With the camera about to start rolling in the MediaWorks studio and a major technical fault causing chaos in the control room upstairs, presenter Kanoa Lloyd’s main focus was “keep smiling, just keep smiling”.
Miraculously, order was restored in the nick of time, the show went on without a hitch, and the whole adrenaline-pumping episode soon faded into a distant memory in the hectic world of live television. It’s the sort of stuff that would have most of us wheezing into a paper bag, but Kanoa loves the thrill of it.
“It would have been awful for the engineers that had to deal with it, but it makes you feel alive,” she laughs. “Of course I still get nervous [on air]. I think if you don’t get nerves from time to time you’re probably not doing it right. It should always be a bit challenging, otherwise you would teeter over into being boring.”
As a co-host on Three’s weeknight prime time show, The Project, boring certainly isn’t her style. On camera, the bubbly broadcaster and her Project counterparts Jesse Mulligan and Josh Thomson make it look easy, hosting international guests and throwing around chirpy banter in the part rehearsed, part off-the-cuff news entertainment show. But behind the scenes, creating a fresh batch of material each night is a massive job.
“There are people that are sweating and crying over putting that show together, as a day’s turnaround is hard, man! Every little thing from the graphics components to the music choices... presenting is the fun part; I’m just sitting there like [in a nursery rhyme singsong voice] ‘what have we done today?!’”
Vivacious and quick to crack a joke, Kanoa’s particular brand of gentle, self-deprecating humour is winning her fans around the country. She’s warm and engaging on-screen, but she’s even more likeable off camera, where her eyes twinkle as she tells a story and she peppers her sentences with ‘bro’ and ‘man’ for added emphasis.
She didn’t study journalism at university, and if you ask her about her formula for success, she says it’s simply a mixture of luck and “showing up at the right place at the right time”.
But it must have been more than luck that helped a teenaged Kanoa land her first television gig, a coveted spot as a presenter on the children’s show Squirt. It was the early 2000s, she was still in high school in Dunedin at the time, and the show featured an animated penguin.
The unconventional part-time job did more than boost her cool creds at school, it gave her an insight into another world, and planted the seed for a lifelong interest in TV.
“I heard about the auditions through my drama teacher; she knew I was a show-off so she sent me along! The people there [at Dunedin-based production company, Taylormade] were so cool; I couldn’t believe how painfully cool they were,” Kanoa remembers.
“They had great records, read great books, all this glossy, glamorous stuff. I wanted to figure out what they were doing so I could get a taste of that life – I just thought it was so badass!”
A foray into massage therapy almost curtailed her budding television career, but just as she finished the course, the media stars aligned again and she nabbed another role on a kids’ television show in Auckland, before ever putting her massage table to use.
The gig was at Three’s Sticky TV, the long-running children’s favourite where weather presenter and current The Hits radio DJ Sam Wallace and performer Drew Neemia also cut their teeth in front of the camera.
After a stint on Mai FM’s breakfast show, she found her way to Three’s Newshub, where her role as a weather presenter introduced her to the nation. With the launch of The Project in February, her career has gone into overdrive.
“I never in a million years thought I would be doing a 7pm show,” muses the 30-year-old. “I love the energy of it. You couldn’t wish for a safer pair of hands than Jesse [Mulligan]; his mind is constantly turning things over, and Josh [Thomson] is one of the funniest people in the country I reckon. Even if I’m having a tricky time, I just look along the desk at everyone and I’m like, ‘okay, we’re good to go!’”
Every presenter knows that when you sign yourself up to be in the public eye, you open the floodgates for opinions. Whether it be your choice of footwear or a turn of phrase, viewers are often quick to respond. For Kanoa, the criticism came in her weather-presenting days, when she copped flak over her use of Te Reo Maori. The broadcaster, who has Ngati Porou heritage on her dad’s side, said the backlash was a surprise.
“It did make me realise, whoops, everybody’s not cool and open-minded and into speaking Te Reo Maori, and I can’t change that. But the nicest thing to come out of it was a lot of people saying ‘Actually this is important to me, and I want to learn some Reo’. So in the end all the good stuff was much louder and prouder than the negative.”
Then it was her clothing choices causing umbrage on social media.
“Sack the stylist”, said one keyboard commentator, “frumpy instead of fine”, added another. In response to “Why do they keep dressing you like an old lady?”, Kanoa’s comical reply won her a wave of support.
“Kanoa dresses herself and she loves this dress,” she wrote. “Maybe Kanoa is an old lady at heart? Maybe that’s okay?”
Inane comments about her dress sense were water off a duck’s back for the fashion-loving broadcaster, but the episode and ensuing commentary shone the spotlight again on an age-old issue – the relentless judging of women’s appearance.
Whether it’s image-related or otherwise, criticism in the TV world can be particularly harsh, but Kanoa says the collegial bunch of women at work always have each other’s backs.
“There are some pretty incredible people in that building, I really look up to Lisa Owen and Kate Rodger; they are always right there for advice or for a laugh.”
Sisterhood support came out in force recently when AM Show host Amanda Gillies spoke up about her personal struggles with infertility.
“Isn’t she awesome? She’s so brave, and I think it goes to show the close relationship she has with that team, that she felt safe to have that conversation with them,” Kanoa says.
Amanda’s heartfelt comments resonated with viewers throughout the country, and it also highlighted the power broadcasters still have to get the nation talking, bring attention to a subject or send out a message.
On the other hand, the level of influence can be a double-edged sword, with everything spoken on air carrying the potential to trigger a ripple effect.
“You do have to be selective about what you put out there,” Kanoa admits, “because once it’s out then it takes on a life of its own. But it can also be so powerful – the effect [your words] can have on other people who may be struggling with the same thing can be huge.”
But there are plenty of lighter days in the office too, and the quick-witted presenter says it’s the people you meet that make the job so special.
“I think sometimes it’s the people you don’t freak out about meeting that surprise you the most,” she says.
“It is pretty amazing to be able to make those discoveries through your work. Often people say ‘never meet your heroes’, and I’m always a bit scared of that. Some journos say you can never look at them the same, once you meet them and you know they’re bad!
“I was super-nervous, weirdly super-nervous, to talk to Lorde. And she was the sweetest; I wanted to be friends with her forever! So that was an exception.”
Away from the screen, Kanoa lives in West Auckland with her husband, freelance editor and colourist Mikee Carpinter. The pair got together after she gate-crashed his birthday party one year, and they married in Northland last December.
In a bid to take the heat off her own birthday celebrations, Kanoa planned the wedding for the day after her 30th birthday bash.
“I’m not very good at having birthday parties, so I wanted to do it all at the same time,” she says. “It was like, ‘okay, I’m old now… yay, let’s get married!’
Family and friends stayed at the camp-ground by the beach, and the five-day double-celebration was all about good food, languid swims and summer relaxing.
“We hoofed it up to the community hall, stuck some decorations around, got married, went back to the beach,” Kanoa laughs. “It was awesome, just hanging out with friends, and the weather was perfect.”
It was also the first time in about a decade that Kanoa and her siblings had all been together. With a younger sister, an older half-brother and sister and a younger half-brother and sister, gathering the clan in one place was no mean feat.
Growing up, the family lived in Central Otago, before shifting down to Dunedin. With fond childhood memories of country air and wide, windswept spaces, the South Island has a special place in Kanoa’s heart.
“My mum’s parents farmed angora goats in Bannockburn, and it was this really beautiful countryside, with lots of wild thyme on the hills. It was a magical place; we chased the goats around and thought there were fairies under the walnut trees.”
These days though, she’s happy in Auckland, spending her downtime at the rugged west coast beaches with her husband, and building a career she loves. She doesn’t have any big future goals, as she’s too busy enjoying the present. But that’s not to say massage therapy is completely off the cards.
“When I’m old and TV doesn’t exist anymore, I can work on a cruise ship and do massages for tourists,” she says with her trademark grin. But right now, she’s off to plan tonight’s show.
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