Mel Homer takes the helm of The Café on TV3
Thérèse Henkin discovers how Mel Homer worked her way out from behind the scenes to front two hit TV and radio shows.
WHETHER IT IS a windless day and the sails are slack, or the waves are beating relentlessly against their boat, Melanie Homer loves nothing more than being out on the water with her family.
It’s a far cry from her day jobs, but when media personality and mother of three sons Mel wipes off her make-up and chucks on her lifejacket, she says, there is no greater feeling in the world.
“Serenity,” says Mel. “That’s how you would describe being on the boat. Even on the worst of days, being out on the water will always make you feel calm.
“The things you get to experience when sailing are incredible. We’ve had orca whales pop right up between the boat and the dinghy we were towing. It’s just amazing, and I am so happy my boys get to experience things like this.”
But, although Mel’s heart might belong to the sea, her feet are planted firmly on the ground as she juggles motherhood and her non-stop career.
As well as helming Mix Radio’s Breakfast with Mel Homer, she is co-host of TV3’s The Café, alongside her long-time friend, Mike Puru.
“It’s full on and very busy,” she says when asked how she juggles work and family. “But I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t have [my kids]. I’d just be sitting round in my pyjamas eating chocolate, a lot more than I already do,” she laughs.
“Radio is fun because it’s loose and relaxed. Before I started working on
The Café, people were saying TV wasn’t going to be like that – they told me TV’s really different and a lot more serious. But it really doesn’t feel any different from radio. It feels really good.”
While Mel has hosted TV shows before, this is her first time fronting a major daily show airing every day at 9am.
“This really is a dream job. I get to work with an amazing team and give people an hour of upbeat fun and entertainment.”
The bubbly presenter’s whirlwind career began when she fell into radio in her early 20s. “Radio was never really on my radar. In hindsight, it should have been,” she says. “I was always interested in doing something creative. Like most young girls I think I fantasised about being an actress or something like that. Essentially,
I wanted to be a drama queen.”
As a young woman with her whole life ahead of her and no fear of failure, Mel jumped at the chance to be on the air.
“I got a job as the promotions manager and breakfast producer at Classic Hits. I had no experience in breakfast producing. Actually I had no experience in radio, but when the co-host left I stumbled into that role. I really liked it and I discovered I was sort of okay at it,” she says modestly.
That year Classic Hits breakfast was nominated for Best Regional Breakfast
Show at the radio awards and Mel was up for best new broadcaster.
Nowadays, Mel’s cheerful voice can be heard on the radio every morning from 6am to 9am – a time slot designed for working men and women looking for entertainment as they brave the early morning traffic.
After spending several years freelancing, Mel loves being able to spend more time with her children and husband on the weekends.
She beams as she talks about her radio job at Mix 98.2, a station which combines the best of 1980s and 90s music with content tailored to entertain busy listeners on the go, but admits being the sole host of the show has had its challenges.
“Sometimes you have to get used to talking to yourself. I don’t have a producer or anyone else to talk to so it can be really hard.
“Sometimes you’re sitting in there going, ‘Yup, I’m talking to myself! Is anyone paying any attention to me? Probably not,’” she says with a laugh.
“I don’t think I talk at all at home now because I talk so much for my other two jobs. I probably get home and just grunt.”
MEL IS A FIRM BELIEVER in taking challenges in her stride and embracing every opportunity.
“I’ve never been one for life plans. I just keep rolling with things and that’s been working out well.”
This taste for adventure has taken her all across the world, including a six-year stint in Hong Kong from 1998 to 2004.
She left her job at radio station ZM to follow her now husband Andy Pilcher, a sailmaker, to Hong Kong. Their picture perfect start to married life still holds a special place in her heart.
“We lived a really cool lifestyle,” she says proudly. “We did a lot of sailing and offshore racing.”
Reflecting fondly on regattas she and Andy completed around Asia, Mel says the Hong Kong-Vietnam one was among the most memorable. But even back on shore, life in dynamic Hong Kong was never short of adventure.
It was during this time that Mel and Andy welcomed their eldest son, Jesse, into their lives. A few years later, Mel returned to New Zealand for six weeks for the birth of their second son, Finn.
Although Mel had planned to give birth to Finn in Hong Kong, there was a SARS outbreak in the city during her pregnancy. “Being in a Hong Kong hospital during SARS was pretty horrific. You weren’t even allowed to have anyone visit you. So we thought we would come back to New Zealand and have Finn.”
At 30 weeks pregnant, in the midst of the disease panic which sent the city into lockdown, Mel contracted a cough which was soon diagnosed as pleurisy – a lung inflammation with similar symptoms to those of SARS.
“I travelled with my chest X-rays in my hand luggage because I sounded horrible. The doctor had already cleared me that morning to fly and I was determined to get on that plane! So I carried around the X-rays thinking surely someone is going to stop me in New Zealand. I was coming from Hong Kong where there was a SARS outbreak – the epicentre of the epidemic – and I sounded like I was dying.”
But she took this complication in her stride. Motherhood never slowed her down.
“When I was pregnant with my first child I was jetting around on a little racing boat in the heat of the Hong Kong summer up until I was seven months pregnant.”
She even attempted a yacht race from Hong Kong to the Philippines.
“The rudder broke on the boat, and we had to turn around and go back. In hindsight that was probably a good thing. I was actually 10 weeks pregnant at the time. But, because it was my first child, I was like, ‘It’s fine I can do this,’ but really, looking at it now, it was probably a really dumb move to go on a racing yacht offshore when you’re pregnant with your first child.”
Mel laughs now as she recalls her naivety. “You live and you learn,” she says.
But it’s this headstrong and carefree attitude that helps Mel keep up with her three boisterous boys, Jesse, Finn and Tom.
“I’ve only got a sister myself, so I had no idea about boys at all, but as soon as I had Jesse, I just knew I was going to be a mother to boys,” Mel recalls.
“It’s a lot of testosterone in the house. I feel quite outnumbered, especially as they’re getting bigger,” she jokes, proudly scrolling through photographs of the three boys on her phone.
She says it’s easy to stress about the logistics of getting the kids to their various after-school activities, but she’s trying to appreciate the moment.
“It sometimes feels like all we do is take them here and pick them up there and sign permission slips and bake for things. But every now and again, when I start complaining about all the smelly rugby socks that are left in my car, I remind myself this is just a fleeting moment and I have to embrace it and not moan about it.”
MEL REFLECTS FONDLY on her childhood, saying her parents were “deeply in love” and family holidays with her mum, dad and sister are some of her most treasured times.
“If I can have that same childhood for my kids, I will be very happy.”
So far Mel and Andy have taken the boys travelling to Asia and Russia as well as on several regattas and sailing trips.
“I think travel is really important because my kids aren’t going to remember what they’ve got, they’re going to remember that really cool trip they took with Mum and Dad. Sometimes you’ve just got to find ways to make stuff happen.”
When asked if she looks forward to slowing down, Mel shakes her head.
“If I am doing in five years’ time what I am doing right now, and
I have happy and fulfilled children, I wouldn’t complain.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HELEN BANKERS HAIR, MAKE-UP AND STYLING