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