Sir Michael Hill talks cartoons, TV ads and toilets | Two Sketches with Toby Morris


– Do you want me to do it for you? – Let’s do it, yeah.
– Okay. I would always introduce myself as, hello … Michael Hill … jeweler. – It’s perfect, that’s beautiful. (Michael laughs)
I love it. (gentle music) Man, I’ve enjoyed making “Two Sketches.” We’ve visited all kinds of artist spaces, from an Auckland comic book
shop with Michel Mulipola, to Metiria Turei’s Dunedin
art school work space, and Sharon Murdoch’s
leafy Wellington backyard. But something tells me today’s episode is gonna be a particularly buzzy one. (boat honking) Hi!
– Good morning! – Toby, nice to meet you! – Nice to see you. – Thanks for having us on your boat. – (chuckles) Thank you. – It’s the first time we’ve
ever filmed one of these on a boat and I suspect,
possibly, one of the last times. (Michael laughs) But it’s a pleasure. – Perfect Auckland day. No wind, which is slightly unusual. (both laugh) – Cool, so have you got any ideas of what you’d like to draw today? – I haven’t really, no. – Okay, well, I was wondering if, I mean, today we are obviously going to be talking about
Michael Hill cartoonist. – Yes. – It was thinking that I might do a Michael Hill cartoonist portrait? – That sounds a great idea. – But maybe you could
draw me as a jeweller. I’m not sure if you can picture that, how that would go. – Well, I could think about that. That would be an unusual one, but I could do it, actually. I’m going to have to look at you but a little side on, unfortunately. There, there, that’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want. That’s the angle I want. (soft guitar music) – (laughs) Nah, I think
I might have made you look too much of a bruiser, really. I didn’t think this looks like you at all but that’s life. – Okay, that’s all good, that’s all good. Okay, so most people would
know you as Michael Hill, jeweller, but today we are
talking to you in your capacity also as Michael Hill, cartoonist. And then you’re also Sir Michael, as well. How do you usually introduce
yourself to people? – Oh, just Michael, really. – Yeah.
– Yeah, no. I mean, a lot of people
feel when they’ve got a knighthood or something
that then they have that on their letterheads, but no, I don’t even mention it really. I think it’s showing off
a bit too much, actually. (Toby laughs) – And you draw, obviously, these days. Did you draw as a kid as well? – I was brought up at
Whangārei Boys’ High School, which, virtually I was the only, I think I as the only
5th former that took art for School Certificate, so it shows you how
unpopular art was, really. It was quite lonely being the
only person in the art class. – [Toby] And you played violin too, right? – I play the violin as well. I was more interested in the violin than even art at that stage. I started playing the
violin a little late, started at 11, and to be any good at the violin you basically really need, well, today, you need to start at four
or five at the latest, and then be pushed quite hard. – Did you, you wanted to pursue that? Or you were encouraged to get
– I wanted to, – into the family business?
– very much wanted to do that. So, I left school to my parent’s horror, said, I want to become
a concert violinist, which was probably quite
a strange thing to do. Particularly in Whangārei, which is a very farming community, you know, a lot of rough and tumble boys. And I really was quite a misfit at school and was bullied a lot because of that. But after 18 months and
after not winning the Herald, the Herald had a violin competition in those days.
– Right, okay. That was the bar.
– And after not winning that, my parents and my uncle decided that my career had come to an end. And my dad used to be
an Electrolux salesman and when he married my mum, he joined the business as manager as well. So it was a very family
orientated business and I worked in that shop for 23 years, thinking I had really no potential
at doing anything really, which is very interesting, isn’t it? – Yeah, and what was the turning point that led you to strike out on your own? – When the house burnt down, we built a beautiful house
that took two years to build and when that burnt down, that night I realised, well, I could see all my past life, like you were on a tape that you were fast spooling, you know? And you could just see
right from the childhood, right to that stage, and I just suddenly woke me up. You haven’t faced the
fact that you should be making an approach to your
uncle to buy that business, and if he won’t sell, then you need to open up by yourself. And the fire was the catalyst
that made me write down that night on a piece of paper
that I was going to do that. – It was like a clean slate or something. Like, this is it.
– A clean slate. – This is the time.
– Literally, the most difficult thing
one has in life to do is to make the first move, and breaking away from what you’re supposed to
be doing and convention and sort of throwing
yourself into a new life. So here we were, the two of
us with our two children, with basically nothing. I managed to snatch my violin
out from the house fire but basically that’s
all we had that night. But however, where
there was a will, a way, and within a few months I found a backer and they put up the money and I was able to make a
bid for my uncle’s business. But my uncle didn’t sell to me. So it was either, do I
go back and work for him for another 20 or 30 years? No, I had to move. So, we moved and started
Michael Hill Jeweller and that was 1979 and I thought if I owned three shops and had so
much money, I wouldn’t know what to do with. – Was there an element of trying to prove your family, to prove to your
family that you could do it? Or prove to, you know, people
who had bullied you as a kid? – Yes, well, there was
a lot of having to prove to myself, as well as that really. But the thing is I was scared of facing reality but the thing is
that there was nothing in the reality at all except
my mind was in the way. So, as soon as I could remove the mind and clear my mind. Transcendental meditation
helped an awful lot. I might add Which I’d learnt at that stage. – Wow, okay. Because what I have discovered was that my little voice would be talking to me all the while and a lot of that would be very negative, so, there would be a lot of negative self talk. And I’d listen to that voice. I think most people do. Listen to the voice and
obey the instructions. But once the house fire
and learning to meditate, which meant that I was able
to quieten down my mind. That I wouldn’t listen to the self talk. I was able to create a
vision for my path forward. And that was a big turning point. (soft guitar music) (pencil scraping) – When you started Michael Hill Jeweller, what was it that you
were doing differently to say, what your uncle was doing? – We were doing things
remarkably different. First of all, doorways were
very just like a small door just like in the entrance to
here, a little small doorway. And we had a very wide open doorway. Nearly as wide as the shop
with two very simple windows. Probably like three or four
or five items in the window. Beautifully displayed, even at Easter, like we’d have live chickens
in the window running around. You know and people
were gravitated to look every week at what we had in the window. And those things are so beautiful and the doorway was so big
that you just automatically gravitated inside the shop. So it was a. – Never thought of that
doorway thing before but that’s a really good point. – It was very interesting. And then we specialised. We only sold jewellery and watches. We didn’t sell all the other things. I mean, my uncle, was selling
cuckoo clocks, silverware, Dresden figure, you name it. It was everything. Everything you could buy
that was in a jewellery thing was in that shop. But we just specialised and – Do one thing and do it well. – Kept it very simple. Which the money was the
mainly in, you know, the diamond rings and the jewellery. – Just honed in on that. – No one had actually really done that. And then, of course, I went on television and fronted my own adverts. Well, there was only
one television station, TV One, and I mean that
just went like crazy. I’m really putting the heat
on prices this Christmas. I can’t carry on selling
jewellery below cost. (people booing) Stop! All right, but only ’til Sunday! (crowd applauding) Gold, silver, silver,
chain, chain, sale, sale! – I wanted to ask you actually how much you being part of the brand was
part of the success as well. – So, when we first went on, we just talked mainly about
the jewellery and then I’d say, Michael Hill. (quartet music) But then there was an English guy who was at Avalon doing the filming and he said, look, I think it would be better if you called yourself Michael Hill Jeweller. So, I worked on that and
I quite liked the idea of the pauses which I started to develop. And it became quite distinct. Do you want me to do it for you? – Please do it, yeah! – So, I would always introduce myself as hello… Michael Hill… Jeweller – It’s perfect. That’s beautiful, I love it. (laughter) – So, it became such a, I had an enormous following in those days. In fact, actually, they did a survey and the only person who had more recognition was the Prime Minister. So, it was pretty scary. I couldn’t walk outside without everybody knowing me and
yelling, good day, Mike! And it became quite embarrassing actually. It really was. – So people obviously know you as Michael Hill Jeweller but you’re also Michael Hill cartoonist. I brought a copy of your
book along here today. – [Michael] Thank you. – “Catch and Release.” And I’ve got a couple
drawings I thought maybe I could point out to you
and I’d be interested to hear you talk about them. This one I really enjoyed
this one here’s a laugh. – Oh, the one done in Spain. It was in a security area where they had all these boats which
were being repaired. And the time sort of went on me and you actually can
completely lose yourself in these drawings. And then suddenly, I realised I’d finished and I packed up my gear and I look around and
suddenly I realised that I was in a complete with huge
security gates and everything was completely closed! – They’d locked up the yard. – They locked up completely and I thought, my goodness, how do I get out of here? (laughter) So, fortunately, I had a phone but I think that is the interesting
part about drawing. That you can get so engrossed on it that you, you’re in a different world. Which is, I’m really enjoying it. I bet you find the same thing. – Yeah, I think that’s
a big part of the appeal is that sense of being able to dive into something. Yeah, I really love this whole sequence of the book, too, where
you’re drawing all these sort of battle characters. I love these guys with the
arrows through their helmets. (laughter) Made me laugh. And his guy picking his
nose is really funny. – Yes, there’s quite a bit of madness. A lot of these I’ve done spontaneously, I do them on vomit bags on aeroplanes I do them if a board meeting’s becoming a little laborious, I will start doodling on the board papers. – Yeah, which is interesting ’cause the next one I was
going to say is you draw lots of people playing violin. And I think your passion
for it comes through. Like you say, playing with gusto there. (laughter) The movement and they’re
really lively drawings. I feel like. – Yes, yes, yes! Well a violinist who’s
free is full of movement. A violinist who is stiff and rigid plays as stiff and the music
comes across like that. It’s a funny thing about music that to bring the best music out
there’s a very interesting one about winners of our
competition who produces an enormous tone. – Michael Hill Violin Competition, right? You’re a sponsor? – Yeah, yes, that’s right. The Michael Hill International
Violin Competition. And a past winner Fing Ling. He’s an amazing young man. I said, “how did you get
such an enormous tone?” And he said, because his
tone is so much bigger than anybody else, and he said, “the secret of getting a
big tone is the body has to be 100% relaxed. Any tension disturbs the tone.” Isn’t that interesting. – Yeah, that is so interesting. I wonder if drawing is
like that sometimes too. Like I often find, on a day
that I’m not drawing well, is when I’m so tensed up or something. – That’s very, very, very true – There’s one more that I want to show just because it made me laugh. (paper rustling) I love that there’s some cheeky drawings in here, too, I love this one with guy. – [Michael] Ah, yes, on the toilet. – [Toby] (laughter) On the toilet! Yeah, well, I mean the thing is, yeah, we all need to
have a bowel movement. (laughter) Probably should have one at
least twice a day, really. We need to keep pushing things through because otherwise it all accumulates. (slow guitar music) (laughter) – So you do a weekly cartoon for the Mountain Scene. – I do, I do, and I’m really enjoying it. I really am enjoying it immensely! I’m finding it so much fun. And of course, I can
touch things that I like. – Are they sort of topical cartoons? – They are, like, I mean, one of the ones I’ve done there is the airport has become unbelievably busy and the
queues are probably bigger than in Shanghai. It’s insane! It really is. And there’s another one on the rabbits because we’ve got plagues of rabbits. My goodness. The rabbits love down there so All these things are quite,
but I have to be careful because I don’t want to,
it’s not for me to make. So, I leave them completely
open with no statements. – It’s the first time,
I think, I’ve ever met a cartoonist who has a boat like this. – Thank you, thank you. – You obviously don’t have to be drawing. What is it that compels you to draw, do you think? – Well, I think it’s always, I always, I can’t really sit still. And I like something to do
and I always like a challenge. The thing it is about
cartoons, which is interesting, and these are probably a
little bit more realism what we’re doing, but a
character or a cartoon actually has so much depth of feeling, whereas the spoken word, I
mean, it’s quite literal. You can subtly, you
understand it straight away. But with a cartoon, it
can have many meanings. So, there’s so much
depth to it and I think they have also an
enormous amount of appeal. Because people gravitate towards the simplicity of them and
the uniqueness of them. – Do you think that you could sell, at the same time, I’m interested, too, in
the difference between the jewellery world and the drawing world rings worth thousands of dollars. But, do you think creative pursuits are sort of undervalued sometimes? – I think creativity can produce surprising results, but there’s definitely another book or two in me. I mean, this is my fourth book. – Do you think you can sell some drawings, as well as you can sell jewellery? As I say, there’s definitely another one, and I have a feeling
there’s a good call for a children’s book, a colouring book, and also a Super Yacht Cookbook I think would be an interesting one, as well, because I love healthy recipes. – Okay, cool. – Who knows where it all ends up. – I am fascinated to know if you feel like your life would have turned out differently if you had
pursued a creative career from the beginning? – It probably would have but I don’t think it could have been much more
exciting than what it is. And in fact, I wouldn’t have changed. When I look back, I don’t want
to change anything, really. And the thing is it’s never too late to pursue your goals. I mean, Frank Lloyd Wright
was one of the greatest architects of all time, was designing some of his best works when he was in his 90’s. And Stradivarius was also made a violin, I’ve seen, when he was 92. I’ve seen a violin he made
which is extraordinary. So, you know, the thing is never give up. Always pursue your dreams and always have another Everest to climb. So, if you’ve climbed
Everest, try and find another side to try but
on a more difficult peak. You’ve never arrived. There’s always another mountain. – [Toby] Somewhere else to go. – So, keep pushing. – Do you think that the
money that you’ve made in your lifetime has changed who you are? Do you think? – I think money doesn’t bring happiness but certainly money
doesn’t bring unhappiness. So it’s got nothing to do with the money. But I think money is,
it’s better to have it, than not have it and it’s
also nice to give it away. And I am enjoying,
particularly, giving it out to charities and different things. And when you give away,
you get back twice as much. So my main thing, what gives me much pleasure, is particularly in the business, like there’s the boat and my golf course and the violins and the Michael
Hill Jewellery business. Is taking people who others
think have got nothing and turning them into stars. And that gives me a real thrill in life. It’s the ordinary bloke
that a lot of people sort of think that they’re no bloody good. And I like taking those people and proving them all wrong. That gives me a great thrill. Because anyone can do it
as long as they’ve got the enthusiasm and the
spark to want to do it. (slow guitar music) (pen scratching) We talked about doing hands and my hands are bloody
diabolical on this one – My hands are not great
on this one either. – It just shows you. – Are you ready to show? – Okay, all right, okay. (laughter) – Okay, here you are. This is your drawing. Your drawing portrait there. – Oh, that’s quite good. That’s very simple. I love it and you’ve done that very well. That’s miles better than mine. (laughter) Here you go! Mine’s a bit too stiff but the vague idea. (laughter) – That’s really funny! I like that. Is that the jeweller’s eyepiece
or are my eyes bulging? – Yeah, you’ve got the
jeweller’s eyepiece, there. That’s right, yeah, yeah. – Oh, that’s really good. (laughter) Well, thank you so much! That was really fun. – Well done, thank you. Well done, very good. – Nice to chat and draw together. – Yours is seriously good. – Oh, thank you very much. (laughter) (soft guitar music) (upbeat drum guitar music) (air whooshing) – Hello, Michael Hill, cartoonist.

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