Money is the key to freedom

19:22, Feb 09 2014

From teenage disco champion to performing for royalty, Mika may be flamboyant but he knows how to look after his money, writes Richard Meadows .

He penned the world's first gay haka and performed for Prince Charles, so Mika knows the showbiz industry inside and out.

The genre and gender-bending artist's career has spanned the worlds of fashion, film, music, and television across three decades.

Along the way he's rejected the glitziest trappings of fame, and learnt to use money as a means to an end (and to stock up on disco pants).

Beneath the dazzling costumes and stage makeup, a middle-class upbringing helped instil some straightlaced money habits - like saving and coding every receipt.

Now Mika is passing his knowledge on to a new generation of youth through his Mika Haka Foundation, which fosters performing arts, physical culture and tikanga.


Mika, his young proteges, and a host of other performers take to the stage at Legend Bar on Thursday, February 6 to celebrate Aroha Mardi Gras.

As part of Auckland Pride 2014, the festival is aimed at fighting bullying of all kinds with the mantra, "Be the Change".

What was your first paid work?

The first time I charged [for entertainment], I was a disco champion in Timaru. I remember somebody wanted me to do a show for them. I said yes please, $10 each.I could say it without any guilt or hesitation. Even then I knew it had a worth.

What did you spend your money on?

I came out one day in a new outfit. My dad said, "Uhh, I think you've got enough disco clothes there, son". So I used to hide them! That was the beginning of what I'm like today. You can never have too many disco pants.

Fact: In entertainment, look and brand is everything. So the clothes, travel, etc are all part of the investment.

Did your early years shape your attitude towards money?

Absolutely. [My parents] were what you call middle-class. I got a job after school - I earned my own money. Then I had to manage how to spend it. When I got my first "job-job" at a hairdresser, her husband was an accountant.

He sat me down and explained about receipts. Every receipt, I still to this day write on the back what it was for, what the job was, and does it need to be coded. Even for a coffee!

Do you invest? What are your best and worst investment decisions?

Yes, the best is property [Mt Roskill studio] - the worst is some shares I shan't mention! [which tanked in the 1987 crash].

Are you a collector?

I collect art, cult movie paraphernalia and Maori retro Kiwiana for my enjoyment and investment to sell if I need to. I tend to collect friends, or colleagues, or people I've known [the collection includes works by Ralph Hotere, photographer Christine Wester, and early editions of Witi Ihimaera books].

I've got to love it, but I have that personal relationship with the piece as well.

Would you encourage others to get into the arts?

Do you know how many people come to me, and do the whole, "I wish I had . . . "?

There are many things that nurture your soul, your reason for being. This is mine.

The arts are a great contributor to the economy. It's the thing that makes people smile.

I know it's hard to be an artist, fullstop; it doesn't matter who you are. [But] the journey is way, way more exciting then the end result. So on my deathbed, I won't be worrying about that late GST return from 2001.

Also, as an artist you're meant to struggle. I've had situations where I've had artists where I've put them on salaries - and they've stopped producing art!

Do you teach the Mika Haka Foundation students about money?

Yes. [An exercise that all the interns do]

What you do is you get your bank statement, you keep all your receipts in a box, and one Sunday every month, you just write against the empty column what they were spent on.

At the end of three months, they add it up. They get an understanding of what they're spending. I don't tell them not to live, though.

For example if you're spending all your money on shoes - you've got to ask yourself, how many shoes do I need? I say, don't not buy shoes, but this year, say "I'm going to buy three pairs of shoes".

What does money mean to you?

A tool to get from A to B. Money for me enables me the freedom to do what I want to do without being caged in.

I decided [this] years ago. How many businesses have you talked to and they want their business to be bigger, bigger, bigger?

We stop at lunchtime, we all go down the road to the park and chase each other round and be stupid. That's what I want to do.

And I make enough money that I can pay my rent, do what I need to do, and also the foundation can support new emerging talent.

That's what I like to do.

Sunday Star Times