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Mind

Mike King shares the secret he's kept for 60 years

Behind the trademark smile, Mike is battling a crippling fear

By Hayley McLarin
If you were at the same school play that featured Mike King's youngest daughter Charlie earlier this month, the former funnyman wants to apologise.
If you thought he was, at best, aloof, or worse, full of himself, the mental-health advocate wants to say sorry.
For the first time in his 60 years, the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year is publicly declaring he suffers from social anxiety and purposely kept to himself to avoid talking to the other primary-school parents.
While he can stoically argue with government ministers, champion mental wellness on live TV and give presentations to literally thousands of school children – that armour disappears if he has to make small talk. He'd kept it so secret that Joanna, his wife of seven years, had no idea.
Mike recalls, "It was at Charlie's play, and I walked in super-anxious because I'm terrified that people are going to come up and start talking to me. I was buried in my phone and I wouldn't engage.
"Jo said to me afterwards, 'What was with you tonight? Did you think you're better than all those other parents?' She said that was how it would have come across. I was just terrified because I've got social anxiety. I don't want to be judged."
Joanna thanked Mike for being so honest. She shares, "It was a pretty cool conversation. Now I can support him next time.
I don't think those parents' first thought would be, 'Maybe he's anxious.' Probably it was, 'Does he think he's too big for his boots?' He was buried in his phone for about 25 minutes – but he never stops working."
By sharing his own experience, Mike hopes to show youths who become nervous around others that they are not alone.
"The biggest problem facing young people today is an overactive inner critic. And they're living in a world of perfect adults who are never vulnerable, who never talk about their issues unless a young person is talking about theirs," he tells.
"So we choose inopportune times to make ourselves vulnerable by sharing our heartbreaks when our kids are sharing theirs with us. We're saying, 'Everyone goes through it. You'll get over it.' What our kids are thinking is, 'So when I talk about me, you make it all about you.'
"We've got to stop telling kids what to do and start showing them what to do. If you want your kids to be vulnerable and talk about what's going on in their life, you've got to do the same. Don't tell me, show me. Young people need to know they are normal, that we're all pretending we've got our s**t together."
Mike, a father of six, has had to learn to be vulnerable and open, although he wasn't raised that way. He shares, "My dad taught me the rules to being a man – protect your family, provide for your family, give your kids a better opportunity than you had and never show weakness."
He tells us those directives meant that for his first three children – Nate, 36, Teekay, 34, and Alex, 25 – his love language was money. For the younger three – Ruby, 21, Indi, 19, and Charlie, eight, his love language is time.
"My eldest say you never did that for us, the young ones say we don't buy them anything. I've explained I'm a flawed human being. I'm a better dad now."
With daughter Charlie. "I'm a better dad now."
Mike and Joanna set up I Am Hope to help provide early, accessible mental-health support. The 50-year-old needed to take time out when she found it too hard to cope with the examples of young people dealing with suicidal thoughts, but has recently become more immersed as the charity turns its focus to prevention as much as reactive services. She explains, "I worked on the charity from day one as the admin lady. I've had my own struggles through the years and this got to be a bit too much for me. But in the last month, I've just jumped back in. I love that now it's more preventative."
It gives the couple the opportunity to spend more time together, something that Joanna admits she misses as Mike makes himself available to anyone who needs mental health support 24/7.
"I'm human and there are times when I want my husband, but that sounds really selfish," she says. "Earlier this year, he was away and got Covid, and had to isolate on his own. For those 10 days or so, Mike and I were FaceTiming. And one night I said, 'I'm really loving this. I'm looking at you. You're looking at me. No interruptions. You can't be on your phone while I'm talking to you. I'm really enjoying it.'
"I wasn't making a dig, it was just that our life is busy. When he came home, he said he'd heard me and he pulled back a bit from work."
'My job isn't to fix anyone - I'm not qualified to. But I can give you hope'
I Am Hope is the recipient charity for this week's Fight For Life celebrity boxing gig at Eventfinda Stadium on Auckland's North Shore, as well as Pay Per View around the country, that features All Blacks against rugby league star bouts, including Keven Mealamu vs Wairangi Koopu, and Carlos Spencer vs Paul Whatuira.
"Fight For Life is such an apt name for what we do," says Mike. "We are out there fighting for the lives of young people. Forty percent of kids in school today will have a major crisis often associated with some type of suicidal thinking before they leave school, and 80 percent of those kids never asked for help because they're worried about what other people will think."
The money raised will support an early intervention system where young people can talk to a mental health expert. "My job isn't to fix anyone – I'm not qualified to," Mike tells. "But I can give you hope and we will pay for it."
The event will see Mike get into the ring too. Not to fight, though. Instead, he will be the ring announcer.
"I'm way to old to fight," he grins. "I've got to fight to walk to the toilet!"

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