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Channel Interview: TV Presenter Mike Lee

The Host With The Most

He came fifth on MasterChef New Zealand, worked on a primetime weekday kids show as a television presenter, is a chef and is the host of TV2’s brand new The 4.30 Show... and did we mention he’s only 21? Anna Henvest met with ex-Rangitoto College student, Michael Lee at a restaurant in Auckland...

He greets me warmly, a hug and a kiss on the cheek like we’d been friends for years. As we’re walking through the restaurant, I hear two of the waiters talking not-so-quietly under their breaths say “Isn’t that the guy from MasterChef?” I smile at the waiters, chuffed I’m about to sit with someone who, in these circles, is quite the celebrity.

Let’s go back to where it all began. Following acceptance into a highly regarded culinary school, Michael applied to MasterChef and got in, making him the youngest competitor of the second series. His MasterChef journey was filled with trials and triumphs, and he came fifth in the internationally renowned competition. You could say it was a pretty impressive achievement for the then 18-year-old from Browns Bay.  He packed his knives and continued his dream of becoming a chef while working under the wing of Paul Jobin at Sky City. This lead to a one-off stint on The Erin Simpson Show as a weekly guest chef and this then turned into a full time gig. He moved to Christchurch and stayed there for three years co-hosting The Erin Simpson Show five days a week.

As we were talking, it was about this time when Michael’s dinner was delivered to the table. Somewhat lavish, it’d take one glance to realise he’s quite the connoisseur. His three-dish menu choice in itself was a work of art and he jokingly states that his food is a serious business. A smile spreads across his face as he samples different pieces on the plate.  Michael is affable and confident yet simultaneously down-to-earth. He has a sense of self-assuredness that prompts me to silently question what he’s like when the cameras are off, and pushy writers aren’t interrupting his Friday night meal. “I love being by myself... I love just sitting down with a guitar, singing and being in my own company.”  This is quite surprising to me; it seems contradictory to the outspoken and energetic person sitting in front of me.  I want to know where his dream destination is, curious to see if my guess of Ibiza or LA is correct. Fair to say, I couldn’t be farther off.  “My favourite place has to be Great Barrier Island. Go there, spend a week. There’s no phone coverage so it gives you time to think and focus on nature.”  Note to self: Add travel agent to his repertoire.

I remember Michael from school back in 2010. I have a distinct memory of him on my first day performing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ to a crowd of 600 awkward third formers. I remember at the time being completely bewildered by the barbershop quartet’s comfort on stage, looking no different to an in-home shower performance. “Performing always came naturally to me. I was always the guy to make a joke and make my friends laugh, always loved drama and being on stage.” His Rangitoto College experience was an interesting subject to bring up with him. “In all honesty, school wasn’t really my thing. During seventh form, I’d only go to two, maybe three classes a day. I kept up with my school work and didn’t struggle with the academia; I just preferred being in the music rooms.” 

He’s back in Christchurch as one third of The 4.30 Show, co-hosting with Kiwi pop singer, Massad, and a fresh face in the industry, Eve Palmer. He talks warmly of his co-hosts, and says they’re great to work with. “Massad’s the funniest, silliest guy you’ll ever meet... He’s always making terrible puns you can’t help but laugh at. And as for Eve, she’s the kindest, most down-to-earth girl I’ve ever met.” TV2’s newest addition of after-school entertainment comes following the end of The Erin Simpson Show. He describes The 4.30 Show as a magazine-style show. “It’s all about doing fun things that the audience are going to love... Like today, we burst into [one of the host’s of ZM’s Full Access show] PJ Harding’s house and discovered she’s actually got a whole yoga shrine in her bedroom. It’s all about doing new things you wouldn’t usually do or get to see.”

He’s a natural conversationalist and it’s clear he’s very passionate about the television industry. After spending a short while with him, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else, but I’m intrigued. His was was such an unplanned ‘adventure’ style entry into the industry. I ask, in five years will he still be doing television? “I hope so. I’d love to get into the production side of things too.”  I ask him the question that’d be present in many viewers of the show’s minds. “To get into the TV industry, I think it’s all about having luck. Obviously if TV is something you want to do, go to broadcasting school, get the qualifications... But my advice is - do what you love and see where it leads. For me, cooking was what I loved and got me to where I am today.”

He’s got many exciting things on the cards for 2014, and is careful about what he can tell me, but says it does include international travel for The 4.30 Show. Whether he’s off to exotic destinations, whipping up a culinary storm or making quality kids television, Michael Lee is a name you’ll be hearing more of.

Michael Lee joins hosts Eve Palmer and Massad Barakat-Devine on The 4.30 Show, weekdays from 4.30pm on TV2.


by Anna Henvest