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Meet K'lee McNabb | BY YOUR SIDE | Mother's Day 2024

k'lee mothers day campaign

K'lee wears the Beatrice Handbag is Biscotti throughout.

Kaleena Renae McNabb, known to many as the dynamic K’Lee, who burst into fame with the 2001 hit "Broken Wings" and seamlessly transitioned into broadcasting, captivating Kiwi audiences on radio and TV since the millennium. As a beloved host on Mai FM’s Mai Days Show for 13 years, K’Lee has charmed listeners nationwide with her wit and authenticity.

As part of the SABEN Mother's Day campaign, K’Lee, who is expecting her sixth child, invites us to celebrate her journey as a mother of five, with one more on the way.

Tell us about yourself, your journey and what led you to become the woman you are today?

My Koro always told me ‘Live your life, so you can create awesome stories to tell
your mokos!’ I think I was 8 years old when he said that, so I literally tried and tested almost every sport, and art you could imagine. If there was a job for me to do, or somewhere for me to be apart of, I was there. That’s probably how I managed to go so many places - it helped that my mother was super encouraging, and was outgoing to, always dared my sisters and I to dream big. I went on to sign my first record contract at 15, drop four top 10 singles and an album & toured with huge international acts by the time I was 21.

Life tested me at almost every turn, I was interested in television, and radio, getting my first gig at Flava in the early 00’s, I had appeared on tv shows with Stacey Morrison several times, and being able to see a wahine who was strong, brave, graceful and hilarious and spoke te reo, was just what I aspired to be. When I got to work with her at Flava I was in awe. I moved to Los Angeles to continue the pursuit of my music career, it didn’t pan out the way I expected. Life took a bit of a left turn while in an abusive relationship, I was grateful to walk away with my two beautiful older children and return to Aotearoa after 5 years - to Mai fm.

Only after 13 years on air, meeting the most amazing man & having 3 more children, I have stepped away to rest up for the delivery of our 6th baby & to tap more into my creative side and te reo journey. I’m always a firm believer that you should never stop learning - fill your kete with as much knowledge as possible, so you can empower others around you and awhi them to succeed!

At 40 years old, I feel like this next chapter is truly my Evolution.

 

What does motherhood mean to you?

I always had a strong mother at home who filled our lives with culture, to appreciate others, and to learn our own. For her & myself being a mother doesn’t mean your life stops, that you can’t pursue what really sparks your fire.

Our culture (me) Māori & (partner) Samoan are super important for our Whanau & it’s our responsibility to instil those values and mana into our lives. We are a big Whanau so we always roll together to support and cheer each other on.

k'lee mothers day campaign

 

How do you celebrate or cope with Mothers Day?

I’d love to say that I spoil myself, but over the last 16 years of being a mum, some years it’s a hit and miss, I can always guarantee I’ll get a homemade card, hand painted picture and maybe an extra 30 minutes sleep in, but let’s be honest I’d probably be bored and wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I was left to have peace and quiet!

Something you love and admire about your own Mother?

My mother never grew up knowing her language and after having me and my two sisters, my mother not only studied to become a teacher but taught herself te reo, now at 40 not being fully immersed in my language, I know it’ll be a hard hikoi, but I’m excited to really give it a shot and give the same opportunities to my own children.

K'Lee, you've had an incredible career in the spotlight, from your early days as a pop icon to your recent ventures in broadcasting. How has motherhood influenced your journey in the entertainment industry?

Motherhood has definitely defined my pathway, I think I’m a lot less careless haha I mean I have mouths to feed. It’s changed the way I hold myself and live - I try to live with intent. Intent on being a better person than I was
the day before, intent to live honestly, unapologetically and to encourage and empower others. I think twice before taking mahi, I want to be present in my kids life and create those memories with them.

I try not to sweat the small stuff - although with a huge Whanau like we have this can be difficult, but I’m always learning from my kids. I realised real quick that they are each their own person, personality- their love languages are all different, the way they communicate is different, so I need to be adaptable and remember that - it’s helped in my everyday life too.

I’m mindful that I am the example of confidence and strength my daughters will compare themselves to, I wouldn’t do anything I let my kids do.

Balancing a successful career with raising five children must come with its challenges. Can you share with us some strategies you've used to manage both aspects of your life effectively?

At first being a solo mother with two small children and starting work at 4am
was a juggling act, I was functioning at a high level constantly and realised I couldn’t be this perfect model of a parent all the time, putting my pride aside, asking for help and having Whanau support is key.

Fast forward a few years later and having 5 children and my beautiful partner, making sure we are working together as a team, and making sure that we and our children are communicating is now key.

Preparing meals in the slow cooker, freezing bulk made muffins for school lunches, I’m particular with my time, especially if I know I have a full on week coming up, I don’t want to be tired and short with my family, just because I want to be ‘keeping up with the kardashians’ if you know what I mean. Probably another reason why I very rarely drink lol the hangovers not worth the trouble with little ones.

With children ranging from teenagers to toddlers, each with their unique personalities and needs, how do you ensure you're able to connect with each of them individually?

My partner and I try to make individual time to spend with the kids, taking them along to some of our events, just going to the supermarket together and having that quiet one on one time to chat. Every fortnight we will grab a packet of cookies all sit around the table with a Milo or milk and debrief on the week that was and what’s coming up, I coach my kids sports teams, we take te reo Māori lessons as a Whanau, and sing and try to korero together, Friday night movie nights are fun, so are baking with the younger ones. They just want time, not flash outings.

Reflecting on your journey as a mother, what lessons have you learned that you would like to pass down to your children?

Having a family is a strength to add to your kete of life, it should never stop you from dreaming or pursuing that spark for your fire. And never compare your life to others, you could never understand their lives. Water you own garden first.

k'lee mothers day saben

 

How do you prioritize self-care and maintain your own well-being amidst the demands of motherhood and your career in the entertainment industry?

I was never good at this, mum guilt was always a real barrier at first, then I began to understand that if I don’t fill my own cup and make time for myself, I’m not being the best person for my family. It’s really hard when you have young babies, this is definitely when you need to ask for help, or tap your partner in and communicate, ‘my cup is on empty and I need me time’ . I’m a lot more aware of how long I can go, before I need to do that for myself, my GF’s are also amazing at reaching out and checking in on each other, they always seem to know. 

Saben Style – What Saben bag is always by your side?  And what’s next on your wishlist?

Daria shoulder bag - clean, simple, versatile & classy all at the same time.


I have a new podcast I’m working on ‘Parental Guidance’ a raw, honest take on life with a growing family - all the things you know about parenting and all the things you didn’t know you needed to know! I am starting with the journey of my pregnancy now, busting myths, revealing some unspoken truths all with my humour and great guests.

I’m also lecturing and passing on the knowledge of broadcasting at Te Wannanga o Awanuiārangi - not to mention my Partner and myself after 10years of being together will get married end of this year!


It’s such an exciting year for me and my Whanau.

K'lee wears the Beatrice Handbag is Biscotti throughout. 

Spoil them with Saben, shop the Mother's Day Gift Edit.