29 Aug

Twelve Questions: David Hartnell

David Hartnell MNZM has been writing celebrity gossip for 51 years and is the only gossip columnist to receive a Queen’s honour. He is ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

David Hartnell - 12 Questions

David Hartnell says the All Blacks, Lorde and Rachel Hunter are not celebs. Photo / Nick Reed

1. Why do we have a love-hate relationship with gossip?
My catch phrase is, “I’m not one to gossip, but … ” because that’s what people always say to me. Men try to pretend it’s their wives who want to be in the gossip columns. Baloney. They love it! Never feel sorry for a celeb who is in the gossip columns, because their agents and PR people get them in there. If you’re in the public eye, that’s part of the deal. You take it or you get out. But the children and families should be left totally alone. They didn’t ask to be involved.

2. What do you think of the Kardashians?
I take my hat off to them because they’ve made something out of nothing. Really it’s just crap TV but the gullible public buys it and they’ve got money oozing out of every pore. Perez Hilton will be working hand in glove with them on this week-long ban. Inside a couple of weeks he’ll have an exclusive. He doesn’t fool me at all. It’s like Caitlyn – he or she does look extraordinary but it’s just the timing of it. Cross-dressing is common in Hollywood.

I’ll only believe he’s serious about being transgender when he actually has the surgery.

3. How did you get into the gossip game?
Through my work as a make-up artist. I was actually the first male make-up artist in Australia. When I applied for the job I had no qualifications but I’d taught myself how to do make-up during my years as a competitive roller-skater and I just went for it. Years later I asked the Revlon woman why she employed me and she said, “You had the ‘it’ factor. You understood show business”. I toured all over Australia for David Jones and Farmers and then on to London and Hollywood. That’s what led me into gossip. In the make-up room you always know the gossip because you have to send a car to pick the person up where they’d stayed the night before.

4. Do your celebrity friends ever feel betrayed by what you write?
I can go and speak to everyone I’ve ever written about. I’ve always been tongue-in-cheek. An exclamation mark or a raised eyebrow is all that’s needed. Today’s gossip columnists are vindictive and nasty. They have no soul. A gossip column should be entertaining and give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a fantasy world they can never enter. There has to be some mystery.

5. Do celebrities have to be on screen?
Yes, somebody who comes into your home. You should never meet a person on radio with a wonderful voice because they look like crap so the whole illusion is broken. I did like Jay-Jay Feeney on Dancing with the Stars … she’s got chutzpah. “Take me as I am.” That’s class. But I’m sorry, All Blacks are not celebs. There’s a total dividing line between a movie star and a sporting star. Musicians are not celebs. Lorde? Good on her, but no. I wrote about Taylor Swift last week, but that was because she appeared on the cover of Vogue. Rachel Hunter – we would never hear of her if she hadn’t married Rod Stewart. They always say “international model”. When was the last time she did any modelling jobs?

6. You’ve been with your partner Somboon for 22 years. How did you meet?
He was working at a Thai restaurant called Tusk. Now he’s the assistant manager at Harvest Whole Foods. If our lives had been reversed, I couldn’t have done what he’s done. I can’t cope with the Thai language. We have a house north of Chiang Mai where we go every year. We both do charity work in orphanages. I teach English, very badly. I feel like Anna out of The King and I sometimes with all the kids sitting around me.

7. What’s it like being gay in 2015 compared with the old days?
Looking back I understand the Hollywood cover-ups like Cary Grant and Rock Hudson because under the law you could be jailed for having sex with someone of the same sex. I have friends a little older than me who will still not admit to being gay because it’s ingrained in them and I respect that. People say to me, “When did you come out?” But I was never in. I got bullied at school terribly. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t stand up for myself more.

8. Why did you become an ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation?
My dearest friend Robert Young passed away two years ago of prostate cancer. He was a theatre director here and on the Gold Coast. By the time it was diagnosed it was too late. Unless you catch it early it goes rampant. Men will do the blood test but they’re too scared to do the digital test. Our catchphrase is, “Give prostate cancer the finger”.

9. How has the gossip game changed with the advent of social media?
Everybody today is their own gossip columnist. Everybody has a cellphone and can put a photo out on social media instantly. You don’t have to wait until next week to see it in a magazine. In my grownups.co.nz column now I give my opinion on the week that was. I also write a Hollywood trivia column for the NZ Woman’s Weekly.

10. Any plans to retire?
I won’t retire because I’m doing a job that I like. The New York Times gossip columnist Liz Smith is 90-something. Extraordinary! There are new stars but they still go through the old agents. Rogers and Cowan have been in Hollywood since the 1940s.

11. Seen any good movies lately?
They don’t make movies like they used to. Why they’d want to remake a classic like the Wizard of Oz or 42nd Street I don’t understand. A classic is a classic – don’t touch it! I don’t see movies in a theatre with the public anymore. It’s not being snotty. The simple reason is people talk through the movie. They come in late, they switch their phone off but it goes on vibrate and out of the corner of your eye you can see a light. The last movie we went to was in a half empty theatre and these people came and sat right beside us! No thank you. I get it on DVD or by some other means.

12. At 71, how is age treating you?
Absolutely fabulous. You can get away with murder – do whatever you like. Everybody worries about growing old but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so go with the flow. I lived in Hollywood where age is key and everyone gets surgery. Joan Collins has a little surgery, often. That’s the key to it. I couldn’t be bothered having cosmetic surgery. I’ve moisturised all my life. Never put soap on your face. It’s for floors, walls and ceilings.

NZ Herald
Aug 27, 2015

10 Jan

Stars in His Eyes

DavidHartnell - Stars in his eyes

Rubbing shoulders with Audrey Hepburn and Princess Grace of Monaco, hanging out with Edith Head, forging a lifelong friendship with Phyllis Diller, and escorting Rita Hayworth to the movies… New Zealand’s first full-time gossip columnist David Hartnell has certainly lived a life of colour and intrigue, writes Nina Nuku.

Whenever David Hartnell shares his fascinating Hollywood anecdotes, he has a habit of apologising for digressing.

But for anyone who enjoys hearing intimate and first-hand tales of Hollywood legends such as Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, you don’t mind the digression at all.

The former make up artist lounges in his quaint Auckland home, with his tiny pooch Miss Liza (as in Minnelli) sitting on his lap, and regurgitates his many intriguing Hollywood stories like a jukebox spitting out the latest hits.

“There was this one time when I was doing Elizabeth Taylor’s make up for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar,” he says with glee. “She was holding her tiny shihtzu dog and we were giving her a matching hair style. Well, she just had her fingernails painted, and she pointed to a box and asked me to pass it to her. She instructed me to open it, and to my amazement, inside was THE diamond,” David says, referring to the infamous Taylor-Burton jewel. The extravagant 68-carat ring caused a worldwide sensation when Richard Burton bought it for his wife. She sold it in 1978 for $US5 million after the famous couple divorced, and the proceeds were used to build a hospital in Botswana.

“She then said to me, ‘Can you please put it on my finger, because I’ve just done my nails.’ Th at was a wow moment.”

Stories like this, involving personal encounters with Hollywood legends, have made David’s life full of colour and intrigue. He also took Rita Hayworth to the movies, and Lauren Bacall confided in him about her romance with James Gardner and swore him to secrecy.

He’s documented these meetings by taking photos of himself with each celebrity he has met – and for good reason.

“People didn’t believe that I was meeting all of these Hollywood stars, so I started taking my photo with them as proof that I had actually met them,” he explains.

A small selection of the celebrities lining the bathroom walls

A small selection of the celebrities lining the bathroom walls

The wide selection of photos of the 70-year old with stars ranging from Joan Collins to Sylvester Stallone is proudly displayed in the home he shares with his partner of 21 years, Somboon Khansuk. Even his toilet is covered with these priceless pictures, with the invitation he received for Elizabeth Taylor’s 60th birthday at Disneyland taking pride of place on the toilet wall.

“A friend of mine says that she can never go to the toilet at my house, because she hates all of those eyes staring at her,” David laughs.

For a boy who was born and bred in Auckland’s suburb of Sandringham, Hollywood seemed impossible to conquer. Growing up, his only taste of showbiz were his frequent theatre visits with his grandparents and his time spent as a champion roller skater.

“I’d never thought about going to Hollywood or rubbing shoulders with movie stars, because that world seemed a million light years away from littleol’ New Zealand; Hollywood was an untouchable world,” he says. “I learned very quickly that Hollywood was never going to come to me. I had to go to it!”

David found his way to Hollywood through the make up brand Revlon. A move to Sydney saw David become Revlon’s first in-store male make up artist. Th is led to stints in Hong Kong and London where
he was the make up artist for the 1970 Miss World Pageant). Finally he made his way to New York and Los Angeles and started to interview the celebrities he met.


David Hartnell and Phyllis Diller

David Hartnell and Phyllis Diller

David Hartnell and Edith Head

David Hartnell and Edith Head

He gained access to Hollywood’s elite through his close friendships with US comedienne Phyllis Diller and legendary costume designer Edith Head, who won eight Academy Awards and designed gowns for classic films like All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard.

“I met Phyllis in 1965, when she visited Sydney and I did her make up. Aft er we met, she gave me her address in Los Angeles and told me to call her whenever I was in town. Phyllis was an old-school comedienne, I never heard her use a four-letter word on or off the stage. She was disappointed with the comics that came aft er her and who were crude, like Joan Rivers and Roseanne Barr. She said there was no need for that kind of humour.” David was a huge fan of Edith Head, and met her the old-fashioned way.

“I was in my 20s, and I simply wrote her a letter and told her I was coming to Los Angeles and wanted to meet. She said, not a problem. When we met, we just clicked and instantly become close friends. She was so giving and warm. I stayed at her house a number of times. Carrie Fisher now lives there, with her mother Debbie Reynolds living in the little gate house in the garden.

David Hartnell and Audrey Hepburn

David Hartnell and Audrey Hepburn

David Hartnell and Lauren Bacall

David Hartnell and Lauren Bacall

I think Debbie lives there just so she can keep a close eye on her daughter.” David was oft en Edith’s “plus one” at events and accompanied her to many Hollywood VIP parties.

“Edith rang me one day and said, ‘What are you doing tonight? Can you be my partner to this thing?’”

The “thing” Edith referred to was a private party for Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco, a true Hollywood princess and one of the most famous women who ever lived. “As soon as Edith arrived, Princess Grace made a beeline for her. Because I was Edith’s partner, we had a little chit chat.”

David Hartnell and Lauren Bacall

David is still captivated by that encounter. “Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn are the three actresses who, whenever they walked into a room, the world seemed to stop. They were just so glamorous and serene.”

With such a strong connection to Hollywood, it’s no surprise that David became a celebrity gossip columnist. Th e New Zealand Woman’s Weekly was the first magazine to off er David a permanent gossip column in New Zealand in 1976 and since then he’s appeared on many TV and radio shows talking about Hollywood. Perhaps David’s biggest coup was a world-exclusive interview with Rock Hudson’s gay lover Marc Christian aft er the Hollywood heartthrob died of AIDS. But he 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 with such an honour.

“I found people in the industry would tell me things, and then they’d go, ‘I should not have told you that.’ I never broke their confidence. Why do I want to cut the cord? If you’re a friend of mine, then you’re a friend of mine for life.”

In terms of friendships, not many can say that Elizabeth Taylor was a mate. “She was English, wild and wacky and swore like a sailor,” he says.

As for Bette Davis, she wasn’t the easiest celebrity to be around, David says.

David Hartnell and Betty White

David Hartnell and Betty White

“Bette was a hard cookie, but I wouldn’t call her a bitch. For a woman of her time to tell the studios to go and screw themselves was a brave thing to do, and I admired that. I will put up with bullshit and jellybeans if they come up with the goods, and Bette Davis always came up with the goods.”

David still has a passion for Hollywood. His office is filled with tinsel-town memorabilia and he has an extensive library of Hollywood books and hundreds of autobiographies. He still writes an online gossip column and collates a Hollywood trivia quiz for the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. He’s also a patron and ambassador for three charities close to his heart: the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand, Prostate Cancer Foundation and an organisation trying to save Auckland’s St James Theatre.

“The biggest regret I have in my life is hearing all those people put me down for doing what I was doing, and saying that I never met the Hollywood stars. I wonder where those people are today, ‘cause I’m still doing what I love.”

And despite having met the world’s most famous men and women, it’s surprising who David’s favourite celebrity is.

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse

“My favourite star is Mickey Mouse; many generations have fallen in love with him, he’s a survivor and he’s never turned into a rat.”

Glory Days Magazine Jan 2015

07 Dec

Breakfast Coffee with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key

Breakfast Coffee with Prime Minister John Key

Breakfast Coffee with Prime Minister John Key

Last Friday Somboon and I had the pleasure of having a one-on-one breakfast coffee with our New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, at his favourite coffee shop Rosie’s in Parnell Auckland. It wasn’t a political catch-up, in fact quite the opposite, among many things we discussed was his experience on the David Letterman TV show in New York and how David Letterman hates flying. It reminded me he that David has the same fear as Steven Spielberg, who does not fly at all – well only when it’s an absolutely necessary.

Somboon and I were extremely honoured, that Prime Minister Key would take time out of his extremely busy day to have a long over due catch-up with us over an early morning coffee. Can you imagine another Prime Minister around the world doing this — I think not!

On a personal note – I feel that Prime Minister John Key is the best New Zealand Prime Minister in my life time, although I did like the late Sir Robert Muldoon’’s theatrical flair. Over the past 50 years I’ve interviewed international celebrities around the world, I put Prime Minister Key up there with the ones that shone the brightest. This was a morning coffee we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Grown-up’s column Monday 8th December 2014

01 Nov

Returning to glory

~ by Jess Lee

Long flight: St James Charitable Trust ambassador David Hartnell.

Long flight: St James Charitable Trust ambassador David Hartnell.

THE TRUST that fought to save the St James is thrilled the theatre’s curtain looks set to rise once more.

Big plans: Artist's impression showing the Queen St view of a restored St James Theatre and neighbouring 39-storey residential tower, dubbed the St James Suites, at 302 Queen St.

Big plans: Artist’s impression showing the Queen St view of a restored St James Theatre and neighbouring 39-storey residential tower, dubbed the St James Suites, at 302 Queen St.


The St James Charitable Trust, formed by Bob Kerridge, has lobbied for about three years to see the grand old Auckland dame get back on her feet.

The historic theatre at 302 Queen St is to be restored and a neighbouring 39-level residential tower built after it was bought by family owned Reliant Holdings.
Kerridge hopes the trust will be involved in some capacity in the restoration.

“We are thrilled a buyer has come on board who is interested in the restoration of the St James to see her return to her former glory.”

Any concerns the trust had about the future of the building are gone, he says.

The theatre was built in 1928 but closed in 2007 because of damage from a fire in a neighbouring building.

Generations of Auckland’s have fond memories of attending concerts and shows there including a screening of Jane Campion’s The Piano, the musical Cats, heavy metal band Moorhead, Nick Cave and members of the Finn family.

The development, estimated to cost about $175 million, will include a three-level retail precinct and 195 car parks.

Restoration of the theatre, including the heritage-listed bell tower, was confirmed by its new owners last week.

It’s reopening, subject to safety and earthquake strengthening work, could be set for 2018 when the whole project is earmarked for completion.

Trust ambassador David Hartnell is overjoyed by the plans.

“I’m delighted that this family sees the potential of bringing back an iconic theatre and one of the best theatres that we have in New Zealand.”

It is a category one heritage building meaning all work will be scrutinised by Heritage New Zealand. Funding is yet to be agreed but it is thought Relianz Holdings, Auckland Council and the Auckland Notable properties Trust will each contribute.

Kerridge says the St James Auckland Charitable Trust will likely help with funding as well.

“We need to know a little bit more about the conditions and so forth before we can make any decisions, but we will support what needs to be done and what should be done to bring the theatre back to life.”

Consents have already been approved for the high-rise development, to be called the St James Suites, on the adjacent site.

Hartnell says he has no issue with the 39-level tower.

“I’ve always said to build on top of the theatre – don’t destroy it. High-rise are obviously the way everything is going, so that’s perfectly fine.

“From the plans that I’ve seen it looks superb. They’re going to bring that right back to the frontage, which thank God is still there, so that’s fantastic.”

Heritage New Zealand northern general manager Sherry Reynolds says the theatre is in urgent need of attention.

But many of its unique original interior features remain intact, she says.

“The St James Theatre is a significant heritage asset for Auckland.”


Grand dame: Elemental Construction Solutions’ Mike Gibbon, Auckland Notable Properties Trust’s Steve Bielby and Auckland Mayor Len Brown announce plans to develop the St James site and restore the theatre.

Auckland City Harbour News”

26 Sep

Digital examinations ‘no big deal’ for men


Get checked: Celebrity gossip columnist David Hartnell has become an  ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand in memory of his friend Robert Young who died of prostate cancer

Get checked: Celebrity gossip columnist David Hartnell has become an ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand in memory of his friend Robert Young who died of prostate cancer

Spare your blushes, men, and get checked for prostate cancer.
That’s the message celebrity gossip columnist David Hartnell wants to get across during the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand awareness month.

The Westmere resident lost his best friend of more than 50 years, theatre director and choreographer Robert Young, to prostate cancer in December last year.

“The last six months of his life it just took hold. It is just unbelievable aggressive,” Hartnell says.

“He handled it with grace dignity and humour – I don’t know if I would have handled it as well as he did really.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand men. About 3000 are diagnosed and more than 600 die each year.

young announced he had terminal prostate cancer in 2012 in a bid to encourage men to get regular checkups.

“Too many men put off going to see their doctor. I wasn’t one of them, but I still got caught out.”

Men should undergo annual prostate specific antigen blood tests and digital rectal exams starting at age 45 or earlier.

Having the test could save your life, Hartnell says.

“Men just don’t talk about prostate cancer. The digital rectal exam still puts so many off getting tested but it’s a matter of seconds – it’s no big deal.”

Hartnell became an ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand this year in Young’s memory.

“I spent the last 10 days with Robert and I told him I was going to do something in regards to prostate cancer, so he knew before he died that I was going to do it for him.”

He is holding a celebrity trivia quiz night this month to raise funds for the foundation’s awareness campaign Blue September.

All funds raised will go towards supporting the foundation’s helplines, research and public education about prostate and testicular cancer.

The Sky Tower turned blue on Monday to mark the beginning of Blue September and will be lit up for the whole month to help raise awareness.

From Auckland City Harbour News Sept 2014

by Jess Lee


05 Sep

David Hartnell’s Blooming Surprise

David's Garden

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.

David's Garden

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

30 Aug

VAC Patron Profile Series: David Hartnell MNZM


David Hartnell

David Hartnell

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.

Young David Hartnell

Young David Hartnell

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.

Auckland Deluxe Roller Skating Rink

Auckland Deluxe Roller Skating Rink

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.

Bob and Dave La Rue

Bob and Dave La Rue

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.

Saturday night show on Radio Pacific

Saturday night show on Radio Pacific

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.

David Hartnell

David Hartnell

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.

David Hartnell

David Hartnell

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 Hartnell & Somboon

David Hartnell & Somboon

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

21 Jun

David’s Triple Celebration

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly


David Hartnell - NZ Woman's Weekly Jun 2014

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

David Hartnell NZWW-JUNE-2014

Aroha Awarau