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Celebrity News

Teuila Blakely reflects on the job that changed her life

Twenty years after being cast on C4, the star reflects on her big break.

By Elisabeth Easther
Teuila Blakely always felt that job that chabig things were in store for her. Even after falling pregnant at 16 and having her staunch Mormon mother disown her, she didn't let go of her dreams.
"I still can't believe it was such an issue – me having this beautiful baby – but I did what I had to do to get by, working around the clock in retail to provide for my son," the Samoan-born star recalls.
Teuila, now 48, also became more determined than ever to find ways to soar.
"I had this unshakeable ambition to get into the entertainment industry, but because I had no qualifications, when I wasn't working, I'd do things like be an extra on TV shows or volunteer at 531PI, the Pacific Island radio station, because I decided that if nothing in my life made sense, I might as well aim for impossible things."
That tenacity saw Teuila stand out and when Niu FM launched in 2001, Teuila was offered a role on air, which kick-started her transition from retail to radio. "I tried out for every opportunity going, but because I was Polynesian and we weren't considered mainstream enough, I was rarely offered work."
However, when TVNZ launched the weekend music channel M2, Teuila landed the midnight-to-dawn shift. She laughs, "After only six weeks on air, the show was cancelled, but just a few weeks later, I spotted an ad calling for presenters for TV3's new music channel."
With six weeks of screentime on VHS tapes, Teuila cut together a showreel of highlights from M2.
"The following Thursday morning, producer Andrew Szusterman calls and tells me that even though auditions for C4 had closed, they'd just seen my tape and would see me – if I could get there in 30 minutes."
Making it to the CBD from West Auckland in the nick of time, Teuila impressed the producers and they offered her a job. She confesses, "I can talk about hip-hop and R&B till the cows come home – that part came naturally to me – but being seen on TV, that was terrifying!"
However, the public response to C4 was overwhelmingly positive, with stars such as Clarke Gayford, Jaquie Brown, DJ Sir-Vere and Jane Yee all going on to find fame. "But the difference between my Saturday night show, Freestyle, and everyone else's shows was that mine was recorded live, which was crazy!"
Viewers loved the buzz of Teuila's live broadcast and Freestyle quickly became one of C4's most popular shows. For three years, the star shared stories that reflected our multicultural society.
"I'd have all these Pacific Island people on my show, from Warriors to musicians. Scribe was my very first guest and I had anyone Polynesian who was doing something cool. We were the first to cover Polyfest, Pasifika and the Pacific Music Awards because I was determined to make content I wanted to see on screen."
Teuila was well and truly on her way, but life was still challenging. "We first went to air in 2002, when I was 28, and off the back of that, I joined the new hip-hop station Flava, but my poor baby was just 12 and while all my professional dreams were coming true, Jared had to learn to be independent from a young age. I'm so lucky he was such a well-behaved child. To his credit, he's turned out to be a wonderful man."
Twenty years on, as Teuila reflects on her career to date, her eyes shine.
"I absolutely loved my time in music television. I loved radio too, but I really wanted to act, so in 2006, when C4 was pulled and all the music hosts were let go, I was OK because not only did I still have Flava, but Sione's Wedding was just about to come out, so it was just another cool transition."
That's the story of Teuila's life. From Sione's Wedding, she scored a gig on Power Rangers, then long stints on Bro'Town and Shortland Street, and most recently as a writer, associate producer and actress in Duckrockers.
Teuila has been a magnet for opportunities – whether she has sought them, created them or been in the right place at the right time – and as she looks to the future, she's showing no sign of slowing down.
"I got into this business to tell stories and I still have some big stories to tell. As well as producing and writing, I'm interested in directing because directors have far more say than actors do. I'm really excited about this next stage of my life.
"I know a lot of awesome ladies who've been through a mid-life crisis at this age, but I describe where I'm at as a mid-life chrysalis. I've seen and done so much. My son is on a good path and I feel like anything is possible."
But before Teuila casts around for her next big project, she has a reunion to plan. "I'm still good friends with most of the old C4 crew and we absolutely need to get together to mark this occasion. So as soon as I'm done with this interview, I'm going to make a few calls and get the old gang back together!"

The stars of C4 - where are they now?

Jacquie Brown
After working as a reporter on Campbell Live, she starred in the hilarious Jaquie Brown Diaries and went on to host reality series Blow Up NZ. Jaquie's also an in-demand MC and a Hollywood screenwriter.
Jane Yee
After finding fame on C4, she continued to work in radio, television and music, before taking up a job at The Spinoff, where she leads the dynamic podcast team. She was most recently seen on Treasure Island: Fans V Faves.
Clarke Gayford
Still working in TV, he's hosted Fish Of The Day and Moving Houses, although Clarke's arguably more famous as our former "first bloke", the fiancé of Dame Jacinda Ardern and hands-on father to their daughter Neve.
Jono Pryor
After hosting Jono's New Show on C4, he went on to film an incredible seven seasons of The Jono And Ben Show – and he and buddy Ben Boyce are still going strong hosting radio show The Hits Breakfast. His comedy series Vince is coming soon to Three.

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