Meeting Santa Claus came as a very unwelcome gift to young Ben Rudduck in December 2001.

Ben's mother Jo had taken her son to Santa's grotto at the then Westfield-owned shopping centre in Takapuna.

The outing was Ben's first encounter with Santa and, understandably, he was more than a little unsettled by being hauled out of the safety of his mother's arms and on to the lap of a strange man.

"I didn't really know who he was and he looked a bit strange in the red suit," says the now 12-year-old Ben, who's a lot older and wiser.


Ben's father, Rod Rudduck, laughs at the overly cautious look on his son's face in what must have seemed like a very unnerving situation to the toddler.

"It was just the usual wariness of any 11-month-old being faced with some big fat guy in a red suit."

However, Ben's early encounter with Santa didn't put him off, particularly when he realised Santa was the source of presents. Growing up, Ben went to the Farmer's Santa Parade most years.

"When I was younger, I did like Santa ... I think it was just that one particular moment."

The photo, which appeared on the front page of the New Zealand Herald, inspired a short-run modelling career for the young Ben. He went on to model for Anne Geddes, featuring in her calendars and even on the front cover of one of her notebooks.

Ben wasn't always as sour-faced as he may look here, being far from camera-shy in Geddes' photos.

Says Rod: "She had the knack of making the baby smile."

Coincidentally, Rod says he was looking at the photo only last month. He showed it to Ben as a trip down memory lane. "He's pretty proud of himself for having made the front cover of the Herald."

Ben is graduating from Belmont Intermediate School this year but he's still a child at heart. "You're never too old for Santa."