Acclaimed Kiwi soprano Dame Malvina Major has performed all around the world, in front of royalty and in terror-ravaged countries.
Yet behind that voice and opera mask, it's only been in the past 12 months that the dame herself discovered how vulnerable she really was.
In a frank interview with the Weekend Herald this week at her Hamilton home, Dame Malvina opened up about her anxiety issue, which has effectively ended her career and why she and husband, Winstone, threw in their London life in 1970 and moved back to New Zealand.
She is recovering from a 10-day stint in the hospital, but looking healthy and energetic.
She explains she can no longer enjoy what she does when she is crippled with fear on stage, and says opera singing and carrying out her own individual performance with just a piano are completely different things.
"I'm playing the Bird Lady in Mary Poppins for Hamilton Operatic. That is a role that I will have to wear a wig, wear a costume, I'll be a character and I'll be working with other people, so I'm in a company situation.
"Even though I spent ... 17-odd years of my life being a soloist or singing with my brothers and sisters, I was really trained in the finish to be an opera singer and that means to be a character, to take on the personality. You study the roles you do."
But standing on stage, performing "as Malvina", shocked her. "I did [opera] for 50 years and you know when you then come back and you are suddenly asked to do concerts and you walk out on to the stage as Malvina you go, 'Oh, I feel naked'. I've got nobody to hide behind, no costume on, no wig on ... it was terrifying."
Dame Malvina was admitted to hospital after her September Australian tour.
"I really got quite ill about it and yet it was a mere nothing in comparison to doing a whole concert standing on your own. It wasn't with the orchestra - the orchestra somehow helps you to feel part of the gang; it wraps itself around you and you feel the strength of it, it boosts you and you can lean on an orchestra.
"When you're with a piano you're totally exposed. I suddenly realised this year that that's exactly how I felt and I thought, 'I don't want to do this anymore'."
She knows people will be surprised by her fear but she has lived with it all her life. As a child she was afraid of going away on the annual family holiday, only to find she was fine when she got there.
"I think they are [surprised] because a lot of people have spoken to me about it but on the other side of it you've got to remember it would be terrible to go on and on and on and for people to say, 'Isn't it a pity, you've gone past your use-by date and you haven't recognised it'."
So why did she suddenly move back to Taranaki, New Zealand, from London in 1969?
Her mother-in-law, she said. "My husband was most unhappy in London and his mother, she really conned him into coming home to the farm. They took Andrew [Dame Malvina's son] away from me so there was no way I was going to let Andrew be brought up without a mother, so I followed them.
"Not many people know that story, but that's the absolute truth of it. I had concerts in Russia and Dallas, Texas, and gave them up to make sure that he had me as his mother, and not his grandmother, so it was a bit of a shock to the system but that's what happened ... If I hadn't done that, what would I have had? I would have had a fantastic career and no family, really."
Dame Malvina's husband died of a heart attack at the age of 46 in 1990, followed by his mother-in-law a few years later.
But Dame Malvina has plenty of family around to keep her company and to go on beach summer holidays with, including Andrew and her other children, Lorraine and Alethea, and their children.
She says the perfect break is at the beach, toes in the sand.
"Going to the beach, reading a book. I love Whangamata of course ... we're going to Mangawhai this year ... there's lovely beaches all along there. I mean, just to sit on the sand and swim in the sea, it's just lovely. Anything with the water is lovely, it's really relaxing."
As she retires, Dame Malvina is releasing her first-ever "career retrospective" - a best-of double album which features songs from throughout her whole career.
"It's got a handful of the early music I sing, Cottage By The Lee and Danny Boy that I sang before I was trained, and then it goes right through to the operas that I couldn't sing today - Casta Diva, Regnava Nel Silenzio, Tacea la Notte.
"The Holy City is a fantastic piece of music that I have sung all around the world - I've sung in Jerusalem and amphitheatres in Egypt, Jordan and all around. You'll Never Walk Alone was Christchurch ... O Mia Babbino Caro was a favourite of my dad ... Cottage by the Lee was my mother's favourite. So it's a real overview of my whole life."
• Born in Hamilton in January 1943.
• Travelled weekly to Ponsonby for music lessons at the St Mary's College music school.
• Later studied at the London Opera Centre.
• Was made a member of the Order of New Zealand in 2012, this country's highest honour.
• Last year, was given a Lifetime Achievement honour at the Women of Influence awards.
• Has received honorary doctorates from Waikato and Massey Universities.
• Holds a teaching position as a senior fellow in music at the University of Waikato.