Singer-songwriter Jamie McDell tries to limit selfies on social media where she has over 250,000 followers. The 23-year-old Aucklander features in a new book, Surfers: A Kiwi Lifestyle.

1. What's your earliest musical memory?

I wrote my first song at age 7 when we were living on a yacht in the Mediterranean. Dad had decided to quit his job as a lawyer to follow his dream. Mum spent a lot of that trip behind a video camera so there's lots of footage of me at that time singing songs I'd made up. We had a different sort of education and I'm grateful for it. That's where my love for the simpler lifestyle sparked up. I always get homesick if I'm away from the ocean for too long.

2.Did you find it hard to fit back into normal life after two years living at sea?

We went to school in England for three months in the middle. It was quite a shock going from running around nude with a tan and swimming every day to somewhere so cold. I remember feeling self-conscious about being very different to everyone and finding it hard to relate to the other kids. But we were quite adaptable and it was nice to have kids our own age to talk to.


3.Are you close to your sister Tessa?

We were at that age but we ended up having separate upbringings when we came home because she and mum wanted to move to Mangawhai but I was intent on staying at Dio and then Kings, so dad stayed in Auckland with me. I was really in love with the competitiveness of those schools. I loved long-distance running and dreamed of going to the Olympics. I enjoyed being in an environment where coaches would push you. My sister's a bit more free-spirited. She probably doesn't need that structure as much as I felt I did at the time.

4.Was that hard on your parents, living separately during your teenage years?

They've always listened to what we want in life and put that first. I don't know if that's always a good thing. They could have made it easier on themselves by just telling us what was going to happen. We did see each other every weekend.

5.How did you get a development deal with record label EMI at age 16?

Mum and dad sent in a tape. Looking back I was really lucky to have Matt Headland, who was head of the label at that time and is still my manager now, investing in where my songwriting was going. I'd go to the label every week with a new song I'd written about something at school and he'd say "yup cool". I started posting them on YouTube which opened me up to a lot of support but also criticism.

6.How did you cope with negative feedback on social media?

I didn't really care when random people would write things like "You ugly", but once I sent a video round my friends on Facebook saying, "Hey if you like this can you please share it?" and one girl sent it to her friends going, "Oh my gosh! Can you believe this!?" I felt so embarrassed for putting myself out there and was really upset until I thought, "Hold on a second. I love my life. What am I doing sitting here concerned about this?" So that's when I wrote You'll Never Take That Away, which the label released as my first single and it really connected with a lot of people. All of a sudden it was being played on radio and TV. It was really strange and cool.


7.Did fame affect you?

At the time I was finishing school and still a bit up in the air about what I wanted to do. I wasn't banking on music as my one chance so if it didn't work out it wasn't a massive deal. I was really excited to get accepted into AUT's graphic design course. It was hard to juggle music and university but both parties were happy to work with that. One photography teacher let me file an assignment by phone while I was on a week-long public speaking tour.

8.What were you speaking about?

Leadership. It's a programme called NYLD [National Young Leaders Days] which I loved when it came to my school. Jason Kerrison sang and really inspired me. It's so nice to come back and be that person to somebody else. One thing I notice in schools is that it's not cool to care. I try to show people their lives are going to be much more awesome and fruitful if they do something they're passionate about.

9.What's your relationship to social media like now?

At the start I was like, "Do I have to post a photo every day? This is so lame." But I totally changed tack when I realised how powerful it was and I could actually talk about things that I care about like ocean conservation. I didn't want to preach so my tactic had been to inspire young people to get outside and enjoy the ocean so they have a reason to care. I haven't figured out Twitter. It seems to be just controversial, witty statements and that's not really my talent.

10.Do you think posting too many selfies can be damaging?

I definitely try to limit selfies. I watched a video of Essena O'Neill explaining why she was quitting Instagram and I thought she had a really good point. Beautiful images are popular but maybe looking at that every day isn't so healthy. This is not what life is really like - it's an edited version. Afterwards I went through my own feed and just reassured myself that I was doing was okay. Every photo had a purpose behind it. Of course if I'm surfing I'm in a bikini so long as it's in context. I definitely respect what Essena said, but social media isn't the devil. It's so much more effective to shine a light on something positive.

11.How did you meet your boyfriend Jake?

We met surf lifesaving at Pauanui. I go down there all the time to stay with my best friend's family and Jake's family also have a bach there so that's how we all met. We've been going out two years but have known each other much longer. He's a brilliant surfer. Everything he does in the water is wonderful to watch. He's awesome.

12.What are your career goals?

I'm working as a freelance graphic designer but my goal is to create a social enterprise. That's a business that makes money for the sole purpose of giving back, like Michael Meredith's Eat My Lunch. I did an internship with the Festival for the Future and was so inspired by how the founder Guy Ryan was supporting young people to use their creativity to affect change.

Surfers: A Kiwi Lifestyle by Jo Caird and Paula George RRP $39.99