Damian Light is believed to be the first openly gay leader of a political party in New Zealand.

By "turning the worm" in a television debate, Peter Dunne lifted the fortunes of United Future.

By turning heads as "New Zealand's Ryan Gosling" in a television debate, Damian Light hopes to do the same.

The 33-year-old Light was announced as new leader of United Future after Dunne's unexpected retirement from politics less than three weeks' ago.

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In all honesty, not many people outside the party faithful took notice; even though Light is believed to be the first openly gay leader of a political party in New Zealand history.

United Future's Damian Light and his partner Josh Harding put up a political billboard on Botany Road, Botany. Photo / Nick Reed
United Future's Damian Light and his partner Josh Harding put up a political billboard on Botany Road, Botany. Photo / Nick Reed

That changed when Light was thrust into the limelight of the TVNZ election debate for the leaders of minor parties on Friday night.

His good looks - compared with Hollywood star Gosling - caught the attention of social media with "Damian Light" trending on Twitter and the United Future website crashing from the surge in internet traffic.

"I'm trying not to let the attention go to my head," laughed Light.

"It's funny, it's embarrassing...but if gets people engaged in politics, or look more closely at United Future, then I'm okay with it."

Born and bred in Auckland, Light is standing in the Botany electorate where he lives with his partner, Josh Harding.

Light is also the first openly gay leader of a New Zealand political party.

"I'm proud to be [the first gay leader] but it was never my intention to be that person, it wasn't my driving ambition. Being gay is part of who I am and I'm proud about it," says Light.

"It's never been a problem for United Future. It might be for some people, but if I can challenge them, then that's a good thing too."

He's realistic about his chances of ousting the incumbent MP, Jami-Lee Ross, who was re-elected to the seat with 65 per cent of the vote in the last election.

But with Dunne's resignation from the Ohariu electorate, United Future will not be in the next Parliament unless a candidate wins a seat or the party needs to cross the 5 per cent threshold.

"I'd love to be the MP for Botany. Our plan was always to target the party vote and with Peter gone, that is still the plan," said Light.

"If we have to get 5 per cent, then we have to get 5 per cent."

With United Future polling well under 1 per cent (just 0.22 per cent at the 2014 election), Light is hoping his new found fame translates to votes.

He points to the meteoric rise of the Labour Party since Jacinda Ardern became leader.

"Now I'm not saying I'm the next Jacinda, but it shows anything can happen in an election," says Light.

"I don't really like identity politics. But the reality is people want to be able to connect with people....that's what we're seeing with Jacinda.

"People weren't looking at United Future. We've always had the depth of policy, but people weren't looking at us. Now they are."

While Light is now literally the face of the party, he has been working "behind the scenes" for some time.

It's his fourth election campaign as a candidate and he's served on the party's board as well as party secretary and president.

His elevation to leader was not completely unexpected, although he was surprised by the timing just a month out from the election.

"Peter was always going to retire and there had been plenty of conversations around succession planning," said Light.

"It's been a step up, but I've been around a while so it's not a huge step up."