Twelve Questions: Wallace Chapman

Wallace Chapman is a radio and TV broadcaster and fashion blogger who catches the bus but owns Louis Vuitton luggage. Tomorrow he'll host the annual Back Benches Auckland special for Prime TV.

"There is dynamism in places like Dunedin, Nelson and the coast," says Wallace Chapman. Photo / Dean Purcell
"There is dynamism in places like Dunedin, Nelson and the coast," says Wallace Chapman. Photo / Dean Purcell

1. You seem like such a nice chap on the tele - even when you're herding MPs. What's the cruellest thing you've done in recent years?

I decided around about the age of 6 or 7 that I didn't need to be a wanker to get ahead in life. So far the theory has proved correct. Cruelty to me is vindictively setting out to hurt on purpose. I can't think of a single episode. Maybe I'm inured to casual cruelty because I'm around MPs all the time and they say what they think. Like when Rodney Hide said of Winston Peters that it was like "swimming through an ocean of spaghetti".

2. What a big decision to make as a child - were you a serious little boy?

Oh very. At age 8 I wouldn't go and play with the kids. I remember every Tuesday night the Tongan group would come around to talk about Tongan issues with my dad, who was the Methodist minister, and I wouldn't go out with the other kids. I'd stay and listen. Someone said, 'well then, would you like an orange juice?' I said 'no, but I'd like a cup of tea'.

3. Were you teased about your middle name at school?

I hated my middle name - Leslie - at school. Now it's like ... 'Wallace L Chapman' - that is SO Great Gatsby!

4. Being the son of a preacher man, did you ever go off the rails?

That period started when I was about 16 or 17. I've kept a diary intermittently throughout my life and it's terrible around then. My attitude was atrocious. There's an entry at 16 when Dad's having a barbecue for his close friends and family and I've written "who gives a f*** about close friends and family. Who cares. Why should I care? He doesn't care about me". They were quite strict parents and I wanted to go on a South Island tour with my band, Little Wing. I'd been doctoring my school reports all year and I doctored a very good letter from my art teacher saying I'd been selected for a three-day art camp for the top 10 art students. They were thrilled for me so I went off with the band but then Mum and Dad bumped into that art teacher at the market that weekend. He didn't know anything about an art camp. The bass player knocked on my door one morning and just said "They know".

5. Ouch. What was the punishment?

Dad's Fijian and [he] being a strict Pacific Island disciplinarian, I was in fear of my life. I thought I'd get punched around the head or whacked with the vacuum cleaner. But I walked in the door and they stood there and said "It's good to have you home". I cried. I realised how much I'd disappointed them.

6. Was your father also disappointed you are not a believer yourself?

Not at all. For Dad, Christianity was working in your community, helping a struggling friend, remembering the old and displaced in society. Those are values instilled from kindergarten. He was an amazing man. A real hero.

7. There can't have been a lot of money around when you were growing up?

My parents were poor but we never did without. I must have been 16 or so before I ever went to a restaurant but once a month we'd go to a cafe for afternoon tea for a big treat. Five of us and there'd be two pieces of cake on the table and we'd all have a coffee and it was the best thing in the world. We had holidays staying in church halls and we went "skiing" once - sliding down the snow on black polythene.

8. Are you good with money now?

I lived in a bedsit for eight years and at the end of it I had a massive deposit for a house. Now we have two houses. I believe in frugality. We are savers. If we want something, we will save up for it. I bought a monogrammed Louis Vuitton bag for myself that cost $2700. I'll have it for 30 years. What sort of car do I have? I have a bus pass. My travel accessory is not a car, it's a bag.

9. Who is your favourite MP to have on the show and who has been the biggest disappointment?

Many faves. Recently? Tau Henare. He came on the other week, after having been off the show since 2008. And he was a class act. Funny and witty. Winston Peters likewise. Disappointment wise, Aaron Gilmore. Not for the reasons most would assume, but because he was a good sport. I spent a bit of time with him just a week before that incident - he was very considered and very polite. I think the media can tend to be an echo-chamber at times and I felt sorry for Aaron.

10. You got to know David Bain when you were a student in Dunedin: what's your view on those Robin Bain finger marks?

Smudges or scratches? Who cares. I think the matter should have ended when one of the greatest legal minds post WWII, Lord Bingham, and his Law Lords decreed in London that a "substantial miscarriage of justice has occurred".

11. If you could change one thing about New Zealand, what would it be?

I would embark on a massive "promote the regions" policy and incentivise growth out of Auckland. There is dynamism in places like Dunedin, Nelson and the Coast, but core jobs and skills are being lost. Getting families into some of those beautiful affordable houses out of Auckland would de-heat a completely unaffordable Super City.

12. How would you rate the standard of TV on offer these days?

Pretty good. In the late 70s and 80s, shows were long and often interminably dull. I didn't own a TV from 1989 when I saw the Berlin wall fall live, until I got the Back Benches gig in 2008. Someone told the (TVNZ 7) commissioner who rang and asked if I had a TV. I said "funnily enough I'm about to go and buy one". I don't have Sky. I'm a very, very frugal person. Ah yes, they are my employers. Funnily enough, I'm about to go out and get it.

- NZ Herald

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