Seriously, it felt like I did. Climb a mountain, that is. I’m talking about the first time I went on radio, my own Everest moment. It was 1981. I had been appointed School Principal of the New Zealand School of Cordon Bleu Cookery and I was expected to front up for promotional things like radio interviews as part of my job so there was no getting out of it.
I was to go on Radio Pacific, a ‘talkback’ station where they switched from interview to taking questions from callers, a fairly new concept back then. You had no idea what the questions might be and as food is a pretty wide topic, I was terrified. I was going on with Ron Cadman, a director of the London School of Cordon Bleu Cookery and financial director of Constance Spry, the London florists who supplied flowers to the Queen. He had flown out especially for the opening of the New Zealand franchised school. We were to talk about the opening of Le Cordon Bleu in New Zealand – I thought Ron would handle this bit – then there’d be listeners ringing in, in a ‘ask whatever you want to know’ kind of lottery, which I was to handle. I took comfort in the fact that Ron was doing the interview with me, but minutes away from walking into the studio I look sideways at him and see he’s shaking like a leaf and fussing around with his handkerchief, and I think, oh no, he’s gone to jelly, it’s all over. Suddenly, we’re ushered in and I’m in front of a mic, then it’s as if someone pushes a button in my brain. I can hear myself doing Ron’s part, saying all the right stuff about the school, then answering the questions from callers, and then, just like that, it was all over. Ron even managed to squeak out a few words in his terribly proper British accent because he was so relieved I had taken the lead. The adrenaline rush was spectacular. Nothing, I mean nothing, in my entire career would ever be as difficult as that first time on radio. I felt as if I had climbed a mountain that at the onset seemed as high as Everest. Later, I thought, it wasn’t such a steep hike after all, pifff, it was all in my head.
I went on to share 13 years on the airwaves with Alice Worsley, first on 1ZB, then Radio i, in a weekly slot in the studio. When I was on my travels around the world, I’d phone in late at night to make the NZ 11.00am hook-up with Alice. This was before cell phones, when international calls had to be booked through an operator for a set time. I made many of those calls from fetid phone booths – they always reeked of cigarette smoke and unmentionables – in dodgy bars in small villages in hard-to-find places in Italy with locals always looking at me as if I was from Mars. You had to be determined to get the job done, and not drink too much wine beforehand! Once, I was desperately ill with food poisoning from bad prawns, but I still made the call on time to Alice from my hotel room and no one except me was any the wiser.
I started at National Radio sometime in the late 1980s. I had an idea about reviewing cookbooks, so I phoned the producer of the afternoon show, then hosted by the affable Wayne Mowat, and said, “how about it?”. The result was a monthly 20-minute slot starting in 1991 on Wayne’s show that we called ‘Cooking the Books’. It ran for 10 years. I did a lot of other radio gigs during this time and realised it was the thrill of talking live, and never quite knowing which way questions would take me, that I loved. It kept me sparky! On my toes! In 1999 I started a regular monthly slot on acclaimed broadcaster Brian Edward’s Top of the Morning Saturday show on National Radio. That show ran for 5 years. Brian was an engaging host who often hijacked a topic but it made for great radio and I could have talked to him for hours. In 2007 I began a 7-year stint with Jim Mora on National Radio on a segment of his show called Fresh Fast Food. Jim is an outstanding broadcaster and I learnt a lot from him. When he moved on to other positions at National Radio, I transitioned to Jesse Mulligan’s afternoon show and so began another long and rewarding broadcasting relationship. National Radio was renamed Radio NZ, and more latterly it’s become known as RNZ, and it is the heart and soul of New Zealand radio. I have been interviewed or had phone chats on radio around the globe, including the BBC and on dozens of American radio stations, but I think I have been enormously privileged to have worked with such incredible talent in my own country. Each of the broadcasters named above has been at the top of his or her game at the time, and Jim Mora and Jesse Mulligan continue to be so to this day.