Broadcasting dad and daughter duo Stacey Morrison and James Daniels: ‘We’re making up for lost time’
She grew up with a “part-time father”, but the popular broadcaster tells why he means theworld to her now
When Stacey Morrison was a kid growing up in Christchurch, she would often hear people whispering as they walked by: “That’s James Daniels’ daughter”.
Back then, her dad was the radio star and Stacey never imagined following in his footsteps. “It was a pain in my butt growing up that Dad was famous,” she admits. “It was probably when I got to intermediate school that he was well known and then it became quite a big deal.”
These days, James is more likely to get people saying: “That’s Stacey Morrison’s father”. She is the one with the higher profile, presenting a drive-time show on The Hits, writing books and making podcasts, as well as having a television career. And while she didn’t much enjoy her father’s fame as a kid, looking back, he did help inspire her future career.
“I grew up around radio,” she explains. “And I realised that working in the industry was a possibility, people like me could do it. Other young kids coming in might have been wowed by the studio and the whole environment, but to me it was very normal.”
While he thinks his daughter’s success is very cool, James isn’t at all surprised by it. “She always had talent,” he says. “She was articulate, creative, a good singer and dancer, and she starred in school productions, so it made sense that she got into some sort of performance or entertainment.”
Now aged 66, Stacey’s dad has made a surprise comeback, giving up his work in local politics to host Afternoons on Newstalk ZB alongside Simon Barnett. “I didn’t see this coming,” admits James, who also presents a morning show on Coast Christchurch. “I thought I was on a pathway to retirement. But you have to be open to change and take opportunities.”
The father-and-daughter broadcasters have a close relationship, although Stacey admits it’s not perfect by any means. Like any family, they’ve been through tough times. James was still a teenager when he married her mother Sue and they had their babies young. He was working as an accounts clerk at the Department of Ma¯ori Affairs and they lived with Sue’s parents until managing to scrape together enough money for a deposit on their own home.
“I worked a couple of extra jobs but it wasn’t easy,” tells James. “There’s no doubt about it, we struggled.”
By the time Stacey was 8, her parents’ marriage was over, and James wasn’t seeing much of her and younger sister Tash.
“I was a part-time father, to be honest,” he says. “I’d have the girls every second weekend generally and we’d go to the museum or the park.”
“He’d take us to look at the boats at Lyttelton,” recalls Stacey. “Just look at them, not get on one and go somewhere. And we’d be like, ‘Why are we here, it stinks.'”
Having younger parents could be interesting at times. “At my 21st, Mum was pregnant and Dad had cornrows,” says Stacey.
“And I had a girlfriend who was just about Stacey’s age,” adds James.
Sue remarried and had another child, while James went on to have two more families, eventually making Stacey the eldest of five sisters and a brother. “You need a flow chart to understand our family,” she says. “But we’re really close – I’m like a second mum to them all.”
Devastatingly, at the age of 45, Sue died of breast cancer. Even before she got sick, she and James had managed to mend their friendship.
“Things were quite acrimonious after our marriage went wrong, mostly because of me being a bit of an egg,” he admits. “But Sue was my first real love and I’m happy that we had a good relationship for those years afterwards. She used to say, ‘Why couldn’t you have been like this when we were together.'”
As she was dying, he went to visit her. “I remember at the hospice Dad being really kind to Mum and having nice conversations, and I felt really grateful,” shares Stacey. “It was stressful and hard for them in lots of ways being teenage parents, so I was glad they still had that bond.”
Family is huge for Stacey and she never misses a chance to gather everyone beneath one roof, even if that means sleeping wherever they can find a space. Her husband Scotty lost his own dad 23 years ago, so for both of them its no big deal to sacrifice a little comfort, enjoying those moments is what counts.
“Being together is everything,” says Stacey. “Having the generations together and the kids building memories with their Koro Pops [what they call James], their aunties and cousins, that’s really precious. Times like Christmas, I know Mum would have loved to be with her moko, so it’s really important to me.”
Stacey acts more like a parent than daughter at times as she plans get-togethers. “The funny thing is, I’ll make suggestions and get told off for being bossy, and then for ages afterwards Dad will say how great it was,” she laughs.
At 48, she is now three years older than her mum was when she died. It’s been a significant landmark in her life, and one that makes Stacey mindful of her good health and appreciative of all the things she is able to do.
While she never wants to be too busy to spend time with her kids, she still manages to cram in a lot of projects. Stacey has just released an illustrated storybook Kia Kaha (Penguin Random House, $45), co-created with Jeremy Sherlock, which is about Māori who changed the world. There are plans to write another children’s book and do more TV. And she has made a successful podcast series Up to Speed with Te Reo.
Along with husband Scotty, she has played a part in the push for more kōrero in te reo Māori and created positive change for the language. It’s a different scene today than it was at the height of her father’s radio career in the ’80s. Back then, James was one of very few Māori on air and used to mispronounce place names because that was the way everyone else said them.
At that stage on the 3ZM breakfast show, they took live calls on-air, with no mute button, and he laughs as he recalls his producer putting a call through and then hearing his mother’s voice scolding him, “Son, say Rangiora properly.”
“I carried on saying it wrongly and I’m kind of embarrassed about it now,” tells James. “I could have done better, even though it wouldn’t have won me many friends at the time.”
For a while in the early 2000s, he and Stacey worked together on Flava FM. Now they’re on different stations but listen to each other’s shows whenever they get the chance.
One thing is for sure, being radio stars doesn’t make either James or Stacey any more special among their whānau. “My husband’s in broadcasting, my brother-in-law has done media, Tash has worked in radio, my kids have done some,” says Stacey.
“It’s normalised in our family. We don’t place more value on a person because of the job they do.”
In some ways, they have an unusual relationship. Stacey calls her father JD more than she does Dad, and rolls her eyes at some of his past antics when, as James puts it, he was “living too fast but being good fun”.
Still, when he had open-heart surgery just before his 60th birthday, it was Stacey who was down as next-of-kin for the surgeon to call. And she appreciates how open he is about having been an absentee dad, even talking about it on his radio show with Simon.
“You don’t get to hear people be that honest so often,” muses Stacey. “And I think it’s good. Families come in all sorts of shapes and forms, and in the end, you make a choice: Do you want to have a close relationship – even if it’s not a kind of Hallmark card one – or don’t you?”
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