From diva to driver as so­prano em­braces an­other life stage

For­mer opera singer He­len Med­lyn takes a step into the un­known, writes Alex Loo.

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.’

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