Forty years ago, Tina Cross entered Kiwi pop culture history when she won the Pacific Song Contest with Nothing But Dreams. She celebrates the anniversary with guests at Takapuna's Pumphouse Theatre this Friday night.
1 How did that iconic 1979 Pacific Song Contest win change your life?
It was a defining moment that turned me into a household name overnight. There were only two TV channels then and everyone was watching. Winning gave me the confidence to spread my wings. My workload doubled and within 18 months I'd moved to Australia, which was what you did in the late 70's and early 80's to further your career. That song and that dress are what people of that era most remember me for.
2 Growing up in Otara, what sort of childhood did you have?
I'm the middle child of seven. I was the 'Miss Goody Two Shoes'. Growing up we didn't have luxuries, but us Cross kids always had food on the table, clean clothes and shoes on our feet. I was conscious of kids around me not being OK and sometimes going hungry. I'd planned to become a social worker until I got a lucky break on TV at age 16. TVNZ's light entertainment department was thriving and I was well and truly riding that wave.
3 Are you strongly connected to your Māori heritage?
I began my te reo journey two years ago at AUT. Now that I'm older, I have more time. I'm very close to my wider whanau, particularly on Mum's side - mostly Te Aupouri and Ngāti Kuri because we lived in Kaitaia for three years while I was growing up. Dad's Ngāti Porou but we didn't spend as much time on the East Coast. With two Maori parents you'd think the language would have survived at home, but it didn't. Mum and dad blamed dialect differences but I think with the urban shift, emphasis wasn't placed on the language at that time.
4 Do you have a female mentor or icon you've looked up to in life?
My great aunt Dame Mira Szaszy was the role model I most admired. She was my grandfather's younger sister and worked alongside Dame Whina Cooper for part of her career. She was an exceptional academic who worked tirelessly for the betterment of Māori women and children. She's the inspiration behind my 'Power of Song' workshops in prisons.
5 What have been the challenges of being a woman in the entertainment industry and have those changed in the 44 years you've been in the business? As a young female singer, I did as I was told but I never felt taken advantage of or pushed around. A good work ethic, professionalism and always bringing my A game is important to me, although my perfectionist side has sometimes proved more of a stress than an attribute. As a solo artist, I've always been responsible for my own career decisions, repertoire, costuming and presentation. These days I love sharing that load with the Lady Killers, our girl band of Jackie Clarke, Suzanne Lynch and myself. The synergy and ease between us is very satisfying. We've earned it.
6 How did you manage all the travel while your kids were little?
During those musical theatre years my husband Wayne was also very busy running his own business, so I hired live-in nannies. Sometimes I struck gold and other times the kids were very vocal in saying, 'Get someone else!' I did feel guilty being away from them but they're adamant that they had it better than their mates – they had parents plus a nanny. I'd fly back to Auckland for one night most weeks and occasionally the nanny would bring them to me in Wellington or Christchurch.
7 You've just turned 60. How do you stay looking so young?
I keep up with the best in skincare, natural hormones and supplements. Keeping weight off is harder as we age; I've had to be more vigilant about diet and exercise. One thing I can't go without is makeup. I've learnt dewy makeup is an older woman's best friend - too much powder sits in the creases. I love face treatments. My current favourite is dermaplaning, where your face is shaved with a scalpel, and I've had the odd vampire facial – both excellent treatments.
8 Have your career objectives changed with age?
I've been actively following my social conscience over the past five years and discovered the songwriter in me - I never thought I had that particular talent. Writing the songWalk Awaywas fuelled by a need to raise awareness of domestic violence and family harm. Writing it was cathartic -all of a sudden I was able to relay a message in a song which I offered to Women's Refuge.
9 What inspired you to write the song Another Little One?
Listening to a news item about the death of 3-year-old Moko Rangitohiriri, I thought about all of our tamariki who have died this way. It upset me so much that I sat down and wrote the song overnight. It's my way of saying, 'Listen up, feel the pain and help stamp out child abuse'. I offered the song to Shine knowing it would help raise awareness of their incredible work.
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10 How did you get involved in the Manukau Police Choir?
I sang at a police event where Ngā Pirihimana o Tamaki Makaurau were also performing. They loved the message inWalk Awayand asked me to teach it to them. We released a joint recording online as their Christmas/New Year message; sadly this period is always their busiest with family harm. I kept going along to choir practice and became an honorary member. It's been a joyous and satisfying relationship.
11 You run your own 'Power of Song' workshops in prisons. How do the inmates respond?
From the first trial in Wiri Women's Prison, I felt immediately at ease teaching the wāhine who wanted to be there. Not only did the harmonies get in, so did the messages in my songs. I found them completely dropping their guard and committing to a learning, fun-filled experience. The first workshop was so successful, Corrections agreed to a five-year contract with Wiri Women's, Auckland Men's, and Ngawha Prison in Kaihohe. Being able to bring the police choir into prison to perform with the inmates' choir will remain a career highlight.
12 What can people expect from your show in Takapuna on Saturday night?
A musical journey celebrating songs, people and moments that have helped cement my career. Celebrating 40 years since the Pacific Song Contest is important to me. It was a song writer's competition and Carl Doy wrote it. He'll be performing at the Pumphouse with me, along with guest artists and musicians who I've worked with over the years. I'm a tad nervous but I in truth, I can't wait! I suspect this will be the last hurrah.
Tina Cross and Carl Doy, A Salute to Nothing But Dreams , The Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Friday 25 October.