(Reuters) - New Zealand not only has its youngest female prime minister with the rise to power of center-left Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, but a renegade new “first bloke” who is a national celebrity in his own right.
Clarke Gayford, who hosts his own fishing television show, has already broken the mold of his predecessors, stepping in to defend his partner against “scaremongering old dinos” including one political rival who made a disparaging reference to Ardern and “lipstick on a pig”.
On Twitter, Gayford has thrown fishing buddy jokes to Winston Peters, the leader of the small nationalist party that decided Ardern’s political fate and teased a nation that waited a month for an election result: “heading out of reception for a while..... things always seem to happen when I do this.”
Gayford’s social media followers are likely to surge following the decision this week of Peters’ New Zealand First Party to throw its support behind 37-year-old Ardern and her Labour Party to form government.
Political analysts say the pair are a unique double act in a small country where the partners of the previous two female leaders, Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley, maintained a low profile.
“This political power couple will be interesting to watch,” said Grant Duncan, associate professor at Massey University in Auckland. “They’re both clearly very media savvy, both independent and have public profiles that were built up before they became a couple.”
The couple met four years ago when Gayford, 39, went to complain to a member of parliament about the then National Party government’s proposed changes to security legislation. He bumped into Ardern, a rising star of the Labour Party, they had coffee and were living together not long after.
Gayford’s television show, Fish of the Day, sees him traveling around the Pacific, fishing and finding recipes for his catches. The series has been sold into 20 countries and won a gold award at the Houston International Film Festival last year.
Gayford, who grew up on a farm without a television in summer, has a long history in broadcasting across television and radio. He’s an occasional guest on weekly talkback radio show The Panel.
On election night last month, Gayford admitted to being “a little on edge” as he brought out barbecued sausages and fish bites - made, naturally, from a 42kg sea bass he caught off the east coast - to reporters staking out the couple’s home in Auckland.
And he told Radio New Zealand recently that he’s still coming to terms with elements of his new life, including a security detail unfamiliar to somebody who spends much of his time out on the open water: “It’s been a hell of a ride.”
Reporting by Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Lincoln Feast