Broadcaster Brian Edwards on the media, politics and his chef son Ollyby Sharon Stephenson
Brian Edwards has spent a lifetime immersed in the media and in politics, while son Olly is a Wellington restaurateur. And when they sit down to dinner, Sharon Stephenson discovers, there’s bound to be an argument.
“I saw the job advertised in the UK Times Educational Supplement and New Zealand seemed like a good place to come to,” says Edwards of leaving his native Belfast in 1963. He ended up spending almost three years teaching German literature and language at Canterbury University before segueing into broadcasting at the suggestion of a dinner party guest. “She was a TV producer and said I should give reporting a go, that I might be good at it.”
It turns out she was right. Edwards’ gentle Irish brogue has beamed into our living rooms and airwaves for the best part of 50 years: the NZBC’s Town and Around in the late 60s; Gallery, a weekly political programme in the 70s; RNZ’s Top of the Morning in the 90s; Fair Go (which he devised and hosted for eight years); and his own TV One talk show, Edwards at Large.
Having flown so close to the political sun as an interviewer, Edwards couldn’t help but be singed by it: in 1972 he stood for Labour in National-held Miramar. Unfortunately, his campaign was hindered by a tabloid-newspaper revelation that, while still married to his first wife (and the mother of his two oldest children), he was living in a de facto relationship with former journalist Susan Wauchop (with whom he has three more children).
At the time, it was something of a scandal, but in retrospect the veteran political journalist believes he dodged a bullet by remaining a commentator rather than becoming an MP. “I’d actually rather be on this side of the political fence.”
Edwards, who was awarded a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to broadcasting and journalism in 1999, met his second wife, journalist Judy Callingham, when they both worked at the NZBC, and they married in 1984. For the past three decades, they’ve run Callingham and Edwards, a media-training company, coaching everyone from CEOs to teachers on how to hold their own in an interview situation, as well as advising Helen Clark for 13 years, both as leader of the opposition and as prime minister.
These days, they split their time between Auckland and their bach in Leigh. “We don’t seek out work anymore,” he says. “It comes to us. And when it does, we pack up the bach and head back to the city.”
None of Edwards’ children have shown any interest in following their father into journalism, but Olly, the youngest of his three with Wauchop, did inherit the bit of his father’s DNA that enjoys a good debate. The owner of Wellington restaurant Trade Kitchen (he was once named among the 10 hottest chefs in New Zealand) says his father always ensured there was lively conversation at the dinner table. “He taught us to turn off the TV and talk about what was going on in our lives and in the world. It’s something I’ve tried to pass onto my family.” That includes wife Annie, a graphic designer, and children Reuben, 22, and Lila, 13. Home is a villa in Thorndon where, if Olly stands on tip-toes, he can almost see the 70-seat restaurant he opened 10 years ago – a Valerie Adams throw from the Beehive.
Brian Edwards, 79
Olly was an adorable child; he was blonde and angelic and everyone adored him, including his teachers, friends and especially the girls. Actually, Olly’s never been short of female admirers his entire life. He was always highly sociable – I’d take him to Avalon Studios when he was a child and he’d wander around chatting to everyone. It’s probably why Olly has been such a success in the hospitality world, because he can talk to anyone about anything.
Olly would probably have had a great career in TV if he’d been so inclined, but cooking has always been his passion. I joke that the reason he got into it is because when he was at Hutt Valley High, the home economics class had 40 girls and two boys. He’s always been fond of girls, so he signed up as quickly as he could!
One thing I really admire about him is his stickability. As anyone who’s worked their way up in restaurant kitchens knows, cooking isn’t an easy life. But he’s an extremely hard worker and he doggedly improved his skills. Now he owns one of the best restaurants in Wellington. It’s always a proud moment when I walk into Trade Kitchen. Olly is a wonderful cook and a great boss, and his staff and customers love him.
When Olly was 10, his mother and I split up. It wasn’t easy for any of us but I know Olly was angry, and he was entitled to be. I never lost contact with him during that time, though, and I was pleased when he came to live with Judy and me and Judy’s kids, Quentin and Justin. Olly and Quentin were about the same age and became inseparable; they would get up to all sorts of teenage hijinks and pick on Justin. I can recall them once using him as target practice with their BB gun.
Probably the best way to describe the three years Olly lived with us in Eastbourne is magnificent chaos. It was certainly never dull. Like most teenage boys, Olly went through the usual period of hormonal angst – he would wander around the house in a spectre of gloom. Somehow we all managed to survive that period, although it was a close-run thing: Olly managed to demolish a couple of cars when he was living with us. The first was when he was about 16. I got a call at work to say Olly had been in an accident; he’d pulled out of our driveway into the path of a truck. Thankfully he wasn’t hurt but it was absolutely his fault. When I got home, he was as white as a sheet so I couldn’t be cross with him. He also totalled another of our cars when he lived with us in Auckland. He’s a good driver now, though.
I’m proud of Olly’s humanitarian, liberal values and the fact we share the same political views. Olly is also a great arguer – he gets that from me, his mother and Judy. He would have been 15 or 16 when we went to dinner at a restaurant in Lower Hutt and somehow the conversation turned to capital punishment. Olly and Quentin announced they believed in the death penalty and I got really angry, getting louder and louder until I looked around and the restaurant was empty. People had obviously got so sick of this maniac and his maniac children arguing that they’d left!
Olly hasn’t any really exasperating qualities that I can think of, although he can be stubborn and has a tendency to dig in his toes. Oh, and he borrows money from his father and then conveniently forgets to repay it… But I love him dearly and I’m glad we’re close. I’m particularly proud of his parenting skills: he’s a fantastic parent and his children are wonderful. We love his wife, Annie, and theirs is a very happy home. It’s glorious to see them whenever we’re in Wellington.”
Olly Edwards, 44
“I’m the youngest of three and we’ve all got very different personalities. My sister, Rebecca, is the pretty, brilliant one who became a lawyer; my brother, Sean, who now lives in New York, was the wild middle child. I’m the baby of the family, always smiling, always happy.
Mum and Dad split when I was 10. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how hard it was on my mum, raising three kids while working and putting herself through varsity. My brother and sister were a real handful after the separation.
When I was 14, I went to live with Dad and Judy, and Judy’s two sons, in Eastbourne, mainly because Sean and I weren’t getting on. I felt a little like I’d betrayed Mum doing that. But Dad was great – he always gives the best advice and when you’re a 15-year-old boy, you need some guidance about girls and growing up.
I’ve been interested in cooking since I was 11. After sixth form, I got a job working in the kitchen for investment firm Fay Richwhite. It was the 80s, a time of great excess when they did things like helicopter in fresh venison. A year later, Sean and I headed to New York where I worked in kitchens until Sean got homesick. I ended up living with Dad and Judy in Kumeu and working at Cin Cin, which was great fun, but I missed Wellington so I eventually drifted south and to restaurants such as Boulcott Street Bistro and Paradiso, in the days when Kerre Woodham was the maitre d’.
I always wanted to have my own business before I was 30, so I started Edwards Jones, a restaurant in Miramar, which I had for four years. Even after a decade, Trade Kitchen is a full-on job. We’re open six days a week and I often work from 5.30am to 2pm and then from 5pm to 10pm. Fortunately, it’s a 10-minute walk from home so I pop up there between shifts. But I love what I do and I love our customers. This being Wellington, you can have the Chief Justice in one corner, an MP in another and all sorts in-between.
Dad’s shadow loomed large when we were growing up. When he was on Fair Go, we always got great service because no one wanted to annoy him! I can remember getting the biggest ice-creams when he was with us.
Dad’s super bright and it’s not often someone gets the better of him in a debate. He’s also got an incredibly strong moral compass and I’ve always admired the way he supports the underdog. Following the crowd has never been important to him; he’ll happily go against the grain if it means standing up for what he believes in. If I’ve inherited anything from him, I hope it’s his empathy; this is a man who really cares about other people.
Politically, we’re on the same page. My mother used to work as David Caygill’s press secretary [Wauchop recently retired as principal analyst at the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Youth Affairs], so we’ve always been lefties, although being a small business owner has made me a little jaded.
Of course, Dad isn’t a saint. He’s incredibly stubborn and, like most of us, he’s desperate to be liked. But he’s got a brilliant Irish sense of humour, which makes it hard to be angry at him for too long.
We haven’t lived in the same city for years and unfortunately don’t get to see each other that often. My wife is better at keeping in touch with him than I am and emails updates about the kids. The first time Dad met Annie, he told me she was too good for me and he could well be right!
I like to think of Dad as a good mate and I’m lucky to have someone like him in my life.”
This was published in the August 2017 issue of North & South.
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