They say you should never meet your heroes because you might be disappointed. However, Auckland-based entertainer Sophie Morris would disagree. When she recently found herself sharing the stage with her idol, British comedian Bill Bailey, she couldn't believe how amazing he was.
"It was one of life's pinch-me moments," admits the 30-year-old, who's best known for singing the national anthem at major sporting events.
"Bill is such a legend and a really special human being," says Sophie, who shared the stage with the comic at his three Auckland shows in November last year.
"He really was the nicest person with this intrinsic coolness about him. But out of nowhere, he'd say the funniest thing or play something absolutely ridiculous and everyone would crack up."
Something else that surprised Sophie was how talented her idol was.
"Everyone knows Bill's a great comedian, but he's also a hugely talented musician who writes his own songs and plays every instrument going, from the piano to the bagpipes. I sang with Bill on four songs he'd written."
Although the pair delivered a pitch-perfect performance, Sophie admits there were some hairy moments.
"I always want to do a good job and it was a sell-out crowd. But the first show was on a Wednesday and I only got confirmation on Tuesday! I literally met Bill at 5pm on the night of our first performance! I'd been sent the material, but Bill is spontaneous and likes to change things. So we were having a quick run through and he'd say, 'We might change this or that.'"
But Sophie, who has degrees in music and opera from the University of Otago, says Bill was hugely sensitive to her as a performer.
"He'd ask, 'How do these words suit you?' He really cared that I was comfortable with the material."
It wasn't all work, though. After the final night's show, Sophie and the rest of the crew cracked open the Champagne with the comedy legend. "That was when he told us he'd only learned to play the bagpipes four days earlier!" she marvels.
It was a great way to end a year that had its challenges for Sophie and her partner Brad Fitch, who live on a two-hectare lifestyle block in Puhoi, north of Auckland.
"We've been living in a tiny house that Brad's sister rents out on Airbnb while we built our own house on the property." But when floods hit the Auckland region last January, the couple was separated by rising flood waters.
"It was early days in our relationship and I was living in Auckland while Brad was in Puhoi," recalls Sophie.
"I was supposed to head up to Puhoi that night, but the town was badly flooded, and there were lots of slips and washed-out roads. I was so worried because I couldn't get to Brad and he couldn't get out. At one stage, Brad thought he might have to get on his paddle board to escape!"
It was a week before the couple could be reunited and Sophie rolled up her sleeves to get stuck in clearing the storm damage.
"The driveway was washed out and there was quite a bit of damage to the property, including a slip that shunted Brad's sister's house forward, buckling some doors and warping the floorboards. The house was later moved to a new spot away from the slip."
However, it hasn't put Sophie off building her dream home on the rural property, which overlooks rolling hills.
"I love it out here – it's so peaceful," she enthuses. "We've inherited goats and guinea pigs, and the neighbour's chickens wander over, so I'm definitely living the rural dream!"
Not that she'll have much time to enjoy it or get involved with project-managing the build of their new home.
Having recently finished a marketing stint with NZ Opera, Sophie is now juggling a freelance career doing communications work for a mental health foundation and, following her stint as a presenter for the FIFA Women's World Cup last winter, presenting news and traffic reports on More FM.
"It was such a privilege to help warm up the crowds before the FIFA matches, particularly because I was covering games in Dunedin, which is my hometown. I loved being home again."
Sophie also hopes to land more work singing on cruise ships – "I did a week's cruise from Auckland to Dunedin, which was fun" – plus writing and performing her own work. "And I can't wait to sing at another major sporting event at Eden Park. When I first started singing, one of my goals was to perform at Eden Park, and I've now sung the New Zealand, French and Argentinian national anthems there. It's such a huge career moment when I get to that. It's almost as good as singing with Bill Bailey!"
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