That Guy

That Guy is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Local man of mystery

By Cliff Taylor

Leigh Hart's new show takes him to such mysterious places as Egypt, Stonehenge and the Andean jungle. Photo / Supplied
Leigh Hart's new show takes him to such mysterious places as Egypt, Stonehenge and the Andean jungle. Photo / Supplied

The truth is out there.

Or, just as likely, not. "Probably a lot of it is bullshit," admits hyperactive sausage salesman and intrepid mystery-hunter Leigh Hart.

It's this hard-nosed attitude which has seen Hart crucified by Bigfoot believers after filming the first episode of his upcoming TV One series Leigh Hart's Mysterious Planet at a Bigfoot conference in Ohio, where he introduced the world to the "Waitakere Yeti" and suggested the elusive Bigfoot was actually a hairy midget with enormous feet.

"I made the mistake of writing a column about it. Because it's all online they went nuts. They've been tearing me to bits and abusing me [since]. I'm public enemy number one. If I went back they'd probably lynch me."

Hart reckons the Bigfoot episode is the most confrontational of his mockumentary series, debuting this Friday, which also shines a shaky light on the infamous Roswell UFO incident, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness monster, El Dorado and Stonehenge.

The series is a piss-take of many dodgy conspiracy theories and the TV programmes built around them, with their breathy voiceovers and ridiculously over-the-top music and editing. "I always find those docos fascinating," admits Hart. "They say you are going to find out once and for all - and you never do."

It also allowed Hart, known for his work on Moon TV, Sports Cafe, his popular "That Guy" Herald on Sunday column and those Hellers sausage ads, a chance to indulge his love of weird stuff and world travel.

Born in Greymouth, Hart spent much of his childhood travelling as his mining expert father moved from job to job. Filming in Peru allowed him to return to the remote Andean camp where he lived for several years as a boy. "Peru was a personal favourite," he says. "My father built a tunnel irrigation scheme there. My brother and I returned to where we used to live. That was the self-indulgent part, sleeping in the house where we last slept back in 1980-something."

Dressed in a safari suit and Indiana Jones-style hat, Hart delves into the Andean jungle, the depths of Loch Ness, the Ohio backwoods and the deserts of New Mexico in search of mysteries and the sometimes-odd people obsessed with solving them.

It was fraught with danger, not least for one of the crew at the hands of Hart himself. "He had blocked sinuses, and I accidentally gave him anti-snake venom instead of antihistamine," he says. "That made him go a bit weird."

But it was the Bigfoot conference where Hart faced possibly his greatest danger. Presenting his findings in front of an audience of mad-eyed, overweight (and possibly armed) monster-hunters was as perilous as venturing into an actual Sasquatch cave. If such a thing actually exists.

"That's the one where the subject matter is the people themselves, and they come across worse than in any other episode. They really are quite frightening and annoying. They're having arguments over something that doesn't exist, abusing each other, calling into doubt each other's credibility. Most of these people probably got into Bigfoot when they were 10 years old. They can't not believe it any more. They can't see the wood for the trees."

In conversation, 40-year-old Hart is nothing like his brash, bullet-headed TV persona. Speaking from his Auckland home with his two young children playing in the background, he comes across as extremely polite, even a bit shy. But there is clearly something that compels him to perform. Before breaking into television, he toured for several years with his brother in a rock band called Wild Turkey, eventually getting themselves detained and deported from France for visa and work permit violations.

Before their expulsion, the brothers spent 11 days in a detention centre in Lyon. "It was pretty frightening," he recalls. "It was like Colditz. We were the only white guys there, it was full of African immigrants and there were hunger strikes and chaos going on. But after a couple of days we started to kind of enjoy it."

For the immediate future, Hart has a new season of Moon TV coming out and hopes to film a second series of Mysteries. As long as it involves travel, he'll be happy. "I'd like to do something Palin-ish, something huge that I'm not qualified for. The six-and-a-half wonders of the world, perhaps."

* Leigh Hart's Mysterious Planet debuts on TV One, Friday at 9.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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