When Maz speaks, people listen. You might think it’s simply because she’s super charismatic and bold – she is, and even calls herself “the boss lady” – but in fact it’s because she is a master storyteller and has been telling quirky, compelling ones for over 20 years as a TV and film producer – winning a whole heap of BAFTAS, Logies, Astras and the like for her involvement in shows like The X Factor, Dancing with the Stars, and Big Brother.
In fact, this senior woman in the media is the very definition of a colourful character – and today as an ex-TV and film producer, she’s on a mission to help companies find their X Factor.
According to Maz: “A whole heap of atomically talented, uber interesting, deep-thinking individuals and corporations are simply not telling the world how righteously badass they are. No point in keeping that a secret.”
Enter Maz, who pumps up the energy in any room she walks into. She’s a creative thinker – with a creative history – and masterfully ‘works the floor,’ helping companies grab attention. “I help people deliver their story with the impact of a big cement fist in a soft, gentle, cashmere glove,” she reveals.
But she’s also a strong believer in being kind, a skilful team-builder, and always supportive of her ‘dysfunctional’ TV family. And she’s had a few, considering she’s guided hundreds of massive teams in highly adrenalized industries.
Stories Ink caught up with Maz Speaks (aka Marion Farrelly) to discuss her love affair with the flashy world of showbiz; some of her passions and quirkiness; what it’s like being a senior woman in media; and how one of her most ‘special moments’ of her career wasn’t scoring the big TV awards but in inspiring kids to find their way back to meaning – and ultimately school.
Quick time frame of where you were born, raised, schooled. Tell us a bit about your:
I was born in London and my obsession with clothes started on my fourth birthday when my Irish father made the greatest sacrifice an Irish father could – dress shopping. For Tommy Farrelly, dress shopping ranked up there with having a back, sack and crack performed by Mother Teresa in a pause at a family wedding. His vision – first shop, first dress, back in time to watch Man Utd play live. Reality – I looked at every dress in every shop, compared fabrics, cuts, colours and style. Worst day of his life. And that’s a big call, he died on Father’s Day, aged 94.
At seven, when other kids were buying lollies, I bought Vogue. I could name each designer, shoe, accessory, photographer, and hair and make-up artist, so I guess it’s no shock my first career was as a fashion stylist in London.
I travelled first class, stayed in 5-star hotels, was dressed by the best designers, mixed with supermodels and stars and the thing is, it was my first job, so I thought that was the way life was for everyone, forever. Apparently, it’s not. Go figure.
Oh, and when I was a tiny baby, I’d wail until my parents placed me in front of the telly with a warm drink – I’m still like that – and my mother tells me that as soon as I could talk, I told her I’d be in the telly one day. I guess it’s not a shock that my second career was as a TV & Film producer around the world.
My school reports always said that I wouldn’t stop talking, was easily distracted, and loved to distract others so I guess it’s no shock that my third career is as a professional speaker and enter-trainer (someone who uses entertainment to train). Looking back, I’ve always actually been a nightmare.
What were some of your first and most memorable jobs?
I’ve never been afraid of hard work – my first job was in Maccas, where I gave an enormous amount of food away to people I thought looked sad, broke, or hungry. My boss asked me not to and kindly ignored me when I continued to. Fit men in tight t-shirts normally got a free apple pie.
One year my school pals and I had a competition to have the worst holiday job. I worked in a sausage factory and laughed hysterically for the first two days as the penis shaped sausages fired out of the machine. I was confident I’d win but Loraine Warwick did. She worked in a funeral parlour. I’m still a little cross with her. I’ve always been competitive.
You explain: “I use my TV skills and psychology to get attention for you and your company.” What does this entail – and what’s your vision for your role as CEO whisperer at Absolutely Farrelly?
Most fascinating companies and individuals feel very uncomfortable talking about themselves and telling the world how good their product or service is, but here’s the thing, how can you improve other’s lives if they don’t know you exist?
I’m a master storyteller; I should be. I’ve been telling every kind of story at an Olympic level for about twenty years. I help people think differently – most people are very lazy thinkers, mainly because no one has told them not to be. I tell them. Loud and clear and give them the tools and techniques to do some really creative, uber critical thinking.
A.I. can replace most human actions but not creativity – you can’t ask a machine to think about something that hasn’t been thought of yet. Only we can do that. Creative thinking has been described as ‘the last legal advantage you can have over your competition.’ I’m not like other speakers or trainers – my background has been too unusual for me to be usual.
You’ve been involved in some pretty big shows – and won a few awards for them – including BAFTAs, Logies, Astras, National Television Awards, Bronze Rose de Montreux, The Celebrity Apprentice, Dancing With The Stars, The X Factor and Big Brother. You’ve managed to blend business and show business and have been quoted as saying: “business and show business are the same.” Can you explain?
If we don’t grab your attention in the first 30 seconds you are gone and you are never coming back – for me, that’s about $30m down the drain. It’s the same in business. If you are not interesting in the first 30 seconds, your clients and customers are not interested; they’ve gone to your competition – you may have the best product, service or idea on earth but if no one knows, stay home, go play golf.
I help people deliver their story with the impact of a big cement fist in a soft, gentle, cashmere glove.
Can you highlight some of your main achievements/milestones in your career?
This probably isn’t what you’re expecting because I have won BAFTAs, LOGIES, ASTRAS, Royal Television Society Awards, A Bronze Rose De Montreux and a bunch of other awards and as much as I love being a media wanker, I don’t think they’re my greatest work. I think it’s something tiny that left a beautiful scar I love to look at.
When I was the big boss of The X Factor and a bunch of other shows, I’d offered to do some charity work for The Sony Foundation and kind of thought they’d never take me up on it.
It was a Tuesday; I was dressed like I’d run through Louis Vuitton and half of it had stuck to me and was in a classroom full of kids who’d rather have tonsilitis than be in a classroom with me and who could blame them?
If they were giving me their attention, I knew that the only respectful thing to do was give them some of the tiny wisdom rattling around in a mostly empty brain.
We talked about how they can become cliches and deliver exactly what society thinks they will amount to, or they can buck the system, fight back, not be a stat, be kick ass and anything they want to be – it’s hard to put the ball in the back of the net if you don’t have a goal. What’s your goal – discover than, take aim, fire.
Attendance was a massive problem, so we struck a deal. If the kids came to school every single day for six weeks they could come to The X Factor as my personal guests – they’d come to rehearsals, sit in for the judges and have the best seats in the studio for the live show. They’d have access all areas to everyone on the show. Unheard of access. But – only if they came to school every day. They came. They had a great day.
Cut to my leaving do, and I’m looking at a guy I kind of recognise and he’s smiling at me and stands up to make a speech, which went something like this. . .
‘I know you’re trying to work out how you know me. I’m the teacher at that school, the one you spoke at, the one that came to The X Factor. We asked the kids to write about their day afterwards and I have some stories here. This is what they said about you:
‘No one has ever told me I could amount to anything, but that lady said that if I worked harder than anyone else, I could be a judge on The X Factor, so I am going to.’
‘That lady told me to always present myself well, to always be clean and groomed, to sit up straight and to shake hands with people when I meet them, and look them in the eye, then I would be the kind of person she’d want on her team, so I am going to do that. She said if I want to be friends with famous people, I have to be interesting, so I have started to read more.’
‘The lady said that if I come to school every day, I can have a Louis Vuitton bag like her, so I am going to.’ (kid after my own heart, that one)
From then on, they all went to school. Every day. I sobbed. (I still do)
Have you had many challenges or hurdles to overcome – and willing to share?
Being a senior woman in the media, especially in TV, meant I was on the receiving end of some people who tried to bully me. It’s not because they were particularly mean or unkind, it’s just that’s how they’d been raised in the media – they didn’t know any better and I was a confident woman and this half irritated them and half terrified them. The slightly smarter ones let me deliver great results and took the credit. The brilliant stand-up guys, the rock stars, the ones I am still friends with, celebrated my mind and treated me like I didn’t have magnificent boobs and a fandango – I was just a colleague.
Gents, you know who you are, and I toast you, I celebrate you.
Mostly, I find negatives can be turned into a positive if you take a different stance. We learn most when life is tough. When we’re number one, we’re too busy celebrating our own genius. When it’s tough, we think.
Simon Cowell says getting to No 1 is more fun than being No 1. I totally agree. I’m a Chanel wearing street fighter; I like a scrap. I actually really like a scrap.
What’s the term leadership mean to you – and what type of leader are you?
Love, laughter (mainly mine) and kindness. You gotta love everyone on your teams – I think of them all as my dysfunctional family and I love them accordingly, especially the ones it’s difficult to love – they need the most.
On my shows, I’d do regular Maz Moral Boosting Tours, where I’d bring cake and just sit with departments who really didn’t want me to visit. Bless.
I once had a boss who told me off for being kind and friendly with my teams. ‘How will you reprimand them?’ In 600 years of running massive teams in highly adrenalized industries, I have never had to reprimand anyone. I’ve only had one person ever not turn up for work after a massive party and I know she was there because I was at the same party and left after her.
In TV, we worked really hard and partied even harder, together.
We were strong people. We helped each other and picked each other and ourselves up when we were down. We did really quite awful pranks on each other, that really should have had us front page of the tabloids or with short-term prison sentences. We shared the same goals, celebrated our successes and we all fought to be No 1 and we always were.
The people I’ve worked with have been funny as all F, kindness personified, massive thinkers, complicated, cheeky, and brilliant. It’s been an honour, not a job.
What person has made a real impact on your life – admire the most?
My mum is 100. She knows everything and she’s the most beautiful human I’ve ever met.
One day I was thinking about her and realised I’d never heard her raise her voice. I’d never heard her gossip or speak ill of anyone. I’d never heard her complain about anything, ever, nothing. She’s so beautiful.
What are your top priorities for the next 12 months?
Increase my bookings. Decrease my ass.
Looking back on your career, is there anything you’d change? Anything you haven’t achieved/TV show you haven’t worked on?
I’d change nothing. I rode a massive wave, and I was smart enough to know it and celebrate it and love it – I only regret stuff I haven’t done, and I mainly just effing do it.
What are some of your passions in life? Favourite things?
I love my pals and think I’m a pretty good one. I’m not as thoughtful as my friend Graeme, as brave as my pal Paulie, as straight forward as Nina, Harvey or Fi, or as kind as Louise, but I give it a crack. On a good day I’m not an awful pal.
The vagina you come out of is a total lottery and I had the winning ticket – I was born into a really amazing family. I adore my brothers and their families, they’re all really good eggs, funny, kind, bonkers and smart.
Fashion is an obsession and I’ll never stop buying clothes, shoes, bags, and jewellery. I deliberately barely own anything, but I am a slave to fashion.
My mother is 100. I am obsessed with Bridie.
And finally, what do you wish to achieve moving forward?
I want to be a joy to do business with. Be the most booked, most expensive, and most valued speaker and trainer in Australia; a luxury brand that is massive value for the investment.
And kiss more.