It's been a big year getting smaller for adored Rotorua singer Krissie Knap.

And to top it off, one of her dreams has come true: to sing at the city's Lakeside concert on March 9.

This year's concert looks back through the decades of the music that shaped Rotorua and it's only fitting it features Knap, a popular and busy performer who has had a local following for nearly 30 years.

The beaming smile of the vivacious Knap goes hand-in-hand with her down-home attitude. Her response to being asked to be part of the show, by co-artistic directors Rewa Ututaonga and Leon Wharekura, was in her true humble style.

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"When Aunty Rewa and Leon called me on speaker phone and asked if I wanted to be involved, I said 'I can be the tea lady '. I was quite serious, I just wanted to be part of it. But then she said 'nooooooo', how Aunty Rewa does, 'you are on the show'. Well, I buzzed out and screamed down the phone.

"It was excitement for me because I've never been asked but I'm not the sort of person who has been wanting to be asked or demanding to be on it. I was very honoured to be asked by Aunty Rewa because she is one of my mentors and heroes and to work with them again, I'll be like a kid in a candy shop."

Born and raised in Rotorua, one of the first times Knap got on the stage to sing was at Tudor Towers where she worked in the kitchen.

Cairo - the band Ututaonga is in, with drummer husband Mickey - was the resident band at the legendary nightclub.

"It was my 20th birthday and I was pulled up on stage with Cairo. I was like 'woah'. From there I kept going and entered the Tudor Towers talent competition and won it singing Car Wash."

Ututaonga said she'd known Knap since she was a teenager. She and Wharekura had no hesitation asking Knap to perform at Lakeside.

"Her grandmother was my mother-in-law's best friend ... She is a hard-working, talented entertainer, with tonnes of personality, who deserves her first chance at singing in the main show for Lakeside 2019."

Despite being a natural performer, the Tudor Towers was her first break as a soloist. Before then she was made to sing in front of her school by her Rotorua Intermediate teacher, Syd Yates.

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"I sung Heading in the Right Direction and the kids all clapped like they do but I was like 'shame, uncle Syd made me do it'."

Affiliated to Ngāti Ngāraranui at Waitetī, she also links with Tūhourangi and grew up performing concerts with the kapa haka group at the International Hotel.

"I did that right up until I was eight months pregnant (with her now 27-year-old daughter Krisuane). I would do the odd solo and in kapa haka you always have to sing big and loud to be heard, so whenever I would sing something else on a microphone I would be like 'woah holy heck'."

She went on to be a singer in several Rotorua bands including the Senators at then popular Fentons Bar, Crossroads, New Jack City and Private Eye. She also joined fellow Rotorua household name Bruce Macfarlane at Cobb 'n' Co before touring with showband legend Rim D Paul in Australia singing jazz. She was also part of the National Māori Choir at the same time, as Paul was the musical director.

She spent time living in Australia before coming back to Rotorua and joining the band Ina Flight. With the rise of the use of "midi files" (Musical Instrument Digital Interface file or backing tracks), she then started performing regularly as a soloist.

Hundreds of gigs followed at places including the Colonial Tavern, private parties and rugby clubs.

But in 2008 after her marriage failed, a broken-hearted Knap left Rotorua and music behind for Australia.

"Music couldn't save me because it was too painful to sing so I did normal day jobs in Perth, Sydney, Gold Coast, a place called Moranbah and then Cairns where I decided to start singing again. I really missed it."

But in 2014 she came home to Rotorua when her aunty, Mina Knap (who alongside her husband Les Knap raised Krissie) was diagnosed with cancer. She died in March last year. Les died in 1999.

She set herself up again as a soloist and has been "crazy busy" ever since. She's been involved in several MCing roles, including the Te Arawa Regional Kapa Haka Competition and in a sold-out charity event last year raising awareness for the late Talei Morrison's Smear Your Mea cervical screening campaign.

Among her gigs, Knap can also be found giving back to charity, including singing for the elderly.

Lifestyle change

While moving back to Rotorua and embarking on a busy gigging life was a great move, realistically the lifestyle was taking its toll on Knap's health.

Her weight spiralled to 145.5kg and something had to change.

"On January 22, 2018 I woke up one morning coughing and spluttering and I thought 'that's it'."

At the time, she suffered from sleep apnea and had to be on a machine at night to ensure she continued to breathe.

"I decided I didn't want to look like Darth Vader in bed any more. My health was bad. My body was way too big, I was borderline diabetic and had every ailment you could think of."

Krissie Knap in February 2017 featuring in the
Krissie Knap in February 2017 featuring in the "Rotorua Daily Post" before flying to Australia for a Waitangi Day concert. Photo / File

She started a new strict food regime that involved cutting out sugar, carbs and dairy and dropped nearly 60kg, getting down to the high 80kgs.

Ironically, since she lost so much weight, she found singing difficult because it changed the way she had to breathe.

"I had to retrain myself to breathe properly to suit the size of my body."

In the past few months, she's put on 10kg to 15kg but she's happy where she is.

"It's made me aware of what I am eating now and I learnt so much about eating the right food. I still drink my three litres of water a day.

"I realised I could get full on eating cauliflower and broccoli."

She admitted her own Māori food was the best, but could also be the worst for you.

"Things like doughboys and watercress - yum - and fry bread but of course you've got to have half a pound of butter with it. I never used to eat fruit before but now I feel so much healthier."

There's one important lesson she's learnt along the way.

Being on stage, everyone looks at you and notices your weight and she always thought people would like her more if she was skinnier.

"I loved myself at 145.5kg and I loved myself at 86kg and I realised people loved me exactly the same, too. I thought if I lost weight people might love me more, but no.

"I am happy with me, no more sleep apnea, no more borderline diabetes, my skin is better and I can see veins in my hands, never seen those before," she laughs.

She's also learned to accept her recent weight gain but now has the tools to ensure she doesn't get out of control again.

"If you slip off, get back on. If you miss a meal and have something naughty, don't beat yourself up and if you want a biscuit have one, just not the whole packet."

Meanwhile, in the coming weeks, Knap will focus her attention on her Lakeside song and thrilling her local fans.

And for those who know Knap, one of the hardest decisions about the night will be whether she wears shoes - not something she's too used to doing on stage.

"I just don't like wearing shoes, my feet feel too hot! But for the sake of Lakeside I might just have to die for the three minutes I'm on stage and wear them."

Of course, she ends that sentence with her customary throwback of her head and infectious giggle that makes her Krissie Knap.