The Wellingtonian Interview: Norm Hewitt

JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 10:27 08/06/2012
Norm Hewitt
FAIRFAX
Norm Hewitt: "Professional sportsmen don't have other jobs and have to learn how to manage their lives."

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Norm Hewitt talks about being an All Black, Dancing With the Stars and vulnerable children. 

You work hard trying to combat violence towards children. How does that tie in with the SPCA?

I've been working with the SPCA for seven years, in a programme called One of the Family. All the research that has been done states there is a strong corelation between cruelty to animals and violence in society.

What years do you aim at?

Years 7 and 8. We've been in front of 70,000 kids all around the country. There's a comprehensive review of our progress being prepared now, and the feedback has been very positive.

What about the Green Paper you've been involved with?

It opens the conversation around vulnerable children, what needs to change and who should be involved to change the horrible statistics. I was one of three "champions", along with Sandra Alofivae and Murray Edridge. We travelled around the country facilitating community meetings, asking people their views about the Green Paper and what needs to change. There were more than 9000 submissions, which was awesome.

What came out of it?

Three things: there are too many organisations competing for the same amount of funds, too much money is being wasted on bureaucracy, and poverty is the biggest issue for vulnerable children. I'm hopeful that work will result in some good government policies being put in place.

Are you recognised these days more for being an All Black or winning Dancing With the Stars?

Possibly the dancing, though it was a few years ago now.

I understand you use the dancing in your presentations.

Yes, it helps to break down stereotypes with some of the tough youngsters. We run a video that shows my confrontation with Richard Cockerill during the haka [at Manchester in 1997] and the paso doble from Dancing With the Stars.

You had a tough upbringing, to judge by your biography. Yet you're a million miles from that now. What's brought about the change?

In 1999 I was at a crossroads with my behaviour and had to make some key decisions. One was to stop drinking. The other was meeting Arlene [Thomas, now his wife] - she gave me hope and that's all I needed at that point. I will be forever grateful to her.

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Rugby can be a tough environment.

You're telling me! If I'm honest I was a real arsehole at times and treated people with disrespect and arrogance. Sometimes back then I didn't care if we won or lost. I just wanted to hurt people on and off the field. There were some good role models in rugby, but I wasn't ready to heed the message before 1999.

You were reserve hooker to Sean Fitzpatrick for years. Do you ever think how today you'd have played more than nine tests?

Sure. Under today's substitution policies I could have played 75 tests, but I'm pretty happy with when I played. I played alongside some great players, like Wayne Shelford, John Kirwan and Michael Jones, and in my early days Graeme Higginson and Mark Shaw.

How much better a player would you have been with your outlook today?

I was a good player, but if I'd applied the disciplines I've learnt since, I might have been a great player.

You must sometimes blink in wonder at the path you've taken in life.

Thirteen years ago was a moment when I made some changes about which way I wanted to go. I'm very blessed that Arlene was there at that moment. Now I have two wonderful children and a wonderful wife. It has certainly been a different direction.

Dancing With the Stars was big, wasn't it?

It was life-changing for me. It was the first year of the programme. I could have treated it as a joke, but I took it really seriously, 100 per cent. I was lucky with the dance partner and teacher I had [Carol-Ann Hickmore]. I told her I'd do whatever it took to win, and she fully supported me.

What about rugby these days?

I don't watch a lot. I'm very choosy. However, I did some broadcast work for Maori Television during the World Cup and was very proud of the All Blacks.

How do you view the All Blacks now?

I still see the All Black brand as a leader in the world of sports, but don't totally approve of the direction of the professional game. There's too much rugby and I see stadiums not full for test matches. I don't like things like selling our jersey to a sponsor, though I understand the need to raise money. It would be nice to think the Rugby Union is controlling the All Black destiny, not sponsors.

Are you contacted by rugby players going through the sorts of struggles you went through?

Yes, surprisingly often. It's not easy sometimes. Professional sportsmen don't have other jobs and have to learn how to manage their lives. I tell them what I did, what changes I made. Some respond well and some say, "Nah, that's too hard". It can be tough when you're used to being given free travel, free clothes, free food, big pay packets and so on. You can get caught up in the moment and you have to realise how damaging that can be.

- The Wellingtonian

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