1. Did you always want to be a journalist?
No, I came to journalism later in life. My parents thought if you got a job where you wore a tie, you'd probably made it. Dad was a salesman and mum was a bank teller. I went to Linwood High School in Christchurch. It's bizarre, when I arrived at TVNZ there were four people that went to Linwood; Mike Hosking, April Ieremia and line-up producer Daryl Walker. Four of us from the wrong side of the tracks. When I left school I was a customs officer at the Port of Lyttelton for four years.
2. What was it like being a teenage customs officer?
It was a real education for a young fella like me having to strip-search sailors and prostitutes. I looked about 12. I remember one woman pulled her skirt up, squatted down in front of me and took a leak on the wharf. It was a bit rough at times. It was also James Bond-y, doing surveillance work and sting operations on people we thought were smuggling stuff. Sitting in grain silos in Port Chalmers with night-vision gear watching ships was pretty cool. After my OE I worked as a fitness instructor and basketball coach at the YMCA and then did an honours degree in psychology.
3. How did you get into television?
I went to broadcasting school in Christchurch. One day the head of Auckland TV came to visit. I wore a brand new forest-green suit, double breasted, fairly cheap but it felt flash and at the end of the day the guy offered me a job. The rest of the class thought, "How did that tin bum get a job when he's clearly not the best student?"
4. Do you prefer "hard news" or human interest stories?
All stories in the end are about people. I like telling people's stories because everyone is interesting. I feel pretty lucky in this job to have seen people at the best and worst of times.
5. Have you ever cried on the job?
I have been in tears with people I'm interviewing. I could count the times on one hand. One was a story I did for 20/20 about a couple who got married in hospital after the woman was diagnosed with cancer. We filmed them at Rainbow's End with their young children and made a video message for her to leave them. We spent three days at the tangi at the top of the East Cape and the day we put her in the ground was just really, really sad. Her husband was standing there bawling his eyes out and I was crying too. I just thought there's only one thing we can do and that's have a cuddle.
6. Any stories you regret?
There was a New Zealand woman, Tina Bayes, whose husband Cameron was killed by a shark while surfing on their honeymoon in Australia. When Tina got back to New Zealand, the media all descended on her mum's place on the North Shore. I got the interview on the condition I didn't put any sharks in the story, which I agreed to. But I did put in a shot of the surfboard, which had a bite out of it, and that evening Tina's mum rang me and shouted, "You're no different to all those other media bastards." I was so distraught. I'd intended to do my absolute best by her but she felt I'd let her down. I still think about that. If I could find Tina, I'd love to talk to her.
7. Do you ever feel a sense of self-loathing when you door-knock people who have lost a family member in tragic circumstances?
Absolutely. It's the most difficult part of the job. You can only draw on your own life experiences to bring some sort of empathy and understanding to the table. It is cathartic for many people to give a public tribute to their loved one because we are all special and want to be remembered. Sadly some types of deaths keep repeating themselves so there are lessons to be learned. Not every story has to be told. The media can at times be intrusive but if you pick the right people to tell your story it can be beneficial.
8. How old were you when you were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes?
I was 40. It was a significant turning point. The first symptoms were feeling really tired, really thirsty and having to go to the toilet all the time. After losing 7kg in the space of a few weeks I got some tests done. The nurse rang and said, "Has the doctor told you? You've got diabetes." I thought I was going to die. That sounds melodramatic but I didn't know what diabetes was.
9. What did you learn about diabetes?
There are two types. Only about 10 per cent of us have Type 1. We're a misunderstood group because it's nothing to do with your lifestyle choices. It can be hereditary. Mine came by way of a virus that attacked my pancreas. When your pancreas no longer produces insulin, the chemical that processes sugar, you have to inject it. So every day I'm basically a science experiment. You've got to look at each meal, estimate how much sugar's in it and inject that into yourself. If you put in too much insulin, it eats up all your sugar and that's when you have to eat something to bring the level back up again. I have to check my sugar levels five to six times a day.
10. Is diabetes hard to manage?
It can seem like a pain at first but you don't get cured of diabetes so you just have to get on with it.
I carry this "man bag" wherever I go. It's got a sugar testing kit, insulin, needles, a Moro bar, jelly beans and a banana. I know that sounds a bit over the top but if I got separated from this bag, I'd be dead at the end of the day. With diabetes, routine is your friend. If you eat the same breakfast, lunch and dinner every day you can really get on top of it.
11. Has diabetes held you back in your career at all?
No it hasn't. I've been in Gaza, Afghanistan, some of the most remote places in the world. You've just got to be prepared and be super diligent. Once you get to know your own body you can still do what you want to do.
12. When have you been embarrassed?
I once spent a whole day with Bjorn from Abba for the opening of the musical Mamma Mia. We did a backstage interview, hung out in his hotel room for a couple of hours.
Then when he appeared on the red carpet I called out, "So how did it go, Benny?" He was really offended.
He said, "I am not Benny." All the media looked at me like, "You complete plonker!" I scuttled out of there as quickly as I could.
Luckily it was in the days before social media.
• November is Diabetes Action Month. www.diabetes.org.nz