Simon Barnett, New Zealand’s own TV and Radio legend, has been brightening up Kiwi
mornings for more than three decades.
His insatiable zest for life and his sense of humour are infectious so it’s exciting to know that he and his wife, Jodi, have a solid faith in Jesus. We had a chat with Simon about life, faith, work and dancing!
So, you turned 50 last March! How has that affected you (or are you one of those people that says it’s just a number)?
Yep 50 is just a number BUT it’s a great number. I love being 50! I wouldn’t swap it for the world, I have no desire at all to be in the midst of teenage angst, or early 20’s mortgage or 30’s ambition.
There is more hope and joy and contentment than at any previous age.
Being a Christian in the media spotlight must have its challenges. How do you keep your eyes focused on Jesus through the tough times?
By constantly reminding myself of his presence, whether I sense it or not.
CS Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun rises every morning, not because I see it, but because by it, I see everything” We often want to lean on our own strengths and in many cases our own righteousness, to be seen to be a good Christian or a good person. But the more I see the world, the more I want to trust my heavenly Dad.
Although you had grown up around Christianity what was it that made you decide to give your life to Jesus at age 30?
I guess at 30 I felt like I had everything the world says you need, A great job, a nice house, a nice car, a nice family, a modicum of fame. I started asking questions of myself such as, “Where to from here?”, “Is this what life is?” and the biggie, “What really is the point of my life?”
The more I pondered and read the more I decided there is something much greater than this world, far bigger, far more outrageous, far more than just me!
Your conversion to Christianity made some big news – how did the people around you take the news?
I have to say my colleagues were incredible and very accepting, but reasonably enough, for family, friends and the occasional workmates they were a little concerned they might “lose” the old Si, who liked to have a drink, a laugh and was a bit mischievous.
I often wonder why many Christians are often perceived as judgemental and boring and I do feel it behoves all of us as believers to be seen, more for what we do love than what we don’t!
You’ve said that you and Jodi were thinking about going to church separately – did you both come to the Lord at the same time?
My wife and I came to faith at the same time. I had been thinking about going back to church and changing things a little and was fearful my wife, Jodi, would think I had gone mad and leave me…Never underestimate the miracles of God. I woke up one morning and decided to risk humiliating myself and said “I’m, er, thinking of going to church” to which she replied, “That’s so weird I was wondering the exact same thing” ….
Working in a mainstream radio station at the time – did you ever feel conflicted with the music or material? How did you handle that?
I definitely had moments of tension between what I thought was appropriate and not. I wrestled with myself as to whether I should just walk away and perhaps work with a Christian broadcaster.
Again a wonderful answer to prayer in that moment of crisis, I was the MC for an airline pilots gathering and the special guest was astronaut and moonwalker Charlie Duke.
I was transfixed by his story and when I found out he was a Christian, mentioned my internal struggle and whether I should leave the mainstream media to work for a Christian organisation. He simply looked at me and said, “Son, who do you think got you your job? ” I, of course replied “God”, to which he said, “then stay where you are and go for it”…that was good enough for me!
How much “Christian stuff” are you allowed to talk about?
I can talk as much as I like about my faith but I think people want to hear about it less and SEE it more! I think it was St Francis who said something like “On all occasions we are to witness the gospel, and on some occasions use words”
You’re a dad to four girls – what are some of the struggles you have had as a dad?
Being a dad is simply a privilege!
The struggles are too many to mention! I have always felt that my children deserve, not just ‘desire’ but DESERVE to be loved, and cared for! The big issue these days for people is time. They say love is spelt, T.I.M.E.
When it’s all said and done though, at the risk of sounding a bit harsh, I think there is enough time for dads. It’s more a question of priority.
Do you see time with your children as a priority? Can work wait?
The golf, friends, fishing etc? I learnt very early on to take my kids with me everywhere, Mitre 10, the dump, the storage garage, fishing…Children love to hang out with their mums and dads, they may not always, those early bonds will cement forever their knowledge that they were important to you, they mattered!
Did you get a lot of hassle for opposing the Child Discipline bill?
Yes and No….It was highly controversial but I thought then, as I do now it was a dopey law. It had nothing to do with being a Christian. In fact, it really upset me when Christian’s would spout the Old Testament “Spare The rod, spoil the child” argument because clearly that is contextual and had on a very few occasions been wrongly employed.
My argument was on the evidence that the “anti smacking law” had made zero difference to child abuse rates anywhere in the world it had been used.
Child abuse has much more to do with poverty, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, low maternal age, low maternal income, weak family ties and the list goes on…I absolutely believe if we address those issues we will address child abuse.
In saying all that, I look for the positives and if the law makes parents think of alternative ways to discipline their child and their first port of call is NOT to smack then that is a good thing.
Was it hard to stand firm on your convictions in the face of strong criticism?
It did create a fair amount of bile from some quarters and that stung a little but I am an advocate of robust discussion if it takes us forward and we learn in the process.
We should never stop trying to learn and as the proverb says “It is a wise person that is slow to speak and quick to listen”
Authentic magazine is here to support and encourage Christian men in New Zealand to live as God intended man to live – not to ‘conform’ to the world’s standards for what a man is. What are your thoughts on how men can easily fall short of God’s standards?
The real tricky thing with this question is one can sound highly judgmental. My take on this is “God’s mercy triumphs over his judgment”.
God is merciful and gracious and we ought to remember that always! You are NEVER, not ever, out of God’s reach or love. We must always remind ourselves of his grace because no matter how far we fall, it is his grace that brings us home.
In saying that, pornography in my view is the scourge of men the world over. It is insidious and destructive and highly addictive. It has the potential to destroy even the best of marriages and relationships.
We need to create an environment inside and outside of churches, where men are free to say “I have a problem with this”. Only then when we demystify and take the stigma away, will men come clean and front up to this addiction.
I have heard you are a bit of a mean dancer! (smiles) Did you get much stick for your appearance on Dancing with the Stars?
Lol! I am actually the worlds whitest man when it comes to dancing! I don’t have natural rhythm or flare but I worked hard for that show. Vanessa (my dance partner) and I would rehearse up to 8 hours a day for a week to get one 90 second routine ready. It was gruelling but I am pretty competitive so loved the challenge.
Can you Moonwalk? (asking for a friend)
I can moonwalk but it doesn’t look like Michael Jackson’s signature move (think more Phil Dunphy from Modern Family!).
What was your favourite thing about being involved in the Dancing with the Stars project?
When it was over and we had won!
Truly the relief was palpable – I could not believe (nor could anyone that knew me, including my own kids) we won! I will never wear a string singlet or mankini ever, ever again!
I hear you’re a bit of a Bruce Springsteen fan (I hope that wasn’t a secret). What’s your favourite album from ‘The Boss’?
I love Bruce! I saw him in concert, my wife bought me his autobiography for Christmas, I have his albums…there is something about his earthiness, and authenticity. He is immensely dedicated and appears to have never lost the love of performing or the joy of simply being in a band.
I also love the fact that he understands that people spend vast amounts for tickets to his concerts and he honours that by giving everything on stage. I particularly love “Born In The USA” and “Wrecking Ball”
You’ve been getting up early for the last 27 years. Are you looking forward to the change of schedule when you leave More FM at the end of this year?
I really am. I have loved doing the breakfast show and working with Gary MCormack, Sam, Bondy, Speedy and the team but it does take a toll.
It’s the constant pressure for ratings, to get to bed early and get up in what feels like the middle of the night – that I won’t miss!
In saying that, I would never complain. It has afforded me a great life, wonderful memories, tremendous friendships and some bags under my eyes!
I’m sure it’s going to be hard to leave MediaWorks after all these years but how do you feel about going back to where it all began for you (Newstalk ZB)?
I am really nervous actually about the change. It’s a completely different genre and format. I want to steer away from just talkback and concentrate more on interviews with spectacular and interesting guests, and just everyday people, to act as a conduit for ideas from many different perspectives. I hope it will be a show that is uplifting, fun to listen to and engage in.
Above all I think I want to celebrate humanity and people’s stories. I heard a great line from a movie and it talks of all of us having extraordinary, ordinary lives and ain’t that the truth! I want to celebrate that!
We were recently alerted to your ‘blooper reels’ on the More FM website (which were awesome!) What was your favourite blooper and do people shout any of them at you in the street?
Probably my favourite blooper is when I inadvertently asked my co-host at the time, Phil Gifford if, due to Halloween, he was going to get out his goolies…..he was somewhat taken aback and assured me he was not going to get out his goolies, but quite possibly his ‘ghouls’ may have made an appearance! “Trust me,” he said “there is a big difference!”
You seem to really enjoy life and love to laugh. What encouragement do you have for Christian men in New Zealand that struggle to find joy in their lives?
God really does have a sense of humour and He loves it when we laugh. God’s Word says “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Find people to hang out with that bring you joy and build you up!
Get off social media and the web if it makes you feel stink and invest in things that make you happy. In my case my wife!
As Harold Potts, the world’s first investment billionaire said when asked by a journalist what his greatest investment was, “To invest in my family”.
This interview was originally published in Authentic Magazine in 2018. Check out more interviews from Authentic Magazine here.
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About the author
Dave Firth is a husband, father, Bible teacher and communicator. He loves the Lord and has a passion for His Word. For more info and free-to-use-Bible study tools visit www.davefirth.org.
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