Anna Thomas has certainly heard the classic Noël Coward song Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington, but when it comes to her own daughter, Lily Powell (13), she knows it would be virtually impossible to stop the talented teenager, who lives, eats and breathes show business.
“She’s a real natural and she was simply born to entertain,” says Anna (46), a former face of Fair Go, whose dulcet tones can be heard on The Breeze.
“I always knew she had a little bit of X factor. When my husband’s work in the armed forces took us to Zagreb [in Croatia], 10 years after the end of the war there, we brought along Lily, who was two. She wasn’t even talking properly but she could already sing.
“She used to entertain locals on the tram with My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music. She always brought a smile to their faces, which was no easy task with those battle-weary people.”
Lily, who is currently appearing as tormented teen Jasmine in hit TV2 comedy drama Step Dave, doesn’t remember the experience at all but she isn’t surprised to hear she was bringing pleasure to others at such a tender age.
“I love singing more than anything else,” she enthuses.
In her short life, Lily’s already clocked up an impressive list of achievements. She played a witch when her primary school staged The Wizard of Oz, she sang and acted in the school production in Year 7 and her group at Belmont Intermediate won Battle of the Bands when she was in Year 8.
She has also appeared in concerts put on by her singing teacher, Kiwi music legend Suzanne Lynch.
“She’s amazing,” says Lily. “My vocal range is very similar to hers so she says it’s really easy to teach me.”
Lily is now at Takapuna Grammar, where staff have been supportive of the fledgling actress’ TV work, even though it means she can be out of class for several days at a time.
“They know that this is such a valuable experience for Lily,” says Anna, “and she works hard the rest of the time.”
“They’ve had some other students in my position,” adds Lily, citing pop sensation Lorde as a recent standout example.
“Singer Gin Wigmore and shot-putter Jacko Gill are also from Takapuna Grammar so they must be getting used to it by now.”
While she was given a basic outline of Jasmine’s personality, Lily was encouraged to develop the character herself; something she found surprisingly easy.
“I’ve used people I know as inspiration, but I can’t reveal which bits of the character they relate to because they might recognise themselves!”
When the first episode of Step Dave aired, the family all gathered around to watch.
“I was so proud of Lily, I had tears in my eyes,” recalls Anna. “It felt really strange hearing her call somebody else Mum though, and I still haven’t quite grown used to that!”
Anna is also well aware of the show’s adult themes. “They are very real issues,” she says. “Kate McDermott, the writer, has teenage children herself so she knows about their world.”
Anna, who left Fair Go in 2002, now works as a freelance producer and director, but people still stop her in the street to ask for consumer advice “which I don’t mind at all”.
And she’s much adored as a co-host and newsreader on The Breeze’s breakfast show, working alongside the Two Robbies: Robert Scott and Robert Rakete.
“I’m the voice of reason,” she declares. “I keep them both in line! And I’m the unofficial go-to person for consumer issues too!”
The job fits well with family life. Despite the early starts – the alarm sounds at 4.40am – Anna is home by 10.30am and can fit in other commitments before her kids get home from school.
Lily’s brother Rupert (9) is too busy with Lego to entertain any thoughts of following the teen into acting, at this stage, but he is fiercely proud of his sister.
“It’s kind of crazy that she got the job. When I’m watching it, Mum has to cover my ears sometimes because it’s an adult show, really!” Rupert laughs. “And Lily’s not even annoying,” he adds magnanimously.
Lily’s father, Chris Powell, is proud too, but he’s committed to keeping his daughter’s feet firmly on the ground.
And Lily herself is quick to point out that away from the lights, she’s just a regular kid.
“I had my friends over in the holidays and we were planning to sleep all night on the trampoline, but the mosquitoes started biting so we had to move inside!”
“Yes, she’s a very good girl,” admits Anna. “But you’re still a teenager and we have our moments, don’t we, darling?” she asks, turning to her daughter. “Mum and Dad can still take your phone off you if you’re naughty!”
Smiling broadly, Lily pretends to agree. “Yes, I suppose so, Mum!”
With life arranged to accommodate the children’s pursuits, Anna says she has never been happier. “It’s very busy with all Lily’s acting classes, rehearsals, singing lessons and so on, as well as the days she’s actually shooting, but I enjoy it.
“Lily’s got a wonderful life ahead of her and I regard what I’m doing as passing the baton to the next generation!”
About Louise Richardson
Louise Richardson planned to work at New Zealand Woman’s Weekly from an early age and having achieved that career pinnacle, she’s stayed put for 18 years – nearly a quarter of the magazine’s 80 year history. She never gets bored because no two days are ever the same, and she gets to work with her real-life passions, decorating, travel and fashion.more of this author