Shortland Street star Michael Galvin’s heartwarming interview with his pride and joy – daughter Lily

When we met his adorable one-year-old daughter, Michael told us, "Lily is the best thing ever!" And now she's 12, the doting dad couldn't be more proud of his girl. "She's a terrific person," he beams, "and she just gets better and better."

When Michael Galvin thinks back to his first-ever photo shoot with his daughter Lily almost exactly 11 years ago, he grimaces.

“She was crying nearly the entire time and we felt terrible because she was so miserable,” the Shortland Street star remembers, explaining that the poor wee girl had suffered from severe reflux.

“There was a span of one and a half minutes when she wasn’t screaming, and we managed to squeeze all the photos into that space. Sorry about that, Lily! But she’s been very good today, hasn’t she?”

Indeed, fast-forward just over a decade to our new Woman’s Day shoot and not only is Lily a heck of a lot taller, but she’s also full of smiles, a ray of sunshine on a chilly Auckland winter’s day – and not just because we’ve surprised her with red velvet cupcakes to mark her 12th birthday, which she celebrated a couple of days earlier.

When Woman’s Day first met Lily in 2007.

Shorty stalwart Michael – who has played Dr Chris Warner ever since the iconic TVNZ 2 drama began in 1992 – can’t quite believe his little girl is going to be a teenager next year.

“I’ve been looking at a few old photos and feeling a bit wistful,” he confesses.

“That playground we saw earlier, we spent a lot of time climbing all over it when Lily was young, but today we walked right past it and it won’t be long before she’s completely outgrown it. Fortunately, she doesn’t hate me yet. When are you going to start hating me, Lily?”

Laughing, his daughter insists she still loves playgrounds, adding, “And I’ll never hate Dad!”

With a wry smile, Michael, 52, replies, “You never think it’s going to happen, but I was a very well-behaved boy and I still argued with my dad, mainly about politics. She’s not at that stage yet. It’ll happen, but she still really likes me at the moment.”

And the feeling is mutual.

The actor continues, “I’m super-proud of Lily. I just think she’s fantastic. She’s a terrific person, and she just gets better and better.”

Lily splits her time between Michael’s place and her mum’s house. The star happily confesses his ex-wife, artist Melissa Dines, “does the heavy-lifting with the parenting”. He explains, “I see Lily every weekend and one day through the week. It’s just what works well. Mum’s awesome, isn’t she?”

Nodding, Lily grins, “They’re very good friends.” Her dad adds, “She’s the best. And Lily knows she can call me at any time. We try to see each other more often if my schedule allows. I go to all her netball games and I take my leave during the school holidays, so I get to spend a lot of time with her then, which is cool.”

As they joke around on our shoot, it’s clear that Lily and Michael share a special bond, as well as identical dazzling blue eyes and a similar sense of humour. Throughout our morning together, they speak in silly voices, make funny noises, joke and tickle each other.

When scissors can’t be found to open a carton of milk for the actor’s coffee, Michael gets a laugh out of his girl by grabbing a knife and quipping, “Good thing Dr Warner is here – the greatest surgeon in all the world!”

While she’s “very proud” of her famous father, Lily isn’t a huge fan of Shortland Street. She explains, “It’s really weird watching my dad because he’s a totally different person. Chris is always very serious and grumpy, and my dad’s all happy and funny.”

“Oh, I get grumpy sometimes, don’t I, sweetie?” Michael asks. Diplomatically, she replies, “Only if you need to.”

While she rarely watches the long-running soap, Lily does like to visit her dad on set.

“The elevators look so real on TV, but they’re not really real,” she giggles. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but you open them and just walk out the other side. And the stairs that go up to the bedrooms actually lead to blank walls. It’s all pretend, which is fun.”

It’s a world the Year Seven student is venturing into, following in her father’s footsteps by starring in not one but two plays this year at Diocesan School for Girls. She’s the titular giant in Roald Dahl’s The BFG and also plays gangster’s moll Tallulah in the musical Bugsy Malone, a role made famous by Jodie Foster.

Michael has played Shorty’s Dr Chris Warner since 1992.

Playing the big, friendly giant, Lily says, is the harder gig because there are some “enormous speeches with made-up words”, but her father has shared a few tricks of the trade to help with memorising her lines.

“Very few tips,” Michael insists. “I just advised her to break them down into parts and learn a little at a time. It’s a very difficult part and she’s doing a great job.”

A huge fan of Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Kiwi singer Jamie McDell, Lily is also a keen musician who co-wrote and sings on a track for an album by her music teacher called For Kids, By Kids. She explains, “I was nine when I wrote it. The song is called ‘Nine Lives’. It’s inspired by my cat.”

Smiling proudly, Michael adds, “She’s very imaginative and creative, and it sounds great. It’s a really good album and all the proceeds are going to Starship Children’s Hospital.”

His latest plotlines involve a love triangle with Zoe (Holly Shervey).

It’s no surprise when Lily tells us she wants to be either a singer or an actress when she grows up, but Michael mocks outrage when she breaks the news.

“Noooo, you want to be a lawyer or an accountant!” he insists. “Oh, God, her dad is an actor and her mum is an artist, so I was hoping she’d want to be an accountant to rebel against her parents.

“The problem with acting is that it’s a very insecure profession. I’ve been so lucky with my job on Shortland Street, but most people aren’t that lucky. I’d like her to have some security, but we’ll see.

You’ve got to follow your heart, Lil, and if that’s where your heart leads you …”

Apart from her visits to the Shorty set, Lily’s childhood has been a pretty normal one.

“It’s no different to having a non-famous dad,” she says. “It’s what I’ve known growing up.”

Michael agrees, “When we’re out, people will ask for a photo with me and it only takes a few seconds. We’re happy if people are enjoying the show and enjoying my work. If people see I’m with Lil, they’re aware of not taking up too much time and it doesn’t seem to bother her.”

But surely there are perks to having a father who is a household name?

“Actually,” Michael says, “I can only think of one time we’ve been moved to the front of a queue for an exhibition, but we do get the odd free ticket to shows through Shortland Street. We love going to shows together. We’ve been to Matilda, Mary Poppins and Stomp.”

While the story accompanying Michael and Lily’s first photo shoot revealed he had fears about being a father, it’s clear the actor needn’t have stressed.

Explaining his parenting style, he says, “I try to take it a day at a time and take my cues from Lily. I try to be sensitive to what she needs at any given time, which I’m aware is constantly changing. As she’s grown up, she needs different things from me. Of course, I keep noticing where I could do better, but I think most parents do that. I’m not very strict, am I, Lily?”

“No,” she giggles, “but he’s so funny and so much fun. He’s a very good dad … and I’ll never hate him!”

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