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Goodbye Warrior Princess, hello corporate queen


Say farewell to the Warrior Princess . . . and hello corporate queen. When Lucy Lawless puts her screen persona Xena to rest in May, she will be settling into a new role, using her brain more than her face. Lawless is joining the board of trustees of the Starship Foundation - becoming in effect a company director. In the unpaid role she will help to raise $3 million a year for the nearly 80,000 children from around the country treated annually at the Starship Hospital in Auckland.

It will be one of the biggest commitments of her post-Xena life - she also hopes to have her third child next year. Daughter Daisy is 12 and son Julius 13 months.

Her involvement with the hospital has been both personal and professional. She rushed Julius in for treatment when a cup of hot tea spilt on him when he was two weeks old.

"It was horrifying," she says. "They whisked him straight in and put a second skin on him."

The incident left Julius without a scar, but Lawless with experience of an essential service. "You never think you're going to need it but as sure as eggs you will."

Board chairman Bryan Mogridge said while Lawless had long been committed to the Starship "as a star" now she was being called on for her "broader business skills".

Lawless, 32, says while she's been a businesswoman by default, now she'll be one by choice for her favourite cause.

"I'm a purely intuitive businesswoman," she says. "But I am absolutely professional, absolutely honest and very careful who I get into bed with in a business sense. I have good taste in human beings and companies and feel very comfortable about aligning myself to the Starship.

"One of my main qualifications is that I have no vested interest in doing this," she says. "It is not for my career, it is not for finance, it is doing the right thing in the spirit of contribution to someone other than yourself."

Lawless, thanks to her iconic role as Xena, has become one of the country's most successful businesswomen, amassing an $11 million fortune.

"I don't fritter it away," she says. "I don't want to blow everything I have earned and have nothing left over for my old age and family but I have no great ambition to be a magnate."

She said she had no great ambition to be known as anything other than an actor - "I love acting, but it is not necessarily the final outcome that jazzes me".

"Philanthropy seems to be a responsibility as a member of the community to give something back but it is not something I particularly care to be known for."

Next year, the Starship's 10th birthday, will be the biggest yet for the foundation, which has already pumped millions of dollars into the cause.

It is about to launch an interactive telepediatrics service, allowing specialists to diagnose children in remote areas, it has bought a $1.7m pediatric CT scanner and is raising $5m to prepare for the move of Green Lane Hospital's child heart surgery unit into the Starship in 2003.

"These children are very fragile and they often have multiple and chronic health problems," says Lawless.

"At the moment they are shuttling between Green Lane Hospital and the Starship and it is much better to get them under one roof."

Mogridge said the board wanted go-getting young New Zealanders with business acumen. Fundraising in the 21st century had much more of a corporate focus than the raffles and cake stalls of the past - although individuals still had an important place.

Corporate sponsors needed to be presented with strategic plans to ensure they got something back for their support.

"You can't just write to people and expect them to give money. There has to be quid pro quo," Lawless says.

But that doesn't mean she will be donning her Xena leathers and scissor-kicking her way around the country's boardrooms for the cause.

She will return to Los Angeles in May "for a final huge hoorah" to mark the end of the series after six seasons.

"And that is where we will farewell her. I want people to remember her as she was. I don't want for the rest of my life people saying `Isn't she Xena? She's aged, hasn't she?' We have to put her to bed."

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