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Jaquie’s Story

I have to confess a bit of a crush on Jaquie Brown’s voice.

Not just her speaking voice, though that is certainly crush-worthy, but also the voice that reflects who she is, both personally and professionally.

After being in the public eye in one way or another for almost 20 years, Jaquie Brown is one of NZ’s better-known faces. Many will know her from her regular Friday spot on The Project. Others from her days on Campbell Live. Some will know her as a Morningsider (since 2005) who regularly visits Crave cafe. But most are likely to remember her from The Jaquie Brown Diaries, a sitcom in which Jaquie played a fictional version of herself.

It might be surprising to hear then that when it comes to her voice, Jaquie says she hasn’t truly felt confident in it until the last three years. Even more surprisingly, part of that is down to the very successful and popular Diaries.

‘It was strange for me because I was Jaquie Brown but I was playing Jaquie Brown who wasn’t me, who was a caricature of me, and so it was very hard for me to pull myself away from the character and work out who I was — and people’s perceptions of who I was.’

We’re sitting in Crave, having coffee, chatting about the area and its development, and Jaquie’s place in it. I can see over my shoulder that people are looking over our way … because it’s Jaquie Brown. As for me, I’m already transfixed. Jaquie has an immigrant story that resonates with mine — she’s also famous, and beautiful, and has an awesome voice. And she uses it to say terrific and interesting things.

‘Then I got married,’ Jaquie says, still on the subject of voice and identity. ‘And I had another name — so I’m like, who am I here? I had a baby and that was wonderful but I was still working and I was the same me.

‘When I had my second baby, I stopped working and lost so much confidence in myself. I didn’t have a job. I started to feel like I had nothing specifically to offer. I had lost my sense of humour to the daily grind of motherhood.

‘I felt like I wasn’t funny enough to be a comedian — and I didn’t want to be a comedian. I didn’t want to be on a comedy show. I didn’t feel confident enough to be on a panel show. I didn’t care enough about politics or current affairs or news, to be in news. What was there left for me to do?

‘That took me a really long time.’

It sounds like the time was worth it though. Jaquie got the role on The Project, for one thing, which she says has been really good for her self-esteem — because ‘they’ve allowed me to be me’.

She’s also been writing film and TV scripts for the US market. If there’s an objective indicator of how good she is and how successful she might be, it’s securing an agent, which she did in the past few weeks. It’s an awesome step for any writer to get representation, particularly from a dominant agency like CAA, but especially for a writer from the Antipodes.

‘Yeah, it’s pretty awesome,’ Jaquie says. ‘I’ve been working towards that for the last three years — just developing my true writer’s voice. It’s been noticed and picked up over there, so that’s really helped me. I did an acting course for two years (in the Meisner technique). That really helped me as well — just stripping away the bullshit and going, I am enough. It sounds so Oprah, but it’s true.

‘When you go, I don’t need to pretend, I don’t need to plaster on a smile, this is who I am and just being comfortable in that, that’s been the greatest achievement of my life.’

That says a lot when Jaquie’s life has been so full and she seems to have achieved so much. It’s been a life that’s involved emigrating to NZ from London with her mum, dad and younger brother when she was 15. She remembers the shock of being driven down Queen Street, the ‘hub, where it’s all happening’, and just hoping there were some boys, anywhere, for her to have a crush on.

‘Of course, that kind of stuff didn’t really matter and I made some amazing friends, and just being around palm trees and being near the water and the sunshine, was such a contrast to my London life. I absolutely loved it. Now my heart is here, absolutely. My heart is in NZ.’

Jaquie loved NZ so much she decided, at 18, to stay here when her family moved back to the UK, again for her dad’s job (he was professor of property and planning at Auckland Uni). Loving NZ didn’t necessarily help her feeling of displacement though, which lasted around 15 years. Whenever she visited the UK she would feel like a foreigner in her own home, and that increased until she didn’t feel as though she belonged anywhere.

‘I was an alien in both,’ she says. ‘But then it shifted and I think that’s when I started to develop a career and make a path for myself.’

Family life took a tragic turn in that period too. Jaquie’s dad took a position in Singapore, so he and Jaquie’s mum moved there, leaving her younger brother in the UK. But her dad was diagnosed with cancer, which prompted a move back to NZ. Jaquie’s brother moved back as well, and they got to be a complete family again for just a year before her dad died.

The experience taught Jaquie a lot about connection, and humanity, and love, and what is important in life. It also taught her that even when there is geographical distance between you and someone you love, you’re still tied together.

‘I guess what I’ve learnt from being away from people and having all that distance is that if you’ve got a true friend that connection won’t go. I’ve just reconnected with a friend of mine in LA — we were friends when we were 15 in London, in high school. And it’s just the same, it’s weird.’

Those LA connections could lead to some exciting things in the future for Jaquie Brown. It’s early days, but you get the sense Jaquie is on a journey that she’s forged for herself and has approached both strategically and doggedly, characteristics that have marked her career since the beginning. We’re sure to hear the buzz when and if the doors open for her in the US. For the moment, she’s approaching it all with cautious optimism.

‘It only happened three weeks ago and I’m still waking up. But yes, I’m so proud of myself. I’ve got a fully written feature which is being developed currently. I’m going out there in January (2019) to take some meetings.

‘It’s been a dream and a goal and I never imagined it would happen. I had this passion to write and I taught myself and took as many online courses as I possibly could. I just did it.

‘For me to succeed is lightning in a bottle. It is a point-zip of a per cent chance — a 40-plus mother from NZ who nobody gives a shit about or has heard of over there.

‘I had to make peace with that. I thought to myself, what is going to happen if nothing comes of this. And I realised that I would be okay with that because the process of me writing has been the experience.

‘I genuinely mean that. I love it — I love my work. I get a lot of joy from it, and I’m okay just to let it go. I’ve got a great life here, and I’m happy.’

‘But,’ Jaquie says, with that wicked smile we’ve all caught a glimpse of at some time or another, ‘that would just be the icing on the cake.’
— David Williams