Mabel Wharekawa-Burt won her first talent quest aged 4 at the Waihi Soundshell.
"I sang a song called Mahi's Making Eyes at Me and can still remember the dance to accompany the song," she says.
Born in Katikati, the rural town where she still lives today, the 61-year-old has had a variety of roles including actor, television and radio presenter and producer, theatre director, coach, umpire, anti-domestic-violence advocate, chairwoman, agony aunt and arts administrator.
But she is better known as Auntie Mabel from the TV programme Ask Your Auntie.
Now she can add member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to performing arts and
the community to her repertoire.
"I can't understand why I'm more worthy than the thousands of people who made me what I am," she says.
"If I am an awesome individual it's because of the thousands of people in my life who made me what I am."
Ms Wharekawa-Burt credits the seaside soundshells in the 50s and 60s, her marae upbringing (she is of Ngati Ranginui and Ngai-Te-Rangi descent), a strong association with Catholic communities "with their love of pageantry", her whanau and the Baha'i faith as her great inspirations.
The former chairwoman of Te Waka Toi, Creative New Zealand's Maori arts funding body, she is most proud of her years working in the arts.
She has acted in films including Whale Rider, In My Father's Den and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence as well as appearing on TV in Shortland Street and Mataku.
Ms Wharekawa-Burt also founded the Cook Island International Pacific Song and Dance Quests.
Last year, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer but says: "I don't have time to die. I battle to remain positive and passionate and want to thank everybody for their love and support."