Michele Hewitson Interview: Brooke Howard-Smith

By Michele Hewitson

Brooke Howard-Smith is always in the gossip pages. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Brooke Howard-Smith is always in the gossip pages. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Brooke Howard-Smith, I thought, might make an interesting, if tiring, interview. He's certainly energetic. Five minutes watching him on Target throwing his arms about and talking at three times the speed of normal people is exhausting. He's the very definition of upbeat.

Also, he's got that funny hair. He didn't mind being asked about his hair. Is it cartoon hair? "Ha, ha. I don't know. It is cartoon hair. It's exaggerated itself!"

He and his hair are always in the gossip pages with his wife, Amber Peebles, who was a beauty queen. He helped organise the telethon for Christchurch.

I assumed he was a celeb, or at least really, really wanted to be a celeb. This is what is, sneeringly, and often, written about him and his wife.

His characteristically OTT proposal to Amber (in France, with the aid of a women's mag) and their subsequent wedding (I read that she had custom-made lipstick! He said if she did, he couldn't remember) were sold to women's mags. Oh, and he was outed as, in tabloid parlance, a love rat, in, of course, a women's mag.

All of which merely encouraged me. I do like a bounder and, if he is a celeb, or even better, a wannabe one, we could go somewhere flash on expenses.

The celebrity had suggested lunch. Oh good. Where would he like to go? He didn't know any places. Did I like Thai? No. I booked Euro and told him we were having oysters and bubbles.

I had better say that it was my idea. He said he was supposed to be talking about the poor people of Christchurch and here we were, drinking champagne. He said, "I don't think that makes us bad people."

He looked at me, a bit hopefully. Perhaps it had crossed his mind that this was a set-up. It wasn't, honestly. I just wanted a flash lunch.

But here he is trying to reinvent himself as a do-gooder (he wouldn't put it that way, but I would) after having spent much of his life being a shit (he does admit to that) and being seen as a relentless self-publicist and now he's having his picture taken holding a champagne glass at lunch.

Perhaps it never occurred to him. He is curiously naive, in many ways. He has been around for ages and works on a consumer affairs TV show and has done dozens of interviews but I had to remind him that this was an interview. He had said: "I'm here to be nice and friendly."

He apologised for being defensive because he thought it might have been upsetting me (er, no, but that was a kind thought), and it wasn't polite. He is 38 and he says he is trying to be grown up and sometimes he succeeds.

He thought he was grown up when he took off to LA at 17 to make a living out of in-line skating, which seems a mad thing to do - although perhaps it was just a very teenage thing to do. He eventually made quite a lot of money, setting up various businesses including one designing T-shirts, and lost quite a lot on another business and on partying.

I asked if he'd spent all the money on drugs - one of the rude things people say about him is that he's so hyper he must be on something; I'd say he was on the high of not being a fink any more - but he says he didn't, and that he didn't even drink for years. Later he told me he didn't have sex for three years.

God knows why he'd volunteer that. He refused to tell me how much he makes (I asked because I read, on a MySpace page, that it was between $150 and $250 grand a year) or whether he's had therapy, which is "an inappropriate question".

He'd gone from offering no information to offering too much. He'd said plaintively that he thought this was to be an interview about telethon. So, "Ha, ha. Is there any such thing in what appears to now be a tell-all interview?"

He has "lovely" parents, who are "much nicer" than him. His mother is an artist and his father a lawyer and a director of Mainfreight. He is the "horrible" middle child, coming between "the nice son" and "the nice daughter".

He was supposed to be a lawyer until he got kicked out of St Kentigern for getting "into a fight" with his sixth-form dean. Not an argument. A fight. There was extreme provocation, presumably? "I was cheeky and probably the kind of child that I would get annoyed with now."

He's made a career out of being annoying. What exactly is his job on Target? Is he the comic relief? "I don't know if it was ever intended! I've become a parody of myself on the show!"

This seems a little limiting, in terms of his television career. "Gosh. It's nice that you think I'm going to have a television career."

On the last season on Target he advised people whose cars were clamped to remove the clamp and to "... take the clampers to court". He isn't about to talk about it; it's with the lawyers and he's been far too busy with telethon and so on. This was getting boring so I said, rudely: "Some people might want to clamp your mouth." He said, with great good nature: "They may do. Who knows?"

We'd been having a very friendly lunch until I brought up that MySpace page. There was an entry on it which listed his likes, including "music, sex and drugs in that order". He said it must be a fake. I said it had a cheesy photo of him. He said that proved it couldn't be his.

He is always having cheesy photos of himself taken so I'd have thought the opposite, but okay. I moved on. He didn't. He kept banging on about this fake page and about "what kind of an idiot would write music, drugs and sex on a public page?".

I don't know. I was thinking: What kind of idiot would sell his wedding? What I asked is if he Googled himself. He used to, of course. "It's just depressing now. When it was good, it was fine. You know, I think there have been times in my life when I've been way too self-congratulating ... The problem is when the shit hits the fan."

He says he can't remember when he became aware that that way narcissism lies (it wouldn't be too difficult to work it out, I'd have thought), or who gave him the advice that: "If you celebrate the highs you are naturally obliged to, you know, cry about the lows."

He really does say some silly things. That was like leaving your laptop on the table when you're having lunch with a burglar. So I later let him, because he was looking so crestfallen at the turn the interview had taken, give me one of his talks about Christchurch (he is, by the way, donating all of his $36,000 fee, less expenses, back to the cause).

This made him very happy and he went on and on about charity fatigue - I'd actually asked about celebrity fatigue, but never mind - and, somehow, about how our grandparents "had war rations for five years ... and many of our grandfathers charged at machine guns to make sure that we could stay safe".

Then he said, "And ... a lot of us are sitting comfortably at home not willing to give up our 42-inch plasmas." Honestly, he is a noodle. How would we have watched his telethon if we had, for some unfathomable reason, given up our TVs? "Darn it! Oh, I wish I was smarter," he said.

Yes, well. It turned out that was his My Sky page. He checked. The offending entry was, he said, a band. So he had annoyed himself, which might be karma.

There's also the matter of cheating on his wife. Would I have asked about this if not for the fact that he sold the wedding? Probably not. They're still together and so have obviously worked things out, and that really is their business. "Yes, I love my wife very much. I'm pretty keen not to talk about that side of things."

So we talked for a while about how keen he was not to talk about having it both ways: selling your wedding to a mag, then having your bounderism exposed in another mag. He did say that he has "done a lot of stupid shit in my life". That was pretty stupid. "Oh, just in general, but yes, absolutely. I think the defining difference was when I discovered the difference between pleasure and happiness. And many people get them confused."

Once he decided to stop being defensive (and I do think it generous of him to apologise; I'd have told me to bugger off) he was good fun. Yes, he will go to the opening of an envelope, he cheerfully agreed. "I don't know how evil it is. I'm especially keen on parties with free food and booze!" He did say, playing now at being defensive, that if I did a count, I'd find that most of the dos are charity events. "Not that you'll put that in."

He's such a self-promoter, he'll sell his babies, when he has some. "I would actually. Not the photos. The actual baby. I think $60,000 is the going rate." I had said selling his wedding was tacky and he didn't get the huff over that whereas most people would have.

He did ask me to call him back so he could tell me that he'd decided, after talking to Amber, that he'd answer the "why sell your stories to the mags" question. The short answer is: naivety and excitement - a good enough description of him, actually. He has promised me that he won't sell his baby stories.

He gave me his definition of celebrity: Comedy Central put a cabbage on TV, for 13 weeks. Then they took a cabbage to a shopping mall. "And people were so excited to see it they had their photo taken with it. It's familiarity, nothing more."

Basically, then, he's a cabbage. "I may as well be. If a cabbage could shout and wave its arms that'd be cheaper than me."

He didn't shout or wave his arms. He wasn't a dick. He's trying to be a better person. I'd have preferred the bad Brooke, obviously, but other than those little letdowns, he's an excellent and likeable sort of cabbage to have lunch with.

- NZ Herald

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