Career

Suzy Cato's next move after Dancing With The Stars

The much-loved children's entertainer is about to turn the big five-0 and she's "totally embracing it."

By Amy Nelmes Bissett

When Suzy Cato hot-stepped back on to our screens for Dancing with the Stars NZ, she'd clocked up a staggering 15 years away from the bright lights of the studio.

And while her return triggered tremendous nerves, Suzy, 49, says her "true passion" was only just being reignited when she found herself eliminated by the judges.

"It was gut-wrenching and a bit of a bolt out of the blue," she confesses to Woman's Day. "It's always a possibility, but I just really loved every moment."

However, Suzy admits that she initially had doubts about joining the show, only accepting the gig when her children, Riley, 13, and Morgan, 11, urged her to.

"When the kids flipped through magazines from when I was younger or watched a show I did, they'd go, 'Mum, why aren't you doing this any more?'"

It's a good question. Suzy dominated children's television for almost a decade. There's barely a '90s Kiwi kid who doesn't remember her fondly.

With her wacky sweatshirts and natural knack for making learning fun, Suzy was a daily staple – initially through The Early Bird Show, then the iconic You and Me and later on Suzy's World. But in 2002, she stepped out of the limelight to focus on the production she's most proud of – her two children.

"I still did writing and producing, but once I was able to have children, I wanted that to be my main focus – the PTA, the school stuff and the pick-ups."

This is because, for a long time, Suzy wasn't sure if she and husband Steve, 52, were ever going to be able to be parents.

The end of Suzy's World in 2002 came at the right time.

"I'd had a couple of miscarriages while we were filming and when it came to an end, it gave my body a break for a couple of years – one that it needed."Then I fell pregnant. But as these things go, I then got funding during Riley's third trimester to create a TV show called Bryan and Bobby – and the second series happened while I was pregnant with Morgan."

At the start of her career, Suzy had launched her company Treehut Productions, which is still producing Bryan and Bobby, a community-safety video series for schoolkids. She later rolled out radio programme The Great Big Kids Show, which is still played on 22 stations around New Zealand.

"I just love the show and the kids who were there when it first came to life," she says.

But life in front of the camera was on hold until this April, when Suzy was the final contestant unveiled in the line-up for this season of Dancing with the Stars.

When she sashayed onto the dance floor with her partner Matt Tatton-Brown, it was all eyes on Suzy, whose trademark glasses were replaced with fluttering lashes and eye-popping make-up, and her baggy jumpers exchanged for risqué, tight-fitting dresses.

Did she have any trepidation about shaking off her family-friendly look? "I didn't say yes to the show straight away," she admits.

"I needed to think how it was going to affect the kids. But my biggest nerves were around the fact that I had zero fitness. It was something I had to really think about before signing up. I'm not a gym bunny."

In fact, Suzy cheerfully admits that she hasn't done regular exercise since Morgan was in a pushchair, to which he interjects, "And I'm 11 now!"

Suzy smiles, "Yep, it's been about a decade."

The grin fades slightly as she confesses there were moments on the Three show where she was gripped by intense stage fright, especially as she ramped up the raunch factor.

"I had nerves from day one," Suzy admits. "At one point, I was essentially going on national TV in a pair of togs and a sarong. I had a bit of fear that time."

But her adoring children are quick to remind their mother that she did an amazing job. Riley says, "We are so proud of her. All the way through, we have been like, 'You go, Mum!'"

Beaming, Morgan adds, "She always looked amazing. Her dancing was so awesome too."

It isn't lost on the pair that many kids would love to have Suzy as a mother.

"The best bit is that Mum is exactly the same person that everyone sees on TV," says Riley, who has recently taken a keen interest in acting. "She is so happy and so positive."

Meanwhile, Morgan – who has also been bitten by the performing bug – fizzes with excitement when we ask him what his favourite memory of his mother is.

"Mum has always been there for our school talent shows," he says. "I've won six! Mum helps me so much with that and it makes me feel amazing. I like to do Michael Jackson the best."

But with Suzy's children moving into their teens, she says it's now time to start focusing on her career again.

Earlier this year, she released a song called Sprinkle a Little Sunshine with kids' songwriter Kath Bee, and enrolled in an acting workshop with screen and stage legend Miranda Harcourt.

"I've always enjoyed performance but thought of myself as an actor more than a TV presenter in my early days," Suzy reveals.

"I kind of fell into children's TV and went along for the ride, never having a five-year plan or anything like that. But this year, I put down a barrel list, rather than a bucket list, of things that I want to do."

Suzy is tight-lipped about what is on that list but says she's still overwhelmed by the support she had while raising money for the Mental Health Foundation on Dancing with the Stars.

"The feedback was amazing, especially from women my age," Suzy smiles. "I'm turning 50 in a few weeks' time and I'm totally embracing it. I'm fitting my skin better now than any other age – and now, from the dancing, my skin is actually a lot tauter!"

Laughing as she peers down her top, she adds, "Well, except for the boobs. They disappear first!"

This causes Riley and Morgan to both squeal with embarrassment, "Mum, no!"

But in all seriousness, Suzy says that Dancing has been like a homecoming for her and now she's ready to be back on our screens on a more permanent basis.

"Who knows what that will look like? But yeah, an awesome TV gig would be really great, thanks!"

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