Lost for Words in Wellington
Date: 18th February 2005
Subject: Lost for words
Place: Palmerston North, North Island, New Zealand
On air in five, four…
“Right Princess Fiona, we’ve got three days until our National Radio debut.” I shout up towards the crowd at the top of the slide.
“No problem,” Stuart’s muffled voice calls back.
As the crowd thins a little I can see his arms and legs have been tied together with bungy cords and there’s a sun hat wedged in his mouth.
“As soon as Donkey and Shrek kill the dragon I’ll be right down,” he shouts distortedly.
“Ha ha, we’re going to feed the Princess to the dragon.” scream a collection of kids, pushing him down the slide.
I sigh; turning ourselves from semi wild travellers into lucid interviewees was going to take some work.
Hanging out at Te Papa Museum
We chose Wellington’s Te Papa museum as the base for three days of intensive media skills coaching. Te Papa is a world class museum and the kids loved it. They rampaged through hall after hall, asking questions, demanding answers, playing with the interactive computers, scrutinising the exhibits.
In contrast, Stuart and I barely took in the magnificent art, culture, and displays from all over the natural world. We were too busy interviewing each other about ourselves.
Interviewing each other
After our disastrous brush with the television cameras at the start of our trip, we wanted to be sure we didn’t make public fools of ourselves again. A few months before we came away I was briefed by Anna, my journalist friend. She asked if we’d contacted the UK TV stations, at which I recoiled in horror.
“Get over it” she said. “And then give them a ring.”
In ten years of working in radio and TV I had carefully avoided ever being on the receiving end of the media. I was the one who asked the questions.
“What are the highlights, the lowlights, the most embarrassing moments? What do you think of the Kiwis? What does it feel like when Cameron wees all over someone’s living room?”
Stuart was the one asking the questions, over and over and over. Then, while I schooled him on the workings of a radio studio, he talked me through the art of being on message, of not being negative, and how to get through the interview without bursting out laughing, or worse, crying.
“Turn a lowlight into a highlight, like you’d do at a job interview.”
He obviously hadn’t ever been present at any of my job interviews. I became slicker at answering, but was consistently thrown by the first question of each practice interview.
“Why did we decide to come to New Zealand? Well… ermmm.. …Stuart, help me out here.”
You first, me second
We developed a system. Stuart would answer the first question, which was sure to be about our reasons for coming on the trip, then I would answer the second and we would settle down and take it from there. We practised for three days and nights, and by the end we felt there was nothing we didn’t know about being Family On A Bike. Then as we were settling down to a good night’s sleep I remembered the Producer had asked if we’d like to choose the music around our interview. We racked our brains for something suitable.
“How about Queen’s bicycle song?” Stuart suggested sleepily.
“That’s the only one they’ve barred us from requesting,” I replied.
After ten minutes of arguing we agreed to chose one each.
“I’ll go for James Brown and ‘I feel good,'” I said.
“And I’ll have Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World,’ ” said Stuart as he dozed off.
I sent our suggestions off in a late night e-mail, and went nervously off to sleep, answering questions in my dreams.
When the red light comes on
“Ok, so you answer the first question and I’ll take the second. Just make sure you tell him about how the project came into being, then we know where we are,” I whispered to Stuart as we entered the radio booth.
The kids has been whisked away by the production team, and now there was just the two of us with Wayne the presenter, who was just finishing an hour of sixties music. A quick check for sound and James Brown was suddenly blasting into the booth. Then as it faded out, I turned to watch Stuart handle the first question. Wayne began his introduction.
“On Radio New Zealand we meet the best people. Kirstie and Stuart Wickes are touring New Zealand with their two toddlers on bicycles, but we’ll hear more about that in a minute. First of all Kirstie I must just ask you…why James Brown?”
I looked at Stuart as if to say ‘we agreed the first one was yours’ but he shook his head firmly. “Well Wayne, ermmm….”