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Wendyl Nissen's Grammy night

Weekly columnist Wendyl Nissen shares her once-in-a-lifetime journey to watch her stepson Joel Little win at the grammy awards.

By Wendyl Nissen
Lorde and Joel Little at the Emmys

Two weeks ago I was sitting at our house in Hokianga, in the Far North, writing my column for this magazine when the phone rang.

It was my husband Paul Little with a rather startling request: “How would you like to go to the Grammys?”

I looked at the view of the Hokianga Harbour out of the window and immediately said, “Of course!”

Only after I hung up did I take stock of my glamour potential and realised I was in the middle of growing my grey hair out and looked like a badger, my nails were wrecked from gardening and the most glamorous thing in my wardrobe back in Auckland was a dress I’d recently bought from ASOS for $80.

We had known since last November that Paul’s son Joel Little had been nominated for two Grammy awards for his work with Kiwi pop sensation Ella Yelich O’Connor, known as Lorde. He had co-written and produced her hit single Royals and best-selling album Pure Heroine – but we never thought for a moment we would be going with him to the awards.

Tickets are expensive and hard to come by, but somehow Joel’s manager had pulled it off and Joel wanted his mum, Trish Scott, and us to be there.

Fast forward two weeks and we were in Hollywood getting ready for our big night out at the Staples Center.

My good friend and fellow columnist Kerre Woodham had taken control of my wardrobe after hearing that I was planning to wear the ASOS dress.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, you are not wearing off-the-rack,” she said rather imperiously. “I’ve rung Tanya Carlson and she can make you a dress in time so go and see her tomorrow,” she instructed.

“Oh, and you’re buying some Högl shoes. They’re expensive, but comfortable and they’re on sale at Scarpa, so get down there now.”

Tanya made me a vintage-style silk velvet dress, which fit perfectly, and local jewellery designer Jessica Aggrey lent me some wonderful jewellery to go with it.

Paul and I decided to get an apartment just off Hollywood Boulevard which is very touristy, but appropriate for first-time Hollywood visitors.

Lorde and producer Joel Little at the Grammys.
Lorde and producer Joel Little at the Grammys.

Popping down to the local store for milk and bread meant we’d often run into Darth Vadar and Superman, who stroll up and down the Boulevard posing for pictures. And the availability of medical marijuana meant a strong whiff of dope often surrounded us.

I decided to go local for my hair and make-up at a blow-dry bar down the road and arrived promptly at 10am on the morning of the Grammys.

“So you’re going to the Grammys?” said my stylist as she washed my hair.

“Yes I am, so excited,” I replied.

“Mmm,” was all she said.

I had expected a little more enthusiasm until more customers arrived and I realised that everyone in the salon was going to the Grammys. I was not at all special.

My hair was done in half an hour and looked great. Then it was onto make-up with Stephanie, who had green eyelashes, blue and purple eyeshadow and green lips. She looked great but I wasn’t sure I could carry off that look.

After an hour and a half I emerged from the salon with false eyelashes, eyeliner and bouncy hair, Grammy-ready, Hollywood Boulevard style.

We had to be seated at the Staples Center for the awards by 4.30pm so at 2pm we were picked up by the 12-seater car which would carry all nine of us, dressed up and more than a little nervous, to the red carpet.

Having spent years in my magazine editor days analysing red carpet photos I never, ever dreamed that I would actually be walking down one.

As it happened there were two red carpets to choose from. The one all the stars walk down and one for everyone else.

Being Kiwis and naturally modest we all chose the not- famous carpet, including Joel. But we could look through and see the real stars walking down next to us.

It was amazing to see the performance that goes on there. Stars stop and chat to journalists as they meander down, then at the end there is a barrage of photographers and like some weird form of jazz dance they stop and contort their body, jutting out hips, turning around, tossing their heads.

But as they walk through to the other side, their shoulders slump and their body returns to normal as they take a breather away from the cameras.

We managed to see Paris Hilton as we were gently encouraged to keep moving and rather bizarrely told not to take any pictures.

When we got to the venue we were surprised to see that before entering the stadium you could stop off in all your finery and pick up some McDonald’s.

I will never forget the sight of all these glamorous Hollywood people stuffing Big Macs into their faces before the big night.

Joel and his wife Gemma Robinson left us to be seated right down the front with the other nominees. They were behind Kendrick Lamar and Quentin Tarantino and two rows in front of Metallica.

The Staples Center holds 18,000 people and it is huge. Think Vector Arena times ten. As we sat with the other guests I felt like we were at a rock concert, but better dressed.

It was a concert to remember and worth the trip for that alone. When Ella won her award for Best Pop Solo Performance we cheered the loudest in our bleachers.

And when Ella and Joel won Song of the Year Award for Royals, Paul and I leapt in the air with joy before coming down to Earth, laughing and crying with Joel’s mum Trish and everyone around us.

“Congratulations whoever you are,” said the woman behind us. On hearing that we were Joel’s parents, she quipped, “Guess you’ll get better seats next year!”

I have no idea who won the next award as I was too busy crying with joy, something I keep doing every time I think about it. Back home, the rest of the family was watching the event on TV and texted us pictures of each other, also crying with joy.

All too soon the awards were over. It had been five hours, but it felt like a mere moment in time. Then it was on to the after parties.

Thanks to TV3 reporter David Farrier, we were ushered away from the queues and through to the official after-party where we were all very glad to have a drink to celebrate while Joel did a live cross with Campbell Live. We were entertained by a very pregnant Ciara on stage and around the room acrobats performed at great heights.

Later we bundled back into our huge car and went to one of many record company parties at which a Grammy award winner is always welcome. For Paul and I, it was home to bed in the early hours, leaving the others to party on.

Much later Joel and a few others met up with Ella’s family and they celebrated by jumping in the hotel pool dressed in their Grammys attire.

As I carefully took off my beautiful dress, stepped out of my high heels and peeled off my false eyelashes, I felt privileged to have been part of a huge event in Joel’s life.

When his father and I got together 18 years ago, we brought our four children together and did our best. Joel did the rest.”

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