When did your love of gardening begin?
When I lived in London back in the ’60s and had one little window box. I knew nothing about gardening then and not much more all these years later. I used to buy packets of seeds and sprinkle them into the window box. Nobody was more surprised than I when they grew and blossomed.
How did you learn the art of gardening?
Believe me, there is no art whatsoever in my gardening – it’s all hit and miss. In no way am I a slave to it. However, I do spend more time in my garden than a Kardashian marriage typically lasts. If I like a particular plant, I always buy two because I’m bound to kill one. But I do grow orchids on our deck and have a lot of success with them.
Why do you enjoy it?
Whenever I’ve had enough of everything, I head out out the garden. There is nothing more relaxing than having a scratch around it. Also, when you’ve finished, you can always see what you’ve done, which is really rewarding.
What’s your favourite plant in your garden?
I like agapanthus, even though people say they are motorway flowers. They remind me of Las Vegas showgirls’ head gear as they blow gently in the wind. I love their stark white and dark inky-blue colours. I also like cactus plants – they’re spiky on the outside and soft on the inside, rather like a gossip columnist. Over they years, I have had some amazing cactus flowers, which only last about 12 hours.
When is your favourite time of year in the garden?
Spring, when everything is about to burst forth. I have been known to stick the odd artificial flower in a pot or two in the garden during the winter months to give it a bit of colour.
Have you ever had a gardening disaster?
Does the Pope have a balcony? There are far too many to remember. I’m not a slave to my garden, so if it’s a disaster, I just suck it up and get on with it.
New Zealand Womam’s Weekly
David Harold Ward Hartnell MNZM is a journalist, media personality and gossip columnist whose syndicated columns have run in magazines and newspapers around the world for over 40 years. His gossip column currently features every week on www.grownups.co.nz, he writes a weekly Hollywood Trivia and Q&A for New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and has a column in every issue of Ponsonby News. He is well known for his catchphrases, “My Lips are Sealed!” and “I’m not one to gossip, but!” It has been said that he never repeats gossip so you need to listen very carefully the first time! He has written nine books, his most recent, David Hartnell’s Celebrity Quiz Book was released in
May. He is the Ambassador of the St James Saviours, a society dedicated to saving and renovating the St James Theatre in Queen Street.
In June this year he took up the role as Ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand. The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand presented him with a Scroll of Honour in 1998, the Fullers Entertainment Award in 2013 and in 2009 he became a Patron.
In 2011 he was honoured as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM). He has stars on the Greymouth Walk of Fame and the Boulevard of Dreams in Orewa. Hartnell is style consultant for Citizen Watches.
David Hartnell was born David Harold Segetin in Auckland on 29 June 1944 to John (Mick) Segetin and Georgina née Stott. At the time his father was a petty officer at sea on the HMNZS Archilles and it would be another eight months before he held his son. Mick walked out on the family in 1948 and when Georgina remarried in 1953 David took his stepfather’s surname and become David Ward. His maternal grandfather was a Quaker and had been imprisoned in Mt Eden Jail during WWII as a conscientious objector. His grandmother’s brother is Earl of Mt Edgcumbe in Plymouth England. In 1953 his mother and stepfather adopted a baby girl, Maryanne. David grew up in a state house in Mt Roskill and attended Owairaka Primary School and Mt Albert College.
Asthmatic as a child, he began visiting the Auckland Deluxe Roller Skating Rink at the top of Khyber Pass and by the age of 10 was practicing figure skating. David was soon competing in solo and pair competitions, winning national titles including the Men’s Singles in 1962, the Freestyle Pairs and runner up in the Men’s Singles. In 1959 he came second in the Dance Pairs at the World Roller Skating Championships in Christchurch. He developed a flair for costume and make-up, sewing and decorating his sequined outfits and props. David was also fascinated in magic and joined the New Zealand Society of Magicians. “My grandparents took me to all the shows at His Majesty’s Theatre, the Civic and the St James. My grandfather loved vaudeville shows so I probably get it a lot from him and I’m very grateful,” he says.
David was badly bullied at school and on turning 15 joined the work force, first at a Four Square grocery store then in his grandfather’s factory, Venlite Industries, one of the first Venetian blind manufacturing companies in New Zealand. For a year in Christchurch he coached at the skating rink, made hamburgers, sold stationary and worked in a tomato sauce factory.
Back in Auckland in 1966 he teamed up with a dancer, the late Robert Young, to create the comedy drag act, Bob and Dave La Rue, miming to a 1953 recording of Ethyl Merman and Mary Martin. Agent Phillip Warren booked them into the Peter Pan Cabaret, the Colony Club and Surf City. They opened Mojo’s Nightclub with a Diana Ross and the Supremes take-off.
The next year Hartnell sailed to Kings Cross in Sydney and landed a job with Revlon Cosmetics as Australia’s first male make-up artist, discovering that he had a flair for publicity. In 1967 he took a job at Gala of London Cosmetics.
That same year he changed his surname to Hartnell, after Sir Norman Hartnell, a British fashion designer and dressmaker to the Queen Mother and the creator of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress and Coronation gown. The two Hartnells became friends when David settled in London. David feels that his new surname has served him well and says, “You can say anything you like about me but please spell Hartnell with two L’s. It looks extremely ugly with only one.”
On his way to England in 1969, David stopped off in Hong Kong and worked freelance for a local television station, helping them with their move into colour. He had been commissioned to apply makeup for opera Diva Dame Joan Sutherland on Australian Television so had a good understanding of the medium.
In London he settled into Hamstead and later the prestigious Eaton Place in Belgravia, finding employment with the Dorothy Gray Company doing promotions in department stores and hair salons. He soon became their head makeup artist. In 1970 they were contracted to do the Miss World Contest at the Royal Albert Hall. He began writing a column for the Warrington Guardian which led to several books on makeup and a set of skin-care cards.
David eventually went freelance. He had a regular spot on a Scottish Television talk show and designed the facial features for store mannequins in Britain and Italy. He created the faces for the glam rock band, Sweet, and later he would design the makeup for the New Zealand band Ragnarock.
After four years in England David took a job with the Maybelline Cosmetic Company in Memphis, Tennessee, marketing their Fabulash Mascara. He moved to their New York branch then to Los Angeles. It was while living in Hollywood that David began interviewing local celebrities as a gossip columnist.
In 1974 he presented a retrospective photographic Face Art exhibition in Auckland and by 1975 had returned to New Zealand to work on Max Cryer’s television talk show Town Cryer. This led him to becoming the makeup
artist on Ray Woolf’s Two on One and eventually presenting a live gossip segment.
He did the Saturday night show on Radio Pacific and later took the weekday afternoon slot, interviewing local personalities. He presented a gossip segment three times weekly on Alice Worsley’s Radio i program and appeared with her on New Zealand’s first-ever television shopping show. They broadcast live from Beverly Hills and Universal Studios interviewing celebrities such as Mel Brooks, Eva Gabor, Jackie Collins and Phyllis Diller. His Hollywood gossip columns appeared in NZ Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Day, Metro Magazine and the Sunday News. From 1981 he began publishing his yearly list of New Zealand’s best and worst dressed celebrities.
In 1978 David was presenting a school holiday show at the Farmers Department Store, dressing the children up as characters from The Wizard of Oz, when security staff received a homophobic bomb threat. “After that I never did any shows for children again – a shame, really.”
He managed Miss New Zealand Sue Nicholson in 1974 and in 1975 co-judged the first Miss New Zealand Drag Queen Contest at the Peter Pan Cabaret in Auckland with Carmen Rupe. He was the chairman of the judges for the Miss New Zealand Contest between 1982 and 1987.
He continued over the years to work as makeup artist for many well known television shows including The Billy T. James Show, The Early Bird Show, Good Morning, The Ray Woolf Show and The Express Report, New Zealand’s first gay-orientated TV series. He presented The David Hartnell Show on Triangle TV in 2004.
David McPhail impersonated him in a satirical segment called Hartnell’s Parliament in their 1981 McPhail & Gadsby show. David even appeared in one episode as a mirror image of McPhail’s impersonation. He started presenting his Fickle Finger of Fate Award on the Saunders and Sinclair TV show in 1985. The prize went to someone who had made a memorable goof the week before.
In 1994, while recording radio interviews in Los Angeles, David experienced a major earthquake that wrecked his hotel room and destroyed the nearby freeway overpass. 1997 was a difficult year with a bout of hepatitis followed by a back injury after having been struck by Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge’s Chevrolet during the filming of Fresh Up in the Deep End.
During 2008-9 David presented a series of armchair chats at the VAC Meet ‘N’ Greets, interviewing some of our colourful members such as Marian Burns, Tom Sharplin, Jon Zealando and Shane Hales. Recently he was interviewed on The Beat Goes On by Gerard Smith.
David lives with his partner Somboon and their Pekingese dog Miss Liza. He has an adopted sister, Maryanne, a half brother, Tom and a half sister, Pam. He has four nephews and two nieces. In June of this year David celebrated a triple event—his seventieth birthday, fifty years of writing celebrity gossip and his twenty-first anniversary with Somboon.
Much of the information and photos in this article come from his wonderful memoir, Memoirs of a Gossip Columnist, published in 2011. It’s well worth a read. But more than that, my lips are sealed!
The Variety Artists Magazine
- Michael Colonna
New Zealand Woman’s Weekly
HE MIGHT BE 70 THIS MONTH, BUT DAVID’S NOT ONE TO MAKE A FUSS
Legendary gossip columnist David Hartnell has spent years being a guest at exclusive parties attended by Hollywood royalty. He met Princess Grace Kelly at one function and was even invited to Elizabeth Taylor’s star-studded 60th bash, held at Disneyland.
But when it comes to his own 70th birthday celebrations later this month, he won’t be making any fuss. In fact, David hates birthdays.
“When I turn 70, I’m not leaving the house,” he exclaims. “Nobody’s coming here, there will be no cake and no singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ – none of that rubbish.”
Although one might assume the Auckland-born-and-raised personality is pessimistic about all milestones, his face lights up when he talks about the two treasures in his life that he believes are worth celebrating.
“This year marks 50 years of my being in the entertainment industry and it’s been 21 years since my partner and I got together,” he says proudly. David’s long-term love is Somboon Khansuk (47), whom David met soon after Somboon moved to New Zealand from Thailand.
“We hit it off straight away. It was just right,” David says with a smile, as he glances at Somboon. “He had no idea who I was and I liked that. The only celebrity he had ever heard of was Michael Jackson.”
The couple moved in together after three months, and as Somboon spoke limited English at the time, he brushed up on the language by watching Fawlty Towers and Coronation Street with David. They now live with their pooch Liza in a quaint Auckland villa, filled with hundreds of photos of David with stars, and a vast collection of memorabilia and books about Hollywood.
“We’ve lasted this long because we are best friends,” Somboon tells.
Somboon is Buddhist and David holds no religious views, but despite their differences, the couple have enjoyed a lasting friendship. Both their families have embraced their relationship. They’ve even bought a home in Thailand and visit it each year. But despite celebrating 21 years together, and David being one of the first openly gay men on New Zealand television, he says marriage is not for him and Somboon.
“We’ve crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s with wills and legal documents, so why get married? I think it’s great that people can, but I’ve never been one to wave any flags,” David tells.
Landing a job as a make-up artist at Revlon in Australia in the 1960s led David into the world of celebrity, and eventually into writing.
“I’d always wanted to be in show business,” says David, who had a passion for magic tricks and roller skating as a teenager. “I can’t sing, I can’t dance, so writing about celebrities was the nearest I could get to being a part of this world.”
The Weekly was the first magazine to offer David a permanent gossip column in New Zealand in 1976. “Jean Wishart was the editor then. She is what Hollywood would describe as a classy dame.”
These days, David continues to write a weekly Hollywood quiz column and compiles the annual Best Dressed List.
Celebrating 50 years as a gossip columnist, David says the pinnacle of his career was receiving a New Zealand Order of Merit from the Queen in 2011 for services to entertainment. He’s the only gossip columnist in the world to be bestowed such an honour.
The writer says his gossip is tongue in cheek, and he always sticks to his self-enforced rules. He never talks about stars who are pregnant until the baby is born, in case something goes wrong. “As soon as the baby is born, trumpets are blaring,” he says. And he always takes pictures of himself standing with every Hollywood celebrity he comes across.
He learned a valuable lesson when he attended the premiere of Total Recall, starring then-unknown actress Sharon Stone. He didn’t bother getting a photo with the now world famous star.
“When you attend these functions, you have to take a photo with anything that moves, because you don’t know how famous they might become!”
On David’s frequent trips to Los Angeles, he visits the cemetery where many of his celebrity friends now lie, often spending extra time at the grave of actress Eva Gabor.
“She was a huge star,” he says mournfully. “Now her final resting place is weathered, the gold lettering is fading, and all that is left is a piece of marble.”
During each celebrity interview that David conducts, he asks how they would like to be remembered. When asked the same question, David thinks of Eva’s grave and responds, “The only people I truly want to remember me are Somboon, my family and close friends. They are what is important
New Zealand Womans Weekly
After 50 years following the stars. The celebrity columnist is finally in the spotlight
Gossip columnist David Hartnell has written many times about Hollywood stars being lost for words at award ceremonies.
But it was his turn to be speechless and choke back emotion on stage when he was presented with the prestigious Fullers Entertainment Award.
In front of a crowd of Kiwi showbiz greats, the 69-year-old received the honour at the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand’s Benny Awards.
The veteran columnist, who has met screen icons such as the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly during his years working as a writer of celebrity news and also make-up artist to the stars, says being honoured by his Kiwi peers far outweighed the thrill of meeting any overseas star.
The annual award is presented to someone who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the New Zealand entertainment industry, but is not an entertainer.
It came out of the blue to the Weekly’s Hollywood trivia guru, whose first brush with fame was giving comedienne Phyllis Diller a makeover in 1967.
“Winning was a total surprise to me,” says David. “I know people always say that but, for once in my life, I was speechless – that doesn’t usually happen.”
This year David will celebrate 50 years in show business. In those five decades, he has seen a lot of change in the local entertainment scene, including the coverage of Tamati Coffey’s wedding to partner Tim Smith in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly in 2011 – the first gay wedding on the cover of any Kiwi women’s magazine.
Although he’s not keen to tie the knot with his longtime partner Somboon Khansuk, David, who was one of the first openly gay men on Kiwi TV screens on his show The Express Report, was delighted when the Marriage Amendment bill was passed last year.
“I never thought it would happen,” says David.
“My niece is 15, and she got an invite to go to a wedding the other day and she had to have a look to see if it was a gay one or a straight one and I thought ‘How interesting.’
“My partner Somboon and I have been together 21 years and we don’t want to get married. We’ve crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s with wills and legal documents, so why get married? But I think it’s great that people can.
“My career was probably stomped on at times because of [being gay], but it’s other people’s problem, not mine. I never came out of the closet because I was never in it. It’s part of me; I just get on with life.”
His home is covered in photographs of the stars he has met working as a celebrity columnist in New Zealand and the UK, but there is one famous person he stills wants to meet.
“I would love to meet the Queen. Nobody knows how to work celebrity better than her,” he says.
The only gossip columnist in the Commonwealth to have been honoured by Her Majesty, David, who became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2010, is showing no signs of retiring.
He’s working on his ninth book, and also stays busy working on his Weekly trivia column and walking his dogs, Australian terrier Miss Cele (11) and Pekingese Miss Liza (2) – who surprisingly, he laughs, isn’t named after actress Liza Minnelli.
David says he was particularly proud to be working in the New Zealand entertainment scene when 17-year-old Lorde was nominated for four Grammys.
“Anything is possible in the entertainment business. Lorde is amazing. It’s great that a young woman can get a number one hit, but also appear on Ellen, the number-one talk show in the US,” he says.
“That’s the magic of show business, those stories of overnight success, and that’s why I love what I do. I’m lucky that my job is still my hobby and my passion.”
10 Questions with …
Gossip columnist David Hartnell has seen, and told, it all. The Westmere author was honoured with The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand’s Fullers Entertainment Award for his 49 years working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. Reporter Jess Lee sat down with him to find out some of his own secrets.
1. How does it feel to be recognised for your work?
It was a great honour and for once in my life I was gobsmacked. I certainly never thought that would happen when I started out writing gossip. People said you can’t make a living out of writing gossip and here I am nearly 50 years later.
2. Why do you think you have been so successful?
I woke up in New Zealand and thought – they’re not going to come to me, I’ve got to go to them. You must be where it’s happening and that’s what I did. I’ve never written salacious gossip – I’ve always written tongue-incheek. There are other gossip columnists but I find them too vicious. There’s only been one celebrity in that 30-odd years that has complained and she’s not worth even mentioning.
3. What are some of your tricks of the trade?
The worst thing you can say to a celebrity is: ‘‘tell me about yourself’’ because they don’t want to hear that – so do your homework. There are areas that you don’t write about. You never write about anybody that’s pregnant because by the time it goes to print they could have lost the baby. Never take things for granted, never assume anything. Agents and assistants will say to me that entertainers won’t talk about this and that and then you get there and they’ll really talk about anything. It’s just the way that you ask them really.
4. Who or what stands out as a highlight of your career so far?
Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn was just beautiful, she is one of the most serene women I have ever met. One of the things that sticks out was when I was doing Elizabeth Taylor’s makeup I ended up holding the million dollar ring that Richard Burton had given her. It’s just one of those things that happened in a working situation so who would have thought I would have held that.
5. Is there still a person you haven’t met that you would like to?
I would love to meet the Queen. I would probably ask her about the Royal Command Performances that she’s had over the years and who she likes as an entertainer. Does she make the list or do agents put it together and she just goes?
6. What do you think of the calibre of celebrity today compared to back then?
In 10 years’ time Miley Cyrus won’t be around. I mean she’s a go-getter, she’s changed her image, she’s out there and we’re sitting in New Zealand talking about her now so she’s a good marketer. But they won’t have the longevity these people – even Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, George Clooney. Never feel sorry for the celebrities in the gossip columns because it’s up to the agents to get them in there.
7. Who would be your five dream dinner party guests?
I would have the Queen, Noel Coward [English playwright, director, actor and singer] because he’d be witty, Elizabeth Taylor because she was just so wonderful, she was always good fun. Phyllis Diller for the jokes and I’d probably have my dear friend Eva Gabor [Hungarianborn American socialite and actress], she was divine so she would add that elegance to the party. Not Zsa Zsa [Gabor, Eva’s younger actress sister] she would be far too bitchy at a dinner party.
8. How did you end up in the entertainment business?
My grandparents took me to all the shows at His Majesty’s Theatre, The Civic and the St James so that that really gave me the grounding. My grandfather really should have been on the stage. He loved vaudeville shows so I probably get it a lot from him and I’m very grateful. My parents also took me to roller skating and I just loved it. That’s where I really got into makeup because we did shows.
9. Why have you maintained such a commitment to the industry?
Entertainment is the vein of blood of any country that is down, any country that’s at war. You can get completely lost in a performance and that’s what a production should do. I love to go to a theatre with a red curtain that goes up, I love an orchestra pit. I very seldom go backstage because I want that magic to be there. I don’t really like reviewing stage shows because I know what effort has been put into it and it’s only my opinion. Never read a review for theatre or for a movie, just go.
10. Where to from here?
People always ask me if I’m going to retire. I’m not because what else am I going to do? I have a new book coming out next year, that will be my ninth book.
AUCKLAND CITY HARBOUR NEWS, OCTOBER 30, 2013