1. You make a living as a singer, voiceover artist and MC. What job title do you give yourself?
I try to avoid the word entertainer because it sounds a bit dodgy. I'm more of a performer. Singing is the basis of everything I do which is basically communicating.
2. What's the secret to being a great MC?
Recognising who the stars are on the night and creating a platform for them to have their moment. I'm basically like the Christmas fairy, I add a little bit of sparkle and warmth and grace but also mana and levity when it's needed. I love weaving that magic and seeing people blossom. I have a real love of old-school Hollywood glamour so when I turn up in a full-on sequinned frock looking like Shirley Bassey it doesn't matter if it's the Horowhenua A&P show, everyone goes "ah, we're here". It's funny but when I'm off duty I actually don't like big, loud social situations. Eight people round the dinner table at home is enough for me.
3. What has been your most mortifying moment as an MC?
Sometimes I'll turn up and I can tell they were expecting Michele A'Court. We're constantly texting each other; "Somebody said I was amazing last night - it must've been you." There are about three performers I get mixed up with. Jaquie Brown's another. We're like this amorphous blob. Half the world thinks I was in When The Cat's Away when I was actually in When the Cat's Been Spayed. I've had a few gigs where I've realised my style of humour wasn't going to work with a particular audience. You just keep it tight and get the job done. The way I approach it is that I'm making an offer as generously as I can and it's up to the audience how they receive it. If you try to second-guess what they want you're just going to end up on your arse in no man's land.
4. At school you were head girl, runner-up dux and debating champion. Were you quite straight-laced?
No, I was duplicitous in the extreme. I learned as a teenager that discretion is the best way to get what you want. Looking back I feel terrible because I put mum through hell. It was such a cruel and judgmental phase. But I really respect what she did, raising us on her own. We never went without. We had shoes and lunch every day. We just lived within our means. We biked or bused everywhere, bought things on layby. Getting a mortgage was huge for me as a state house kid. Middle class people aren't scared of debt but I was used to paying as you go.
5. Growing up in Gisborne, what "tribe" were you in at school?
In 1981, I was 15 and in a synth-pop band influenced by Depeche Mode and Yazoo. I had a half-shaved head with massive teased hair, gothic eyes, vintage clothes and winkle-pickers. So I didn't really fit in with the surfers or the petrol heads.
6. Did you have formal singing training?
No, I've got a BA in history but no singing training. I've just learned by doing. You need to put yourself in front of people where you feel safe enough to make mistakes. I've got a really wide taste in music so I've sung in all sorts of styles. I was in a country band and I even did a full opera, Porgy and Bess, which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It had to be a full Polynesian cast so they cast the net wide. Cliff Curtis was in it and I got to sing Summertime which was crazy because it's really high. Luckily I didn't know enough to be scared so I just did it.
7. Why are you supporting the Mercy Hospice Christmas Fundraiser?
I'd do anything for them, I really would. When my father was dying of lung cancer, I was having this complete panic attack of "what am I going to do?" when these angels from the hospice turned up and were so good and so matter-of-fact. They knew he didn't have much time so very quickly he was in the hospice like the king of the castle with his girlfriend by his side. I really don't know how I would have coped without them.
8. Were you close to your father?
My father had been estranged from us for many years. He left when my sister and I were little. He'd been living in American Samoa and the United States for years and was on to his fourth marriage when one day he just turned up on my doorstep out of the blue and ended up living with me and my partner Grant. He'd pretty much burned all his bridges and had nowhere else to go. I just thought, "Well, he's my dad." You just roll with it. But then almost immediately he got diagnosed with cancer so I went from not seeing him for 20 years to taking him to his oncology appointments. He still managed to find himself a girlfriend because he was spellbindingly charming. He left 11 offspring around the world and an overgrown piece of land in Samoa that we need to make a decision about at some stage.
9. Do you feel a strong connection to your Samoan heritage?
I feel like all New Zealanders should identify as Pacific Islanders because we live on an island in the Pacific. When I was a kid I thought I was just like all the other brown kids in state houses. I probably thought I was Maori because that's what everybody else was in Gisborne. When I went to Victoria University I stayed with my Samoan grandmother. That was a culture shock. She was very traditional and very religious.
10. Are you religious?
I don't believe in God but I'm not prejudiced against religion like a lot of people seem to be. A lot of the charities I work with are based on Christian philosophy and I agree with the common-sense aspects like being good to each other. We should all look after people who have less than us. Half the music industry is Christian these days.
11. Do you have any fears for the future your children are entering?
Since the Paris attacks I've been thinking the world is going to become more restricted for our kids. Personal liberties for ordinary people are diminishing in this climate of fear. It's already happening with people being rounded up and sent to Christmas Island. We're getting used to losing our basic civil liberties and if things carry on this way the world will be harsher for our children. I'm just glad we don't have guns.
12. Have you voted for a new flag?
We should embrace the old flag as a piece of our history and let our relationship with it evolve. The Union Jack represents our colonial past but it's up to each generation to reinterpret what that means to them. That's the way societies move on. I might vote on behalf of one of my sons since they have to live with it.