He is a familiar face on television, and has written a best-selling book, but Matt Chisholm, who spent his teenage years in Oamaru, is happiest mucking in with his young family on his Chatto Creek farm. He talks to Ashley Smyth about life post-book, and what the future looks like.
Matt Chisholm is a grateful man. Life is good – he worries, maybe too good.
“I always had this thing, when things are going well, something’s about to go wrong. And I kind of feel a little bit like that at the moment. But that’s always been my mindset, and I’m trying to get away from that kind of thinking.”
The author, television personality and self-described “farmer, in inverted commas”, who moved to Oamaru at 11, and spent his teenage years here, is living his dream.
He and wife Ellen have two sons, Bede (5) and Finn (3), and a new baby daughter, Bree, whom he describes as “phenomenal”.
“A lot of time you forget she’s in the house, because she’s so good. She rarely cries. She’s always smiling … I think she’s going to have a really cool personality.”
The family owns a 29ha block of land at Chatto Creak, near Omakau, with some sheep and some cattle, and they are in the process of building a new family home there, which they hope to be living in by the winter.
If his longevity on our screens was not evidence enough, the success of Chisholm’s autobiography Imposter, has further cemented he is far from that. The book was released in early August, went quickly to number one on the New Zealand non-fiction bestseller list, and has remained on the list ever since.
It is a candid account of his life so far, how he began a career in television, and his struggles with mental health, and alcohol addiction.
Chisholm said the feedback from the book had been “unreal”.
“I didn’t ever think I’d write a book, and at times I wished I hadn’t, but I think they’re probably going to sell more copies than they thought they might.
“I drove from Dunedin to Omakau the other day, home from a shoot. I bought some fish and chips in Waihola, probably shouldn’t have, but I did, and a dude there I didn’t know said, ‘Hey mate, read your book. Bloody good’.
“Got an ice cream, probably shouldn’t [have], in Lawrence, and a woman said, ‘Hey, just finished your book, this is uncanny. I turn around and there you are, and I loved it and I’ve given it to my son, because he really needs to read it right now’.
“So, it’s those kinds of things that make you think, ‘Oh, well, it was probably the worst financial decision I’ve made in a long time, writing a book, but I’m pleased I did it’. Because people enjoy the read, I think, and it did help some people, which is really cool, which is why I did it.”
Being recognised is nothing new to Chisholm, and the encounters tended to be positive ones.
“It’s usually kind of nice, until you’re eating dinner, and dinner’s getting cold and people want to chew the fat … But I don’t mind it, because I love talking to people, and it’s a conversation starter.”
ven off the success of this book, he would be surprised if he had another book in him, but it is not something he is completely ruling out.
Although preferring to be outside “mucking around”, he admits there is some satisfaction in being able to lay everything down on paper.
“I’d have to have something to say, to be able to write another one.
“I must admit though, some days I do still feel like a bit of a fraud, when, you know, look, I’ve written this book and have, like a lot of people around this stuff, been on what they say, a bit of a journey, but it doesn’t mean I’ve got everything figured out.
“Life’s far from perfect, and in a way that’s absolutely fine.”
Chisholm’s mother still lives in Oamaru, and he enjoys visiting, but admits he does not get back as much as he should.
As a 14-year-old pupil at Waitaki Boys’ High School, he began what became for him, a 20-year battle with alcohol, before finally giving up drinking altogether. It was also a tough time for him at home.
“I think [Oamaru is] quite a beautiful little town, the kids love it there, they love visiting Grandma.
“It brings on a few memories, and I don’t know if I could ever live there … and I kind of like being where I am, because it’s like a fresh start.”
Chisholm enjoyed his last visit to North Otago earlier this month though, to sell a ram at the Cordyline Southdowns ram fair held at Brookfield Park, near Weston.
“[I] just had a bloody ball, because you know, back mixing with, what I say is my people, and talking to blokes that I went to school and played footy with, bloody 25 years ago or whatever, there’s something nice about that. So I do enjoy it.”
While farming in Chatto Creek is Chisholm’s dream, he has maintained his ties to television, doing what he does best – spinning a good yarn.
He estimates he is away from home about a third of the time for television work.
“I’m a freelancer, or a contractor, and it works really well, because I probably spend most of my time, in inverted commas, farming, but that probably brings in the least amount of income, and I’m happy that my other work allows me to do it.
“I’m very, very thankful, and pretty grateful for the position I’m in. I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do now. And it’s quite nice to just get away from that bloody daily grind, that was my TV life, for as long as it was.
“I left TVNZ not knowing whether I had an hour of work lined up, which was quite unusual for me to do that. It was a real sign of where I was at, at the time.”
His decision to walk away has instead paid dividends; a second stint as co-host of Celebrity Treasure Island has just finished screening, and Chisholm is still making pieces for Sunday and Country Calendar, as well as doing some public speaking.
He acknowledges he is lucky to have family close by, to help out at home if needed, and hopes he can reciprocate the help neighbours have offered on the farm.
His television work was halved during the Covid-19 lockdown last year, which included the postponement of Treasure Island a “big earner” for him, but it held the silver lining of more time at home.
“I probably earned half the money I usually earn last year, and probably never been happier.”
After making the move to Central Otago permanently at the end of 2019, Chisholm says he lives with a lot of gratitude now.
“Because this is, for a long time, where I’ve wanted to be, and I’m just so happy that it’s all coming together, and so thankful.
“Year, it’s a really, really, nice place to be at, to be able to spend time with the kids time with the kids, and animals and among nature is really good for me, and it’s really nice.”
Chisholm does not predict his future will look too different from now.
“I’ll try and continue to make television or content, whatever that looks like, and communicate in some way, and hopefully that communication helps people.
“I think the key to it all, is just trying to do my little bit in helping society, or whatever it is … whether it’s around mental health, or helping people understand that our New Zealand farmers aren’t as bad as some people might think they are, or around alcohol or drugs, or whatever.
“Just trying to make the world a slightly better place, as opposed to a worse place for me being in it. And try and develop good humans, you know? Make sure my kids are good people.”