Just a few short years ago, Athena Angelou was homeless, living out of her car with a toddler. Thinking back on that rough time in her life instantly brings a tear to the eyes of the Flava radio star.
"I was a teen mum and ran away from home," recalls the now 28-year-old.
"I ended up homeless and then I was on the dole. Just before I started working for Flava, I was working in a smoke store as the manager selling blunt wraps, cigarettes and shishas.
"My parents were kind of disappointed because they had always wanted more for me."
The tears start to fall when Athena recalls a specific moment of desperation, sleeping in her car in a park one night with her son Silas, who is now 11.
"I looked at my two-year-old and thought, 'This isn't my life, this isn't my story.' I screamed at God and said if he could give me the opportunity, open that one door, I wouldn't let him down."
Her period of homelessness came to an end, but before finding success on the air-waves, Athena went through countless ups and downs trying to find the right path.
"I was constantly going to auditions – I've even tried flight attending," she tells.
"Half way through my course, after paying $10,000, there was a whole tattoo debacle and I've got the most prominent tattoos, so I'd just done this course and no-one was going to even interview me because of my ink.
"It was blow after blow after blow, but I just had to be resilient. And here I am today – I went from homeless to this!"
When the radio star got the call-up to be on Celebrity Treasure Island earlier this year, she couldn't believe it. Being asked to be on a national TV series was a huge shock and also a reminder of how far she'd come.
"My reaction was, 'Oh s*, they think I'm a celebrity – that's hilarious!'" she laughs. "I just giggle every time I hear someone say 'celebrity'. But I was like, alright I'll take it – it was a hell yes from me.
"I love camping and with technology now, I feel like it was a great break away from the real world. There are people on earth who live like this, so I thought it wouldbe a good opportunity to humble myself."
And the fiery star has certainly proven her worth on the TVNZ 2 series, earning herself the nickname "Pocket Rocket" and becoming an integral part of team Mako, helping turn around their losing streak.
"To be honest, I never thought I would be on TV," Athena admits. "I always liked being behind the camera or just a voice. The image thing just freaks me out, but hearing from my family and having them tell me how excited they are, that is so fulfilling. It warms my heart that they have such pride in me."
And there's no-one more proud of Athena than her parents Merlita and David Angelou.
"Mum and Dad always wanted something good for me – now it's gotten to the point where I don't have to prove myself to my parents any more," she enthuses.
"They haven't just seen me stuff up ideas over the last few years, but they've seen me really work my butt off and they couldn't be any more proud.
"My mum's just over the moon – she keeps bragging that I'm the first Filipino girl on New Zealand television, and I was like, 'You don't know that, Mum. You don't even watch TV!'"
Earlier this year, when Athena landed the part of Lola Livingston on Shortland Street, it was her ecstatic mother who accidentally leaked the exciting news to everyone online.
"I was like, 'Shot ma', but I love you, so I'll let you have that one," tells Athena, shaking her head. And when it came to saying yes to Celebrity Treasure Island, it was her mum's past growing up in Southeast Asia that also inspired Athena to go on the reality show.
The brunette beauty explains, "She's from the Philippines, which is a Third World country – it goes back to surviving on an island.
"Our family is from Samar – we don't even have windows in our concrete houses and we don't have proper flushing toilets or showers.
"So for her to come from there, from the poorest of the poor to New Zealand, and now see her daughter working hard and doing these things is awesome. It really is a blessing."
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