Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Kiwis in London: High flying expats find streets paved with gold

A stint in London is a rite of passage for many New Zealanders but some stay longer to forge a new life. Jared Savage meets three more Kiwis who are enjoying success in the United Kingdom's capital.

Chef Anna Hansen and comedian Jarred Christmas. Photos / Supplied, Alfie Hitchcock
Chef Anna Hansen and comedian Jarred Christmas. Photos / Supplied, Alfie Hitchcock

The chef

Born in Canada, with Danish roots, and raised in New Zealand, Anna Hansen was always going to travel.

But she never wanted to live in London.

"I always had this image of the UK being grim, grey, wet, miserable ... a bit like it has been for the last six months," she laughs.

"Now I've been here most of my adult life, London is a phenomenal city. And I didn't start cooking until I came here."

That was 1992. Fast forward to the present day and Hansen is lauded as one of the finest chefs in London, the owner of a critically acclaimed restaurant and a published author.

Her success with The Modern Pantry - a cafe, dining room and pantry all under one roof in Clerkenwell - is well documented; she is the recipient of two AA rosettes for fine dining and a listing as a "Bib Gourmand" in the Michelin Guide in the past five years.

That basically means great food at an affordable price.

Hansen was named in a global list of the top 100 up-and-coming chefs and made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to the restaurant industry.

Not bad for a "washer-upper".

One of her first jobs in London was washing dishes at the French Dining House, a job she landed "fortuitously" through her Kiwi flatmates Tristram Clayton (of television reporter fame) and his sister Margot.

Margot and Fergus Henderson, now married, took her under their wing and she ended up becoming more and more involved in the kitchen. "I really loved it. Then one of the chefs left and they offered to train me. That was that and I never looked back."

After 18 months learning her craft from the Hendersons, Hansen met fellow Kiwi Peter Gordon and worked at the Green Street restaurant until her visa ran out.

"Peter was an amazing mentor to me. He was at the other end of the food spectrum to Fergus, who was super British and traditional in his approach. I was a bit of a fish out of water until I got into the swing of things."

Working in a kitchen is a "brutal" environment in terms of constant scrutiny and long hours, but Hansen thrived on the creativity of experimenting with ingredients, flavour and technique.

She had to head home to New Zealand, but returned to London to work with Gordon when he opened his first restaurant, The Sugar Club, in Soho.

Four years later, they opened the award-winning Providores in Marylebone, before Hansen branched out on her own with The Modern Pantry in 2008.

The restaurant is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary, but there was a time when it seemed the doors would never open.

Hansen says it took three years to get the place up and running. Miles of red tape had to be unravelled because the three-storey building is listed as a protected site. Then the major investor pulled out after a year because of a critical health condition.

"It was a bit of a mission. Miraculously, we managed to get it open but it was a long and arduous journey," says Hansen.

"On reflection, you wonder how did you do it. If someone actually said to you, 'This is what you're going to have to do to get there,' you probably wouldn't do it.

"But when you're in the moment, you keep going because you think success is just around the corner."

Success breeds success and Hansen has become one of the most sought-after chefs in town, currently as guest "chef of the season" for Harrods.

But her next "exciting" job means cutting down on time in the kitchen - she's about to become a mum for the first time.

The comedian

One gig stands out as particularly awful for Jarred Christmas. The Christchurch-born comic was trying to entertain a crowded club in Bedford, just north of London, when he "died" on stage.

"Everything was there for me to succeed, but I properly messed it up. One guy shouted out, 'You're trying too hard, mate.' When a heckler hits you with that level of insight and honesty ... it was a pretty harsh introduction to it all."

Fortunately, Christmas doesn't die on stage often any more. He's forged a successful career in the cut-throat British entertainment industry, appearing on popular television shows and travelling the world as a sought-after comedian.

He was just 20 when he bought a one-way ticket to London in 2000 with the sole purpose of cracking the stand-up comedy scene.

Opportunities were limited back home but Christmas had met a few British comics at New Zealand festivals who were able to put him in touch with promoters on the open-microphone circuit.

He hitched a ride to his first show in Birmingham and got lost on three buses on the way to the venue.

"From memory, I got away with the gig. I was pretty nervous and my material wasn't good enough. It certainly wasn't as good as I thought it was," Christmas remembers.

"So really, it was an eye-opening experience. I got halfway through my 20-minute set and thought, 'Oh man, I've got a lot of work ahead of me'."

For the next 15 months, he would work all day as a street collector for charities and spend his nights performing his routines unpaid at venues across London.

With hindsight, Christmas isn't sure he could do it all again.

"Life was a blur, it was full-on. But it didn't faze me, I think my naivety pushed me through.

"But there was a lot of heartache. Dying in gigs is brutal. Or even worse, having huge success at a gig ... then waking up the next morning [knowing] I had to be on the street doing the fundraising.

"After having a taste of what I wanted the night before, I was back to catching the Tube into town and being ignored on the street. That was a special kind of gloom."

But his big break came after making the finals in five competitions for emerging talent in 2002.

"Mate, I didn't win any of them. But it did get my name out there and raised enough profile to start getting paid work.

"The great thing about stand-up comedy at club level is that it's a meritocracy. If you're good enough, you'll get the work."

For the next 18 months, Christmas travelled the length and breadth of the country to work at hundreds of pubs and clubs - sometimes driving for five hours for a £50 ($90) fee.

"I'd be playing in these tiny villages and towns and it was full-on. Sometimes you're standing on a beer crate in the corner by a karaoke machine talking to crowd who aren't listening.

"But by doing those gigs, you get better. You have to win over the audience in a tough environment, in a venue which might not be set up for comedy.

"So by the time you start working at a proper comedy club, like the Comedy Store in London, it almost seems easy.

"Suddenly you're in a room with a crowd of people who have come to laugh."

The hard slog was beginning to pay off. Christmas was earning a "decent living" doing stand-up six nights a week for between £100 and £250 a show.

Then came lucrative work for corporate events, either as an MC or comedian, which Christmas said were "notoriously difficult".

"Awful. Because if you're doing stand-up after the awards ceremony, nobody cares because they just wanted to get drunk."

And he's also been "lucky enough" to appear on popular British television shows such as Mock the Week, Nevermind the Buzzcocks and 8 out of 10 Cats.

Kiwi humour goes down well in Britain, says Christmas.

"The great thing about UK audiences is that they love an outsider's view on the ridiculous things that they do. They are really good at laughing at themselves."

He has travelled the world to make people laugh - Spain, Amsterdam, Berlin, Cyprus, China, Singapore, Dubai, South Africa, Canada, the United States, France and Australia - and is bringing his show to New Zealand for the Comedy Festival.

His English wife and two daughters (aged 3 and 1) are also making the trip for a family holiday, which will include his first stand-up in Christchurch since leaving his hometown nearly 13 years.

He's particularly excited about returning to his former high school, Hagley Community College.

"Hagley was the school that freed me up to do what I wanted to do. I've got a lot of love and good memories about that place."

The lawyer

The future looked bright for David Hislop. Not even 30, he was married and a partner at a small but successful law firm in Whangarei. This was in the late 1980s and he could have quite happily carved out a successful career and raised a family in his hometown.

But after surviving as a passenger in a car crash that claimed the lives of two of his best friends, Hislop started to question that comfortable future.

"It gave me an insight as a young man into my own mortality.

"I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could, I wanted to go as far as I could go."

That meant either moving to Auckland or Wellington or taking the "huge leap" to practise law in London.

"I went from being a reasonably sized fish in a small pond to a minnow desperately looking for any pond to swim in."

The gamble paid off. Hislop has forged a reputation as a sought-after barrister at the prestigious Doughty St chambers, where he has become one of the few New Zealanders to "take silk" and be appointed a Queen's Counsel in London.

And in June, he'll be advocating for Mark Lundy's convictions to be overturned in what is likely to be the last New Zealand case brought before the Privy Council.

But it hasn't always been tea and crumpets.

"It's been a long, long road with a lot of knockbacks," says Hislop of his British career, which began in 1988.

He managed to get a foot in the door of a legal chambers he described as a "third division side" and slowly grafted his way up.

Coming from the "Antipodean backwaters", Hislop says he had to work hard to earn respect in the competitive legal circles.

"I suffered endless jokes about how there's no sheep-shagging cases in London. People hear your foreign accent and assume you're stupid or uneducated.

"So it was difficult when we first arrived. There were long hours and lots of stress. But that makes you more determined to make sure you were better than the rest.

"And Kiwis have a good work ethic; we smile when we're on the job but with a rod of steel up your back. If you do that without being overly aggressive, that's attractive in a legal counsel."

To escape the stress of London, the Hislop family - he has a daughter and son planning to follow him into law - would spend peaceful weekends in their cottage in the Cotswolds.

"And we love Italy. I must have been to Florence 50 times; it's amazing."

Another weekend ritual is recording New Zealand rugby matches to watch the games, in particular the resurgent Blues and the All Blacks.

His colleagues are still harping on the English victory over the All Blacks in December, despite their own recent form reversal.

But work never stops for Hislop. Most of it is serious crime, including a large proportion of cases being heard by the Court of Appeal.

He's in the middle of a murder trial at the Old Bailey, has defended dozens of alleged fraudsters in cases involving "millions and millions of pounds", as well as crooks accused of sophisticated organised crime.

"There's no shortage of interesting work. You're playing poker at a bigger table and the thrill is still there for me.

"There's no sheep jokes any more," he laughs.

Sunny side up

Advantages and disadvantages of living in Britain:

Weather v money
As New Zealanders have enjoyed - or endured, if you're a farmer - a long and hot summer, Britain has suffered a long and cold winter. In fact, it's now spring and snow is still falling. The sky is nearly always grey. But while the global financial crisis hit London far harder than New Zealand, there are still jobs or opportunities to start up a business. Most professions are better paid than back home.

Culture v lifestyle
Culture is everywhere in the UK. You can't walk to the local pub without stumbling over a piece of history. In fact, many pubs have histories longer than modern New Zealand. Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the Globe Theatre, Wimbledon, the West End, Lord's ... the list goes on and on and on. But London is a rat-race, a population of millions, all working long hours and suffering the commute in stony-faced silence. What they wouldn't give to enjoy the more laidback lifestyle in New Zealand.

Location v location
Sure, you're at least a 30-hour flight from all your family and friends back home. But dozens of countries are on your doorstep; a simple train ride to France or Belgium, or a short flight to anywhere else in Europe. And book far enough in advance and the travel is cheap. A weekend skiing in the Alps? Escape to sunny Spain? Don't mind if I do. Just don't get caught out by the baggage allowance on Ryan Air.

Food v food
Overall, groceries from the supermarket are cheaper in Britain than back home. NZ may be the land of milk and honey, but we're paying for it. Bread, milk, veges - just about everything - is considerably less expensive in Tesco than at Pak'nSave. Even meat is comparable. However, eating out is a different story (with the exception of fine dining). Cafe culture is close to non-existent in some quarters and "pub grub" is king in Britain. Even the takeaways are greasier here.

Beer v beer
The price of beer is cheaper in Britain, in the supermarket or at the pub. A proper pint (568ml) will set you back the equivalent of the cost of a bottle of Steinlager at the Viaduct - it is nearly twice the size. Price is not the problem - it's the actual beer. If you can't find a cold lager on tap, you'll be forced to partake in "real English ale". Which is warm. Still can't get my head around that.

- NZ Herald

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