A woman with a criminal past is usually unlikely to be celebrated in Aotearoa. But social media sensation Nicola ‘Nix’ Adams reckons her ever-growing popularity is down to the fact that she’s straight up, honest and authentic about who she is.
With 1.3 million online followers and having won “Personality of the Year” at this year’s New Zealand TV Awards, social media sensation Nicola “Nix” Adams, 34, is the first to admit she’s an anomaly. She’s a former methamphetamine addict and sex worker who has been to prison and grew up in a gang environment. She initially posted her journey of recovery on social media to regain the trust of her children and family and show them she had quit drugs and turned her life around. How could someone like Nix, with an extensive criminal past, appeal to a massive following and become one of the most popular and successful social media influencers in Aotearoa?
Nix reckons it’s because she’s straight up, authentic and likes to swear.
“I have no filter,” she says. “I’ll talk about shit on my online platforms that you would only talk to your close mates about. I say what people think but won’t say. A lot of people worry about what others will think of them and so they find it hard to be their true authentic selves and won’t talk about rude shit or other things that might pop into their fuckin’ heads. I don’t give a fuck. If I want to say it, I’ll just fuckin’ say it.
“When I first started on social media, I was raw. I had no teeth, I looked like I was still high on meth. I had nobody to impress. I was at my lowest point, and people loved me for that. I thought, ‘Fuck you all. I’m going to talk about whatever I want to talk about. If you want to stay and listen, cool, pull up a chair. If you don’t, see you later.’
I fell in love with that freedom of speech and I won’t trade it for anything.”
Nix, who grew up in Ahipara in Northland, was surprised when she saw she was getting a mass following on her Facebook page, CWK (Courage, Wisdom and Knowledge). What prompted her to go online in the first place was to chart her recovery from methamphetamine addiction and earn back the trust of her family and two children, who were taken away from her. In 2013, she had turned to methamphetamine, sex work and crime to cope with the grief and pain of losing her son, Alaska. The healthy infant was 16 months old when he died in his mother’s arms from an unexplained illness. Online, she wasn’t afraid to show her honesty, rawness and vulnerability.
“After the death of my son, I ran away from everything for five years. When I decided to change my life, I had to change my outlook and all of my bad behaviour. I had to stop running and face everything head-on. Whenever the universe would put a challenge in my path, I would always say to myself, ‘You can push through this, Nix, because you’ve pushed through obstacles that were so much harder’.”
Nix not only shared honest testimonies about her rehabilitation online, she also discovered she has a knack for making people laugh. She posts daily comedic skits where she imitates Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, reviews sex toys, films funny make-up tutorials, and plays characters based on people she knows, from a judgemental auntie to a domineering mother. She’s been told many times that she’s like a “female modern-day Billy T. James”.
“It’s a compliment because Billy T. James was an icon. People loved him because he gave himself shit all the time. I do the same. I don’t take myself seriously.”
Creating online content that is both serious and funny means Nix appeals to all ages and cultures and that’s reflected in her impressive social media statistics. Her 1.3 million online followers are made up of 629,000 followers on Facebook, 545,000 followers on TikTok, and 161,000 followers on Instagram. She has an equal number of followers in the US as she does in Aotearoa. With these statistics, it’s no surprise Nix is in huge demand from major corporations, government departments, and the public-speaking circuit, who all regularly request she endorse their products or be a keynote speaker at conferences.
Television networks and production companies have also come knocking on her door and taken advantage of Nix’s popularity. She’s currently developing a sitcom based around her comedy, and for the past two years, she has co-hosted a talk show called Terei Tonight on Māori Television with comedian Pio Terei.
She’s grateful doors are opening for her and knows the importance of embracing all opportunities.
“I always think about the moment when I’m lying in my grave,” she says. “I think about how I lived my life. Did I take every opportunity that came my way or did I stay scared, turning down opportunities and not experiencing life? When you do something with the intention of gaining that experience, so many doors and opportunities can just happen. I’m extremely proud of everything I’ve done so far.”
When Pio and Māori Television approached her to co-host his show, she was reluctant because she didn’t think she was good enough to be on national TV. She accepted because she bonded with Pio over their shared experience of grieving over the death of a child. In 2016, his 17-year-old son died of leukaemia. Today, Nix and Pio are extremely close, with Pio becoming one of her closest allies and mentors.
“When we met, the first thing he told me was that he lost his son to cancer. I was immediately drawn in because, fuck, I know how that feels. We talked about being in the public eye and how some days are fuckin’ hard and you don’t want to get out of bed because you’re grieving. We made a deal that day, that if either of us is having a bad day then we will be there for each other,” Nix says.
“In all of the TV realm, Pio hadn’t come across someone who really knew how it felt to lose a child. He and I came together and we’ve been tight as ever since.”
The other reason Nix thought that she wouldn’t be good for TV is because swearing is part of her natural vocabulary. But she says she’s capable of wearing different hats and discovered that she can tone down her language.
“I know when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. How I see it is that people are renting this particular version of me for this amount of time. So, I’ll give them a politically correct version of me. But the minute it’s over, I’m straight back to being me.
“I’m capable of not swearing and talking proper. It’s painful, but it’s possible.”
Despite her reservations, Nix’s TV debut was a huge success. She even got to interview Jacinda Ardern. Her immense popularity led to her winning TV Personality of the Year at the NZ TV Awards, which is decided by public vote. Previous winners include Hilary Barry, Toni Street and Hayley Holt. She beat and was up against seasoned TV professionals such as the crew from TVNZ’s Breakfast and Shortland Street actors.
“Holy fuckin’ hell!” Nix says about her win. “I was so shocked. I didn’t just win this for me. I won it for all of us underdogs that have a history. If you’ve been to jail, it’s hard to get a job because not many people are willing to give someone like me a second chance.”
Nix is surprised by how influential she has become and the impact her posts can have, even causing top-level government organisations to take notice. Last year, documents released through the Official Information Act showed emails among health authorities linking a video posted by Nix, in which she suggested that vaccines may have been responsible for Alaska’s death, to Māori childhood immunisation rates falling to as low as 52 percent. The video reached more than 1.8 million views. The concerns were raised in an Auckland District Health Board briefing and the incident made national news. Nix felt that she was used as a scapegoat.
“Don’t come after me and point the finger at a small fish. Do your fuckin’ job,” she says about the reaction from health authorities.
But the controversy didn’t stop Nix from lending her name and influence to front a national campaign to encourage Māori to get the Covid-19 vaccine. “For me, it was a moral obligation to do this. I got vaccinated to not only protect me, but also my friends and whānau who came up to me for hugs.”
Nix has also used her influence to spearhead national campaigns on social issues of great importance to her. She travels the country to facilitate discussion on issues such as child abuse, addiction, and suicide. Whenever she posts her interviews online, they reach around 5 million views. She self-funds her travel and resources for these campaigns by organising fundraising events such as online housie.
Her latest campaign was in March and focused on parents who have lost a child, a subject Nix has first-hand experience with. She’s overcome the sudden death of her infant son, but last year she suffered a miscarriage. She says the aftermath was just as traumatic as the death of Alaska.
“After Alaska died eight years ago, I finally built up the strength to say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to try for one more child.’ So, we got pregnant,” Nix says.
“I started freaking out because I thought, ‘Fuck! What if I have another boy?’ I’m going to feel like I’m trying to replace Alaska. I had a test at 10 weeks to find out what the gender of the baby was. I was having a girl.” Nix was so excited that she posted online and told her followers the good news. But at 12 weeks, she had a miscarriage and was devastated by the experience.
“It was such a shock because I’ve given birth to four healthy children and then baby number five was a miscarriage. This wasn’t how the story was supposed to go. I waited eight years to find the strength to have another child, and I finally got there, and this baby is taken away from me. I started to blame myself because of the things that happened during those eight years, especially because I was once addicted to meth. I thought I had fucked up my body and it wasn’t even good enough to house a child.”
Nix turned to her partner, Dennis, for strength, and the advice he gave her helped her overcome the grief.
“We were lying in bed and I was shaking. I asked him what was the mentality that I needed to get through this. He told me that we are going to need the mentality of acceptance. To accept the fact that this was out of our control. There was nothing that we could do to change the outcome.
“When Alaska died, I was angry with the world. I was angry with God. That’s why I fell into a P addiction, to escape from my reality. I already knew the outcome of running away from my responsibilities and not being a mother to my children. I can either run away again or I can accept what happened and be there for my children. I ultimately chose my family.”
Nix says it’s important for people to look after their mental health. She likes to laugh and make others laugh to lighten the mood. She says it’s vital for people to take time out and be kind to themselves.
“If I’m not mentally and physically well, how am I going to be a good mum and how am I supposed to be this online personality?” she says.
“When I close my eyes at night, I’m resetting. The moment I open my eyes, it’s a brand new day. I’m not going to paint today’s canvas with yesterday’s paint. If I need to take five minutes or the day to sit in my feelings and feel my emotions, I will do that, even cutting myself off from social media. Don’t try and pack and push it away, because it’s not going to do you any good in the long run.”
This year, Nix shifted to Wellington from Huntly and moved in with Dennis, who is a youth worker. They have a blended family of four children between the ages of 10 and 12. The union between Nix and Dennis could be a plot taken straight out of a romantic film – they grew up in rival gangs. Nix’s family are Black Power and Dennis’s are Mongrel Mob.
“Growing up around gangs, my outlook wasn’t negative. It was family-oriented. We had Christmas functions where we had a Santa and all the kids got presents. We didn’t look at anyone as gang members or judge them on the clothes they were wearing. They were my aunties and uncles.”
In terms of being a mother to her children, Nix says it’s important to teach them not to judge others and to work hard. Her children ultimately saved her from a life of drugs and crime and gave her the strength to live her life to the fullest.
“I feel like if I didn’t have my children, I’d be like a hot air balloon, floating up in the sky. My kids are there to pull me back down and keep me grounded.”
Nix also has a larger whānau, as she calls them – her millions of followers. She refuses to call them “fans” or “followers”.
“I don’t refer to people as fans. That makes me fuckin’ cringe. I think of them as my whānau. If you’ve got a presence online, then think of the words that you use as seeds. You really need to be mindful of the seeds that you’re planting. My audience ranges from 10-year-olds to 90-year-olds, so I’m always aware of the messages I’m sending out.”
Nix has become a savvy businesswoman. She says she initially learned business skills as a former drug dealer. Now, posting online content and becoming an in-demand public speaker is how she is making a comfortable living and her online whānau have made it all possible.
“Also, I don’t like the word influencer. I prefer personality. To me, an influencer is someone who is flashy and only shows the highlights. A personality is someone who shows every fuckin’ thing. The good, the bad, the down, the up, the left, the right. That’s me to a fuckin’ tee!”
This is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.
IMAGES BY NICOLA EDMONDS, SUPPLIED