TRUE TALENT: Robert Purewa busks on The Strand on Friday.

ROBERT Purewa says he learned to sing while driving his digger. If that is true, it’s a course of training to be recommended as Robert has had shoppers on The Strand in his thrall for the past year.

The 53-year-old Tuhoe man and father of six was an excavator driver at a quarry for 11 years before deciding a year ago he needed to make singing his mainstay.

“I would always be singing. My boss would get annoyed with me because it would go over the RT. I said to my wife one day, ‘I just really don’t want to go back there anymore’. So I have been doing this ever since. “

He said he has had great support from his wider whanau, who helped set him up with the equipment he needed.”

While singing on The Strand outside Paper Plus or Baxter’s Café or outside The Warehouse where he can also sometimes be found, he says he is often approached by people wanting him to entertain at functions.

He has also been offered a gig by someone with a recording studio in Auckland and, last month, played at the opening of Te Puna Ora o Mataatua’s new offices in Kopeopeo.

However, he is just happy to have the time to devote to doing what he loves best, singing.

“Time is on my side now,” he says.

Robert says the first time he sang for an audience was at the age of seven. “I won a talent show at the Tuhoe Ahurei in Ruatoki in 1978. I sang Wasted Days and Wasted Nights. Prince Tui Teka was there and joined in and sang with me. I won $30. That was a lot of money back then.”

He says musical talent runs in the family. His sister, Jocelyn, is a pretty good singer too, and recording artist Stan Walker is the son of his first cousin.

His musical tastes run to the romantic with love songs from the 1950s to the 1970s being his top picks, for which his honey-dipped baritone is ideal.

“One of my favourites is She Wears My Ring. I often get older ladies telling me it brings back memories for them. They will come and tell me about their husbands.”

He clearly has the X-factor required for stardom as a video he put on the internet of himself trying to rescue an injured seagull went viral and appeared on several television shows.

One of Robert’s biggest fans is retired Whakatane woman Ann Kebbell who tipped off the Eastern Bay Life to his talent.

“His voice is to die for,” Ann says. “I just wish I could get Simon Cowell over here to hear him. He needs to be discovered.”