Interview with New England Living TV Host Parker Kelley

Photographs by Kim Furnald

Parker Kelley is the host of New England Living TV now in its second season. We had a chance to pull her aside during her busy production period to ask her a few questions about herself, her career, and her life in New England.

You were born in Boston and grew up on the Cape, can you tell us a little bit about growing up in Falmouth?

Growing up on Cape Cod in Falmouth was an absolute joy. When I was a kid, the winter streets were empty. You’d hardly ever drive by another car. We had a population of about 25,000 in the winter and over 100,000 in the summer—it was definitely a resort community. I looked forward to summers with the influx of people, but treasured the slower months as well. I worked in the hotel and restaurant industries. I was a chamber maid at a hotel with my best friend when I was 13. The two of us would race to get our rooms cleaned by noon and then head to the beach every afternoon. I boated a lot and spent most of my days teaching new summer friends how to waterski. I waterskied just about every day and waited tables just about every night. What I remember besides the beach sand on the edges of the roads was the excitement in the air all summer long. Most of the people visiting were on vacation. They were happy and relaxed and the feel of that has never left me.

When did you begin your career in journalism?

I got my first job at WJAR-TV, an NBC affiliate in Providence. I studied humanities and journalism at Providence College and my newsroom internship turned into a full-time position right after I graduated. I’ve never looked back. If it seems relevant, I am always the host at my home, too. I always host the parties and entertain.

When did you become a host?

I started in TV when I was 20 and starting hosting TV when I was 27. I worked for a PBS station in Virginia. I hosted and produced a show called Blue Ridge Journal about the Shenandoah Valley and the towns between Charlottesville and Winchester. Sharing what I learn is my favorite thing whether it be hosting, acting, painting, writing poetry—it is my life’s work. I act in local theatre too. It’s different because you’re in character, but I adore the thrill of being live and trusting that the rest of the ensemble is going to remember their blocking and lines and that when it’s you’re time, you know your lines. It scares me and I think it’s good to do stuff that scares you—it means it matters! I’m very sensitive. By that, I mean I feel deeply about people. I once had someone tell me that I shouldn’t be ashamed about being sensitive because a lot of people need artists, painters, poets and the like to help them sense and experience that which they do not readily see or feel on their own. I had an associate producer give me the nickname Frauline Hopenfun because the stories I like to tell are either about hope or fun. I think the name still suits me. As a host, I love to have fun and bring the audience along with me, but I also need to feel hope. One woman we featured, her husband had passed away during their renovation and her table sat empty for a few years and she was thankful we helped her fill it again. We went skeet shooting together on the show and she hadn’t been since her husband passed away. She told me how thankful she was to have done that again and how happy she was that she had allowed people into her world again. I get quite a bit of satisfaction as a host in ways that you might just not expect. My master’s is in communicating through the arts. Whatever modality it is—food, song, tv, photography, painting—my bliss is to learn, synthesize and share.

You’ve covered so many different places in New England. As a producer, what is most important to you when you are covering a region?

To get the feel of a place. I do that by trying show breadth. Every place has its own vibe. Just like I tell my children, I love you uniquely, not equally. Each one of our incredible New England towns has something extraordinary about it. Each place is special. I try to give enough of a variety so that people can understand that and be drawn to visit. It’s like I am introducing a beautiful friend and I want as much of the whole picture to be told so it entices you to want to get to know her. Between the two shows I host now, New England Living and New England Boating, I have been to and have shared nearly 100 destinations. I want people to feel the character of each one. I really try to make it multidimensional.

What is your goal for each episode of New England Living?

My goal for NEL is to celebrate. I want to celebrate everything. I am too aware of how fleeting life is. My father died two years ago suddenly. He had just retired and he spent his whole life working in a field that paid the bills and provided for our family but it was not his passion. Every 10 years or so, I would send my dad a note telling him how I was living my life to the fullest. I would thank him for his sacrifices and I would honor him by showing him how much life I lived. My goal is to live with gusto. To embrace each delicate and invigorating moment and to meet and know and share as many stories as I can. My goal is to celebrate creative and talented people like architects, builders, artists and designers. My goal is to celebrate family and friends and people who have decided to live life to the fullest in their own ways. By sharing individual stories on New England Living, I hope that other people can get ideas, encouragement and inspiration for theirs.

What are you most excited about for Season 2?

I am most excited to introduce everyone to incredible homes, and new places and people. I’m excited about sharing the human experience in one moment in time with people who love design, travel and food just like I do. We have modern homes and classic homes and renovations and restorations. Season 2 capitalizes on the success of Season 1 and I think my team is in a groove now and it’s only getting better as we refine how we tell stories.

What do you love about life in New England?

New England is always changing. The seasons are a huge reason why I love this region. It’s moody but that’s ok. I love it with all of its moods. I also love the people. I’ve lived in the Northwest and down South. We are not always warm and fuzzy at first, but New Englanders are the best. We say it like it is and we are hearty. We may not appear open but we are underneath the face that holds back the cold winter wind and we are loyal to the core. Except when I was in Virginia, I have always lived within a mile or so of the ocean. I live on the water now. I am a boater and a beach girl at heart. All six states are amazing and our people are adventurous and passionate.

What has been most rewarding to you about your job?

I recall horseback riding and having a fish sandwich with the 84 year old cowboy, riding on the Harley with a preacher who had lost his whole family in a car accident, having tea with a 95-year-old legally blind watercolorist as she told me about her book illustrating and her childhood in the Hebrides of Scotland, learning from a woman with MS who painted with a stick in her mouth how my stories inspired her… the list goes on. I have been privileged to share so many stories about the lives of so many people. I’ve ridden a horse three times in my life, all on camera for TV. I’ve done the trapeze and flown in a hot air balloon. The big experiences I have had have been amazing, but it’s those little moments now—cooking with these incredible chefs, the meals I share with the homeowners, and the intimate journey we take as they open up their lives to me and my audience is what makes it all worth it. I am insanely busy producing these shows, putting all the details together can be exhausting, but I wouldn’t change a thing for the absolute privilege it is having a day and then a dinner with strangers who have now become friends. It’s heartwarming. It’s living!

New England Living airs every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on CBS Boston.

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