Real Life

Radio star Steve Broad reveals the tragedy that motivates him

'Mum is my inspiration'
Emily Kerse Photography, Paula Brown

Each morning on his way to work, More FM Southland breakfast host Steve Broad takes a moment to talk to his mum. Often on his way home, he stops to tell her about his day.

“She’s always been my greatest supporter – always there on the sidelines cheering me on,” he shares. “That’s what breaks my heart. I’m gutted she can’t listen in each day.”

These chats are held at his mother’s graveside. The cemetery is on the road to the radio studio. Steve’s mother was his biggest fan when he chased fame as a performer on New Zealand Idol and The X Factor NZ, but she never got to celebrate with him when he scored his latest gig, co-hosting the morning show in Southland, where he grew up on his parents’ sheep farm.

Steve and his mum Anne with siblings (from left) Kirsten, Franc and Sarah.

Weeping openly as he talks to Woman’s Day about the tragedy of losing “my person, my biggest cheerleader and my hero”, Steve reveals his beloved mum Anne died last August of motor neurone disease (MND), just a few months after being diagnosed.

“From when I was young, she always used to say to me, ‘Steve, use your voice.’ It’s a privilege to do that now on the show in our own community. I know she’d be proud,” he says.

Steve recalls the “shock that hit me like a ton of bricks” when his father told him the bad news over the phone last March. Steve was then in Canterbury as MediaWorks radio’s operations manager.

“She was only 64,” he tells. “She’d been losing weight and we did notice other changes, but she insisted she was fine. The moment I got off the phone to Dad, I immediately googled ‘motor neurone disease’ and the first headline I saw was ‘Every doctor’s and patient’s worst nightmare’ and the word ‘terminal’.”

Steve performed his mum’s favourite song on The X Factor NZ

Despite the grim prognosis, the Broad family believed they had a “window of time” and were devastated they lost Anne much earlier than expected.

“We were told we could have up to two years, but it’s a race against time,” says Steve sombrely. “Mum fought hard against an awful disease, but then she caught RSV and deteriorated badly.”

During last year’s level 4 lockdown, Steve got special clearance to travel to Invercargill to say his last goodbye. “I arrived in the evening and she was non-responsive but still with us. She was in her favourite place, home, with all her family around her. I’m blessed I got to talk to her. We all slept on the floor around her bed. At sunrise, the birds in the garden were singing so loud. She loved her garden. At 7am, she took her last breath.”

Steve’s voice breaks again, the grief still so raw and palpable, but he’s grateful she was spared the most hideous aspects of the progressive disease.

“The tide of MND was going to take Mum, but we took comfort in the fact she didn’t have to go through the cruellest stages of the disease, like being in a wheelchair, unable to speak. She left this world like she lived her life – on her terms and with so much love for her family.”

Coming out to his mum was a humbling experience. “I felt so loved and accepted,” Steve says.

Steve has always had a great relationship with both his parents, but they became closer than ever after he told his parents he was gay before coming out more publicly six years ago.

“I had no doubt about their unconditional love, but I did worry about how verbalising this part of me would impact them. They brought me up on a Southland sheep farm in the Presbyterian and pentecostal churches. It was a huge journey for me to find peace in keeping my faith and being gay.”

Steve had never publicly acknowledged his sexual preferences. During *The X Factor*, there was media speculation that he and his mentor, All Saints singer Melanie Blatt, were more than friends, as well as rumours he was dating girls from The Bachelor NZ.

“While I eventually found my peace, ultimately, I didn’t feel comfortable that through my silence I was allowing this presumption that I was straight.” Before he told his parents, he called radio mate Mike Puru for moral support and said he was ready to tell “my truth”.

“I’m sure she’s listening from above, still cheering me on.”

“It was texthard getting the words out. Mum was doing the dishes. She started bawling, so did Dad. I thought they were upset with me, that I had let them down, but they hugged me tight.

“They weren’t crying with disappointment, but were sad I’d had to carry this by myself. I felt so loved and accepted unconditionally.”

Discovering his singing voice was a long road for Steve. Even though he came third on NZ Idol in 2005, throughout the show he was vilified for being “terrible”, he tells. “I loved to sing, but I was shy. When

I auditioned, I was only 19. I’d never been out of Southland and my biggest audience was a paddock of sheep.”

Despite support from the judges and crew, the public mauling got to him. “There were headlines calling me ‘Talentless Broad’. Numerous people approached me to tell me I was a s**t singer. It was pretty rugged, although looking back, I laugh at some of it, like when I did an acapella version of Tomorrow from Annie.”

After Idol, Steve joined the Edge radio promotions team but left to become a teacher. A decade later, everyone was surprised when he auditioned for The X Factor in 2015.

“I wanted to show the kids I was then teaching at Southland Boys’ High that you should have a crack at something. Mum always used to say, ‘Don’t leave life with what-ifs.’ It was a way of exorcising the Idol demons.

“When Stan Walker said my voice moved him, it meant the world. It was the season where judges Natalia Kills and Willy Moon got booted out for rude comments, but Natalia was always supportive to me,

as was Mel Blatt. I still got criticised, but it didn’t bother me like before.

“I was 29 and I’d learned that what people say doesn’t make or break me as a human.”

Steve chuckles as he recounts his “trainwreck moment” on live TV when R&B fan Mel convinced him to perform Usher’s song Climax while scaling a ladder. “It’s got raunchy lyrics and Usher sings it in falsetto. I’ve never been so out of my comfort zone and felt ridiculous.”

But there were uplifting moments too, like when Steve performed his mum’s favourite tune, Sir Elton John’s Your Song, and got to meet Ed Sheeran and Demi Lovato.

“I learned so much and I’m proud of myself for trying.”

The show was a catalyst for him to return to the entertainment business, re-joining MediaWorks in operations and promotions in 2017. Despite loving Canterbury and his work, after losing his mum, Steve jumped at the opportunity to return home to be with his dad and sisters.

“Southland has always been my safe haven,” he says. “I love the community. It’s a privilege to be behind the mic, keeping listeners informed and entertained, but most importantly, telling their stories.”

His passion for helping others was another thing his mother passed on.

“Mum was such a people lover. She taught us to be kind, to value people above everything and that greatness was about lifting people up,” he enthuses. “But it’s only now I’ve lost her that I can finally say, ‘Mum, I get it.’ I’m sure she’s listening from above, still cheering me on.”

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