“The funny thing was I heard ‘Kochie and Mel’ and assumed ‘Mal’ must have been the man and Kochie must have been the woman!” he recalls.
“I didn’t know who was who because I didn’t have return vision so it was all blind to me. But we had a fun chat and the Australian accents were a new challenge for me. So it was a one-off thing until I got a call from Adam (Boland, producer) asking me back.”
That was back in 2003. Now, ten years later he’s ready for the yet another Oscars night.
Aspen had been a showbiz correspondent for UK shows GMTV and This Morning for over 10 years when Seven’s bureau chief Mike Amor asked him to talk about the Academy Awards.
He got his UK break after introducing Princess Diana to step aerobics.
“While I was in London I was asked to be on a morning show demonstrating step aerobics, which was new at the time. They liked the American with the mullet and asked me to be their celebrity fitness correspondent!” he laughs.
But his interest in entertainment emerged watching Regis Philbin on The Morning Show (US).
“I used to go and sit as a teenager in the audience and watch in awe. He was the master technician. He could talk to his co-host, watch the stage manager and producer, the studio audience, engage the television audience, talk to his guest, throw to a commercial…. he had so much going on in his ear yet he still managed to be funny and charming and hospitable,” he says.
“So I would study him and go to the free tapings.”
He also recalls how friendly Philbin was with fans in public. Little did he know it was a lesson that would fare him well later in life.
Nelson now makes daily appearances on Sunrise which, depending on timezone differences, are either 2-5pm or 4-7pm in New York. For each live cross he has an earpiece listening to a Director in Sydney and a monitor to view. Sunrise is his main client and he never under-estimates the opportunity to speak to a wide audience, even to the point of fans relying on his segment as part of their morning ritual.
“They want to know that at this time they’re going to get this information. They want to know what they can count on such and such, at a time and they plan their days around it. It’s consistently flattering to be that important at someone’s most intimate time. So I want to look my best and bring my best,” Aspen insists.
“I have never been late, I’ve never had a sick day, I’ve had very little ‘off’ time. When I take time off it’s because I’m either running a marathon or it’s some important family issue.
“My pet peeve is lateness. I don’t date people who are late, I don’t have friends who are late. I could not have made a career in television if I was late. You can be an hour early for a live shot but you can’t be a second late for one.”
He is also an avid Twitter user, but is torn about whether he is ‘giving away’ stories for free, and there is pressure to follow his 13,000+ fans.
“I tweet madly all day long, I love it. If I’m doing Sunrise 3 hours a day and there’s breaking news I can get on the air and break it. But if it’s the other 21 hours of the day I can’t, so Twitter allows me to do that,” he says.
“TV Tonight follows 0 people and Nelson follows 0 people! But people get belligerent about it, ‘Why don’t you follow me?’ But if I follow one then I have to follow them all.
“I do answer 99% of the tweets that are asked of me, unless they’re bullying.”
Despite being pushed for ‘war stories’ of Hollywood interviews gone wrong, Aspen doesn’t disclose very much (Meg Ryan and Kevin Spacey are mentioned in passing). But maybe that’s because he protects his reputation.
Sunrise Executive Producer says of him, “There is only one Nelson Aspen. He’s lived and breathed entertainment for most of his life. Without giving away age secrets, Nelson spent decades as an actor himself. When he reports celebrity news, it’s first hand. He knows these guys. And when there is breaking news in the world of showbiz, there is no one better.”
Aspen says publicists know him because he’s been knocking around for 20 years.
“I’m trusted, I’m not going to sabotage anybody. They know they’re going to get a fair, fun interview. So it makes my job so much easier. And the stars themselves know that because they’re prepped ahead of time.
“I will always remember Russell Crowe coming to me in a hotel to introduce himself and saying he is a fan of my work. That’s just crazy. It’s unforgettable stuff to me. But I have many wonderful, unrelated work experiences.
“It’s the away-from-work perks like meeting the Australian tourist on a subway in New York. Or going to the Children’s Cancer Institute with Melissa Doyle.”
He counts his friendship with Doyle as his highlight of ten years with Sunrise.
“She is my satellite sister. As corny as that sounds we Skype, we talk and text all day long, we are soulmates,” he says.
“Her kids call me Uncle Nelson.
“My friendship with Mel is my #1 awesome thing about the job.”
Another is being regularly recognised by Aussie tourists and ex-pats.
“When I bump into Australians everybody, or almost everybody, knows Sunrise. There’s that wonderful recognition. It’s not a creepy celebrity thing, it’s ‘Hey! G’day! Hey Nelson!’ And social media has only heightened that into a friendly, non-threatening -and as corny as it sounds- “Sunrise family” kind of thing,” he says.
“It’s those interactions with people who don’t know you. It’s really Regis Philbin-esque.”
Nelson Aspen returns to the Oscars Red Carpet for Sunrise on Monday.