From diva to driver as soprano embraces another life stage
Former opera singer Helen Medlyn takes a step into the unknown, writes Alex Loo.
HELEN Medlyn had never owned her own home – that is, until October. That was when she picked up ‘‘Vee’’, 12ft by 6ft, a prime piece of real estate on wheels.
Medlyn has been known as a motorcycle-loving opera diva in the past, because of her passion for her Harley-Davidson Dyna Fat Bob called Po, which means night in Ma¯ori.
Now she has a new role to perform, the gypsy gardenerwho is making her way around New Zealand in a caravan after her singing career came to an unfortunate end.
‘‘I’ve lived with friends all my life, I’ve been on the road all my life, I’ve house-sat all my life ... at 60 I finally have my very own home, I just love it,’’ she said.
Two years ago, Medlyn found out she had arthritis in the left side of her jaw, which caused its collapse. She thought it was unfair on her colleagues and audiences to ‘‘limp along’’ when she knew her jaw could stop working at any minute, so she made the call to retire from performing.
Medlyn, somewhat reluctantly, used money left by her parents and friend Nola Furner to buy Vee and ‘‘Big Red’’, her SUV. Spending $40,000 on her new setup was equally terrifying and exhilarating, but Medlyn knew the time was right.
‘‘If I didn’t do it now, I probably wouldn’t ... I’m really great at procrastinating.’’
Medlyn and her family moved to New Zealand from Falmouth in Cornwall when she was three. They first lived in Ohawe Beach, up the coast from Ha¯wera, where Medlyn fell in love with life here – ‘‘I was not born in New Zealand, but I was made by New Zealand.’’
Around the same time as she found out about her arthritis, Medlyn took up part-time gardening. It is now her fulltime job and she has taken up jobs across the country, from a remote sheep station in Hawke’s Bay to a friend’s place in Carterton.
‘‘In singing, you don’t see the results of what you do. You hope that you leave people feeling great, but what I do love is when I’m doing gardening ... they’re really moved by it, I get such a kick out of that.’’
Medlyn has been taking her time to explore and appreciate the country, as opposed to rushing from A to B, something she believes we are all guilty of doing.
‘‘I used to growl at my father ... because he’d be going ‘wow, look at the scenery’ ... I can see why he did it.’’
Her caravan has no TV, so she passes the time with crosswords, dabbling in poetry and listening to the radio.
‘ The help that you get on the way is so beautiful.’