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Miriama Kamo: Meeting the real Dame Kiri

By Miriama Kamo

Published: 4:33PM Thursday August 22, 2013 Source: Sunday

  • Miriama Kamo and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Source: Sunday)
    Miriama Kamo and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa - Source: Sunday

Meeting Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was meant to be Ian Sinclair's job. But when a clash of schedules meant he could no longer tell the story, I happily stepped in.

Well, let me amend that, I stepped in with trepidation.

Our Kiri has a reputation for being, well, difficult. We all know about it; we might love her, but we fear her.. at least, I did.

This is the opera superstar who bowled us over, first, with her voice, then her incredible achievements and then with her breathtaking observations; seeming to take a swipe at the angelic Hayley Westenra, Maori beneficiaries and, recently, skinny female opera singers.

For the first few sessions of our shoot schedule, I was sick, hacking and spluttering in a way I was sure would incur Dame Kiri's wrath, particularly if I got near her young protégé Kawiti Waetford. I didn't want the world to miss out on either his talent or hers because they'd caught the plague from me.

So, I stayed away for the first couple of filming days when Dame Kiri was recording her new album, Waiata. Producer Chas Toogood and cameraman Ken Dorman reported back some interesting titbits. Dame Kiri runs an unrelenting and punishing schedule. She is sharp, focused, and uninterested in small talk.

She calls adult singers in her backing choir 'kids', ie, 'Kids.. you must keep up.. it's a bit lazy!' But there was something else, they said, something we've all seen, but perhaps not often enough - a sort of cheekiness.

The sort of mischievous nature that may just mean the sharp tongue could actually be anchored in good humour. It gave me hope. Hope that I wouldn't be told, in her parlance, to 'bugger off'. Even then I had to face the prospect of asking her about that reputation for being difficult.

Would she know about it? Would she be offended to be asked about it? Would she even address it?

I asked it, and Dame Kiri answered it. You'll see that on Sunday night, along with some other stunning admissions, striking observations, and yes, amusing anecdotes. Can you believe the Dame's dream destination for a holiday is Oamaru?

She wants to pack up a motor home, pop in her dogs, a few friends, and a case of champagne and pull into Oamaru as part of a South Island tour.

Dame Kiri talks about her passion for mentoring young talent, the misery she endured as a young talent herself, and how she feels she could've been a better parent. And, in perhaps the most astonishing moment, Dame Kiri announces she should've given up her career.

All this as the Dame faces a big milestone, she’s approaching 70.

The truth about Dame Kiri is more than the strong, sharp and focused Diva. As we discovered, she is also gracious, honest, and funny. On Sunday night, we meet the real Kiri.

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