud to be a Kiwi. The All Blacks are my team. I love the humbleness, kindness and wholesomeness of New Zealand.
9 Were you aware of racism growing up?
No. That sounds so naive it's embarrassing. I grew up in a small mining town in the Orange Free State and went to a strict English boarding school. All the media was state controlled so the newspaper was full of black splodges. The penny didn't drop until I went to America on an AFS exchange and a black girl asked me, "Why do black kids go to different schools in South Africa?" I couldn't answer. When I got back I went to university and got access to the banned book library and oh my God it was like a mind explosion.
10 You became an event manager for Sun International. What happened when the Artists United Against Apartheid song Sun City came out in 1985?
That was full on. None of the big international artists would play at Sun City any more so you had to create your own acts to fill the super bowl. We used to do Wheel of Fortune, boxing, you just make do.
11 Has that experience helped?
That tenacity has paid off. It took me years to bring the first helium inflatables to New Zealand like the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York. Everybody told me "you're going to have a disaster on your hands". It's been fine and every year it's my highlight. It really gives the parade the wow factor.
12 What will be this year's highlight?
We've got a new Santa's float for the first time in five years. It's Kiwiana-themed with a pohutukawa and a pukeko. It's going to be an awesome finale. Just please don't forget the new 1pm start time.