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Career

Amanda Gillies and Duncan Garner interview each other and the results are heartfelt, honest and raw

You can see why they make such a good team.

There's a lot of mutual trust, support, affection and understanding between The AM Show co-hosts Duncan Garner and Amanda Gillies. Two years on from the launch of their show, the duo discuss success, career and what makes them tick...

On success

Duncan: How did you define success when you were younger?
Amanda: When I was a kid, success was being rich. Fancy houses, flash cars, overseas travel, designer clothes. Success for me now – at the ripe old age of 42 – is happiness, and being in a loving relationship. Also having good relationships with your family, with your girlfriends, at work, and having a job you love. Being happy and content, basically.
D: And that's good for you, isn't it? Because you haven't always been so settled, and it's always worried me a bit. Now you're the settled one, and I'm not.
A: Yes, we've swapped. We've changed roles. But what about you, how did you define success when you were a kid?
D: It was about winning. I was always very competitive. Doing the biggest bomb in your friend's pool – I actually did okay in the bomb stakes, because of the body mass thing – and then scoring tries on the rugby field. I also remember running home from Birkenhead Primary School, I got third prize in the talent contest…
A: What was your talent?
D: I sang You Are My Sunshine while playing the ukulele. And I won a dollar, and I ran all the way home to Mum because I was so proud, but of course I told her I'd won, even though I got third.
A: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story… How's that changed?
D: Nothing's changed.
A: Winning, that's still what defines success to you?
D: Well, it's matured – against all odds. I mean look at our team at The AM Show – happy, you accept that?
A: Yeah, absolutely.
D: Okay, so we're happy because the show feels good, and the ratings are good, and that's winning. I very much see my role in that team as being to contribute to those wins. That might mean making sure everyone's having a say, and that everyone feels involved, and that you know your views are as important as mine, and everyone else's, and at the end of each show everyone's happy, because they've been included.
A: But, do you feel like you've made it now? Do you feel like you've got to the top of your game, or is there more?
D: I think it's a constant perfecting, so no I haven't made it. If you say you've made it, you're gone. Because then you're not hungry. I worked as hard today as I did 20 years ago, potentially harder.
Maybe I work smarter, but I'm as hungry as I've ever been for the success of the programme.
A: Would you say you're successful enough? »
D: I review that daily. I can feel success and total failure in any one day. But I can get tears in my eyes looking at my son Buster's school report at the end of the year. It's because I've worked so hard that year to support him in being the best little man that he can be, and he's worked hard in the classroom.
He's a studious little guy, he's not just a madman on the rugby field, he's quite focused – and he's proud of himself, and I'm proud of him. That's what makes me happy. That's success.
A: Through the kids?
D: Yeah, because being a parent, that's my main job.

Working life

D: Do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome?
A: I do sometimes, because my whole career up until The AM Show I was always a reporter. When I started in journalism my then-boss said to me, "You won't be a presenter, but I'll make you one hell of a journalist", and so presenting was always off my radar. I never had any interest in it. And I worked all over the country, and overseas, and I loved it. I was in my forties when I got asked to present – most people are in their twenties and thirties – so it's taken me a while to feel comfortable. These are the seats that Judy Bailey sat in, and Hilary Barry, and Carol Hirschfeld, the greats of our broadcasting…
D: How did you get in there?
A: Exactly! This kid from Gisborne, I sometimes think the same thing.
D: You got there because you're good. You know your subjects, you know what you're doing, you've been in this industry a long time, you're not an imposter. You were picked to work on this show.
A: And that's the thing, you've got to learn to own it. But being a journalist for 20 years and suddenly ending up doing something different, you start again from the bottom.
D: See, where I differ is that I'm just doing what I've always done – asking questions. It's just the format's changed. We're on multiple platforms because MediaWorks was smart enough to go, "Right, we have an audience for a radio, TV, and online show – bang! This is the future." And The AM Show will hopefully live on long after I go because it's not branded around a personality. I'm just privileged enough to be sitting in that seat right now, and I love the gig, I feel like it's my baby. But, it's a constant evolution. The show changes every day.
A: How do you deal with the public scrutiny that comes with what you do?
D: I reckon I've become thick skinned after being in Parliament. Parliament turns you into a not-very-nice person, and after doing my time there it took me a year of walking through the Blockhouse Bay bush to find myself and get all the poison of the place out of me. Which sounds a bit greeny, I know. Anyway, I did all that, and slowly got better as a person.
A: You were angry when you finished there. I think you were frustrated, you were ready for a change.
D: I was frustrated because I did a year too long there, to help [then-political editor] Paddy [Gower]. But I wanted to get out of Wellington, out of parliament, I knew there had to be more to life, I didn't want to die there at the age of 45.
The smell gets me now, I think about going back and I sort of shake. Most New Zealanders are damn right normal, and they worry about what they're going to have on their toast in the morning, and then jumping in the car to beat the traffic or whatever. They're not seeing everything through a win/loss eye and that's the problem with that adversarial set-up in Wellington, there's always going to be a winner and a loser. Well life's not actually always like that, life's not as black and white as how these politicians would have it, so to me it was about stepping out and returning to my normal, you know? I was just a sports reporter. That's what I started out as, I didn't want any of what had happened, it just happened.
A: But what about people who write in and voice their opinion, or don't agree with you. What if they don't like you, or they have strong opinions, or yell stuff out in the street? How do you deal with that?
D: I often think about this. If I met them, I bet they'd like me, and I bet I could turn them around, because it's about human contact. Think about when people meet people – most of the time they get on. The worse thing for Simon Bridges is that he and Jacinda actually like each other. They've done all sorts of things together in the past and in a way he sees it as his job to help her, yet he can't really say this. But the other thing is, I have strong opinions, so who am I to say you can't have one? You're entitled to your own opinion. How you express it reveals a lot about you, but I'm not going to sit here and say, 'You can't criticise me' while I go and criticise other people. Go for it, fill your boots, come at me.
A: Tell me about your best and worst moments on the job.
D: No, you tell me about yours. Even though I think I could answer this for you.
A: Story of my life. No, if we're talking my whole career, I'd say the most memorable moment would be the 2009 bushfires in Australia. We were with a New Zealand family and we went to their home and everything was gone. Then we found this piece of greenstone in the ashes, and then their cat who had been missing for days popped out, alive and well.
It was just an incredibly emotional, poignant, sad and uplifting day, all at the same time.
D: You're very good at capturing emotion in those stories. Did you smell death?
A: I did – 173 people died that day.
D: Does that affect you when you go home? Because you're either a hardened journalist, or you're just Amanda Gillies from Gisborne, and human. Do you feel that still?
A: Yeah you do. You take a little bit of each one home. I just thought of my worst moment – Hugh Grant. Oh what a dick!
D: At least you turned up to that celebrity interview.
A: True, unlike you standing up Hugh Jackman with your venue mix-up. But yeah, I always had a bit of a crush on Hugh Grant. I thought he was fabulous and so funny, I loved all his movies. But he was so dismissive and just not interested in the interview.
D: Oh, how disappointing.
A: Yes, disappointing is the word.
D: When I asked you about the good times and bad times, I thought about that first year [of The AM Show] when we were talking families, babies, that sort of thing. It moved on to the issue of infertility and you looked over at me, we were off-camera, and you said I don't want to talk about this…
A: I think I shook my head three times before I said yes…
D: I know. And then I looked at you one more time and you paused, and you gave a little nod, and then you started so eloquently talking about your personal experience with that subject – something so difficult. I reckon that was your moment. It was amazing.
A: That's the hardest thing about transitioning from being an on-the-road journalist to being in the studio, I think. You go from just reporting the facts, to being in people's lounges for three hours every day, and you've got to give them some of yourself, which is hard when you've been trained to do the opposite. And [my infertility] is not something I'd really shared with anyone outside of my close circle, but I trust you, and I trust [co-host] Mark [Richardson] and so I did feel that I was in a safe environment, so to speak.
D: Totally safe. I remember grabbing your hand afterwards – I wanted to hug you but I couldn't because there was a barrier. I thought a lot about you over that week, and how brave you were. I felt sort of a part of your family, like a brother, wanting to make sure you were okay.
A: That's actually how I think of you. Everyone always asks me, 'What's Duncan like?', and I just say you're like my brother, that's it.

On values

D: What values are most important to you?
A: There are two rules I live by, the first is my mum's which is, "If you haven't got anything nice to say, say nothing." And my work one comes from my uncle Ian, who told me very early in my career, "Every story matters to someone." And it's so true. It doesn't matter whether you're doing a voxy with someone out on the street or interviewing the prime minister, you give them the same love, care and attention. What about you?
D: Keeping your word and being who you say you are. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I get very disappointed when I unearth disloyalty. A man is nothing more than his word, so if you say you'll do something for me and it doesn't happen, I don't feel vengeful I just feel deeply disappointed. Not that I expect people to do things for me, it's more so the other way around. My parents brought me up to care about the people around me, the communities around me. You know, a kid comes to the door raising money. How hard is it to give two bucks? People have been very good to me this past year.
A: How would you describe the past year for you?
D: It's no secret that my marriage broke up. And Buster stays with me, and we just do what we have to. You don't contemplate failure, because why would you? There are lots of single parents around bringing up their kids, and they're not talking about it in magazines, wearing fancy clothes, drinking nice coffee with their hair done and everything. They're getting on with it, sometimes on a limited income – maybe the car's broken down, and they can't afford this or that bill. I'm lucky, I'm in a privileged position and I think about that when I catch myself moaning and groaning about things. Other people's lives are way tougher, and that's who we've got to represent.

Mental health

A: How do you rate your mental health?
D: Look, life's not the white picket fence all the time. Life is a daily battle for some people. I would ring one of my mates and ask him how he'd been going and he'd say, "Battling with the basics," which I think sums it up. But we talk about things now as blokes that we never used to talk about. I think about my dad, and I don't remember him even once talking about mental health, or the state of the head.
It would have been a sign of weakness. About six years ago, a really good mate was going through some dark times. He came over to my house and I offered him a beer and he goes, "Nah a beer's not going to do anything for this. Just listen to me Duncs." Big, strapping, rugby player he was. Māori All Black, Blues, that sort of thing. And he sat there in tears. He was dark, the black dog really had him, you know? He was struggling in his business, in his life, his marriage, things were all on the rocks.
He's brilliant now, but he says that day was like a seminal event for him because I sat there not saying a word – quite surprising for me – and for about an hour he just unloaded. From that day on, as a group of guys, we've all stayed really tight and we talk to each other. That's why I cleaned out my shed when my marriage broke up, and I turned it into a…
A: Man cave? Still waiting for my invite…
D: I'll put it to the lads. But yes, we've got a couple of chairs in there, and we sit down and we talk. Mike King's empowered us all on that sort of thing. It's not weak to talk, it's great to talk. And for my mates and I, having that hub, I reckon it's saving us.
A: Last year as you know, I lost someone very dear to me to depression. And it was heartbreaking, and sad, and tough, and at times you felt angry and helpless and frustrated, because you could see what an incredible person they were. You could see how smart and funny, gifted and wonderful they were, but they couldn't, and it didn't matter what you said…
D: So how do we get those people to see the light?
A: It does come down to talking, and I think Sir John Kirwan and Mike King – who I hope will become 'Sir Mike King' one day. These are amazing Kiwi blokes telling other Kiwi blokes that talking's okay. Don't tell your mates to harden up, don't turn your back, everyone goes through highs and lows. And it's about helping people in these dark places see how incredible they are.
D: But how do you keep an eye on those people 24/7? You can't.
A: But you get them doing exercise, you get them on medication if they need it, you get them involved, you check in. You get them talking and you just listen to them.

Stress relief

D: If I have my man cave, what do you have Amanda?
A: Oh, I was about to say my walk-in wardrobe. How shallow is that?
D: Extraordinarily shallow, it suits you well.
A: No, I do know if I'm feeling in a bit of a funk, I put on my headphones with really upbeat music and I go for a walk, and god I walk fast. Or I just have a dance around the house. I get a bit of physical movement on, I call my best friend, I call my mum. I do have a laugh and that's the way I get the endorphins working again, and I sort of try and pull myself up
or I chat to my partner who's fantastic and…
D: He is good, isn't he?
A: He's a good man.
D: A mature man who's travelled life's journeys and battles. I only ever trust flawed people, really. People who have failed at this and that, because it means they've lived. You don't run into perfection too much.
A: Perfection would be boring. What about when you're just feeling a bit stressed, what do you do?
D: I don't get stressed.
A: Oh dear god, hashtag fake news!
D: No, I do my stressing in the garden. I love going outside. I don't think I've watched any TV in three months, not one cricket test. I like to get out in the fresh air. It's quite a buzz. I'll paint the deck again, I'll mow the lawns…
A: Do you own a leaf blower?
D: Yeah, I've got a leaf blower but it's broken. But Bunnings! How good! I go to Bunnings for stress relief.
A: What about Buster?
D: I mean talking about what gets you through – don't underestimate the fact that I have an eight-year-old boy who relies on me. Men must look for their reason why, and mine was there every day. Because of these hours, occasionally I slept in past three o'clock in the afternoon when I'm supposed to pick him up from school, and a couple of the mums always had my back. And that's what I mean when I talk about being there for your communities and caring for one another.
A: What do they say, a village raises a child?
D: People say these things, but it doesn't happen. But it can happen. Big deal, you're watching someone's kid, it's not hard to do. I find it hard to say no when someone asks me for help too.

Growing up

D: Do you think kids today are growing up in a more complicated world than we did?
A: Yes! All I can say is thank god there was no social media when we were growing up. Social media for kids can be brutal; just look at the increasing number of kids who are struggling with cyber-bullying and committing suicide. We didn't have to deal with that.
D: Yes, but we also had dollar beer night at The Exchange in Parnell. You took $20, and you got too many drinks. Nowadays, there's so much policing I don't believe there's the access to alcohol that there was in our day. I got a homebrew kit at 16, and who has a homebrew kit at 16?
A: I had braces and a bad perm at 16, you sound a little bit cooler.
D: No, no. I had racing stripes in my hair if you think that was cool. But the haircuts were $8, and you could go to town for $10, including the bus and the feed, and life was simpler. You know why? Because it wasn't as instant as it is now. Life didn't have that self-gratification stuff going on. On the flip side, we didn't have the information, and information is power. There's a reason why we've got school kids out protesting climate change – it's because they've been on Instagram or Twitter and they've read something and it's stuck, and that's great. I think it's an exciting time to be young. Yes, there are all these things that can go bad with this technology, but there's a whole lot that goes well, too.
A: When you use it for the good, it can work, that's true.
D: But yes it's more complicated, way more complicated. And more competitive. What were you like as a 10-year-old, apart from the bad perm?
A: The bad perm came as a 16-year-old, with my braces, that was not hot. At 10 years old, for someone with a shoe collection like I have now, I hated shoes. Classic Gisborne kid, I was always in bare feet. But I was dancing, too. Tap, jazz, ballet…
D: What happened?
A: I just got old and lazy. But back then I was so passionate about it, whether I was in a dance studio, or onstage, or doing exam work, it was fun. But yes, weirdly, I'd have this fancy makeup and hair onstage, then offstage it was bare feet.
D: Do you think country people have better values?
A: I've only known what I grew up with. And that's the lovely thing about growing up in a small town – I went from year one through to my last year at high school with the same people, all the same families.
D: And you're still friends to this day?
A: Still to this day, yes.
D: Do you get treated differently in Gisborne when you go home?
A: No, I went home last weekend and you're just another Gizzy girl.
D: Hey, so tell me about you at 16… what were you interested in?
A: It was probably my parents' saving grace that I didn't give up dancing until I was 18. And – how's this for a girly swot – I moved in with my nana so I could study for my exams. Oh, that is so uncool.
D: I went to the Takapuna library under the guise of needing a space to study away from my twin sister. But my friends and I – I went to a boys' school – we knew that all the girls from the same year were down there, so we'd go and hang out until five or six o'clock at night.

The 'real' you

A: Okay now tell me something that the general public wouldn't know about you.
D: I no longer know how to cook.
A: Front page news! Seriously?
D: Seriously. I used to pride myself on my ability to be self-sufficient and thought I could cook anything, but I've lost the ability and the confidence. I need to do a refresher course.
A: In my twenties, I went through a weird kind of adrenaline thing with my then-fiancé. So I went skydiving, diving, white water rafting, boating, mountain biking, and I had impromptu pilot flight lessons. Then the phase passed. Since starting at The AM Show, the thing that I'm most proud of is the fact that in the first year I watched every episode of Murder She Wrote. Kind of sad, but tick. Achieved! I'd put it on my CV.
D: The other thing is I'm scared of dogs.
A: I'm terrified of cats.
D: Cats are nothing but pests. We could have kiwi out the back of our houses if we didn't have cats.
A: Can I ask one last question – and I actually put it to you this morning. Are you open to finding love again?
D: Yes. One day. But it's early days. I love my kids and they need me at the moment, and I need them. You asked that question on the programme and Buster heard, and he said to me, "Dad, if you did get a girlfriend, would I tag along?" And I said, "Oh, you could tag along for most of it, mate", and then I thought to myself, "Why did I say that?" But therein lies the answer – I'm not quite ready for it.
A: He needs you. And you need him.
D: Yeah I do, and so I'll just have that as my little thing. But never say never – I'm still young.

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