Sarcasm, cynicism, joking, yelling – and running away. These are the defences usually employed by broadcaster Pam Corkery (58) when the going gets tough – you may or may not remember her infamous dealings with news journalists during last year’s election coverage.
“People always remember the bad stuff!” she says with faux grumpiness. “But I’ve always been able to talk my way out of things. And this time, all the talking in the world can’t save me. I actually have to dance. At the moment, it’s like looking into the mirror on the morning after the night before. It’s not pretty!”
Yes, Pam Corkery on Dancing with the Stars wasn’t a move many would have predicted – least of all herself. But the former politician and mother of Josie (41) and Kerry (39) loves a challenge, and considering she’s overcome almost too many to count in her colourful life, why not add some spray tans and sequins?
“Well, I’ve always wanted to be a drag queen,” she quips, while everyone around her roars with laughter. “And I’ve met so many people who have said to me, ‘God, I’d love to do Dancing with the Stars!’ It seemed churlish to turn it down. And how great is it, learning to dance?” she says, turning to dance partner Matt Tatton-Brown (31), who nods proudly.
“She’s taken to dancing like nothing else,” he counters.
“Yeah, like nothing else! That won’t raise expectations at all!” replies Pam, laughing.
Despite a 27-year age gap and the fact they’ve only known each other for a few weeks – the pair get on fantastically, sharing a love of food, animated movies and what we’ll call “earthy language”.
“In the first few minutes after we met, I think we said a few choice things to each other and realised we speak the same language,” Matt affirms.
“Well, there’s that,” adds Pam. “But we really do love the same things. We’re both very intelligent people!”
“Who are also incredibly humble,” Matt finishes with a grin.
Pam admits dancing doesn’t come all that naturally, but she’s determined to do her best, not only for her charity, Higher Ground Drug Rehabilitation Trust – the organisation that’s helped her to almost six years of sobriety – but also for herself.
“This time, it’s personal,” she says. “This is me. The thing is, given the choice between making a dick of myself on national telly and not, I’ll go for not. But I’ve been enjoying the challenge, and the charity is very close to my heart – and my motor neurone system. But I tell you what. I’ve never persevered like this before with anything. I don’t know why I’m doing it now. I might have finally grown up. No, wait! That was a joke.”
Through all the humour and bravado, though, Pam admits to a vulnerability many Kiwis wouldn’t have seen before – and she’s aware that she’s the oldest in the competition.
“I’m doing okay with it, but everyone’s mum loves me!” she cries. “I mean, it is what it is.”
“My mum loves her and is a big Pam fan,” adds Matt. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘You two are going to get along great.’”
After getting past a few “personal barriers”, such as just how close dancers have to be to one another – “You’re right up there, face to face, and it’s like ‘Hello!’” laughs a bemused Pam – she and Matt are taking great strides, literally.
“Pam’s amazing,” says Matt. “She’s even doing Pilates and yoga, and going to the gym.”
“Well, I’m lucky, my daughter teaches it all, although the other day, she did tell me my plank looked more like a coffee table, legs and all,” Pam grumbles.
So how is that almost 60-year-old body holding up? “By the legs,” she replies with her usual sass. “Actually, not too bad.”
Pam’s even tried to contribute to the choreography, but Matt’s had to politely decline the use of some of her best moves. “She gave me an Irish jig the other day!” he laughs.
“I did go all Michael Flatley,” Pam admits. “It was because I forgot the steps.”
She has had an early scare already, finishing the first show last on the leader board. But as the nation has learnt, never write Pam Corkery off – she’ll only come back firing.
“When I can do the moves, I love it,” she says. “It is bloody tough and it requires so much concentration. But when it comes together, I cry with happiness because it feels absolutely wonderful.”