Michele Hewitson interview: Dominic Bowden

By Michele Hewitson

Had the flash house, lost it. Had the American TV show, lost it. But he still looks nice, acts nice ... and is nice. That's what gives him his X factor

Dominic Bowden is back home in Mt Albert, living in the same street as his parents, and says that's where he wants to be. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Dominic Bowden is back home in Mt Albert, living in the same street as his parents, and says that's where he wants to be. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Once upon a time, a youngish chap from Mt Albert got on a plane and went to Tinseltown. When he arrived he was given the keys to a house in Beverly Hills and the keys to a car and a car park with his name, Dominic Bowden, on the space right next to the car park where the name on the space was Simon Cowell.

That was six years or so ago and there was something fairy tale-like - if it was a very modern fairy tale - about being given the keys to fame and the big time and all that a youngish chap from Mt Albert had ever wanted, or so you would think.

You might also think that it might have gone to his handsome head - and he is handsome in that clean-cut Peter Pan-ish way favoured by the makers of popular and populist star-making television shows.

But you know what Dominic Bowden looks like, if you have any interest in such shows and watched NZ Idol and are now glued to The X Factor which he has come home for, leaving behind for now, the LA dream, what he calls an itch he hasn't quite stopped scratching.

He said, about the car park space: "I was a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. It was almost the mentality of, 'Keep your head down before ...'"

Before they find you out? "Totally!"

Dominic Bowden was telling me this in a cafe in Mt Albert which is a five-minute walk from where he lives. I wouldn't have picked Mt Albert as his natural habitat - old Auckland, solid and not at all flashy - but it is. He grew up here, so he has roamed far afield and not far at all. This says quite a lot about him. He is adventurous, and a risk-taker, but only to a point and he is also careful and straight-laced and a good boy who loves his family and invests his money wisely (in two houses in Mt Albert).

He wasn't telling the story about the house and the car and the car park in any show-offy way. He was telling it as a sort of cautionary tale. He had read, he thinks in Piers Morgan's book, that the British host of The Weakest Link, Anne Robinson, was flown by private jet to Los Angeles to do the show. When the show was canned, she was sent home in economy; her husband had to pay his own fare.

"Everything is a hundred miles an hour and you can get to a point where you can go, 'Oh, God, I've got to make it, I've got to get over the line, otherwise it was all for nothing'."

Not that it was all for nothing; nothing like. Still, one day he had the big show, the big shot at fame. He was the host of The Next Great American Band, which proved not to be the Next Big TV Show, and so he had to give the keys to the car and the house back. "Not on the same day." It was a beautiful house, with a pool. In Beverly Hills. Did he cry the day he had to move out? "No. Not at all."

I would have, but I am not Dominic Bowden. You don't hear him complaining; he's Mr Positivity. And besides, he became good mates with the guy who manages these beautiful houses that the networks put their up-and-coming stars in, until they turf them out. Friendships matter to him in what is a hard and often horrible business, but he knew that, and if he didn't, plenty of people told him it was and that he was mad. But he just decided, bam, he'd "pull the trigger" and "step off the cliff" and so he did and good for him.

Now he's back hosting The X Factor and living in the same street as his parents, and he's as happy as could be. Anyway, he had lots of other opportunities, in production in the States. He is all about up-skilling and making and keeping contacts and he's good at this partly because it comes naturally and partly because he works hard at it.

He said: "Whatever the universe rewards you with is a great opportunity". Yes, but he was supposed to be the next Ryan Seacrest, which must have been annoying and initially was and used to drive him a bit nuts (but not literally nuts, of course, because he's as stable as can be.) He said his agent used to introduce him, before every meeting like this: "'This is the Ryan Seacrest of New Zealand. This is the Ryan Seacrest of New Zealand.' I was, like, 'bugger off! I'm my own person.' The problem is that ... the culture is very much like, 'Who are you and what are you and what's your story?' You know, 'Why should I care?'" So he decided that being the Ryan Seacrest of New Zealand wasn't a bad thing.

He does know Seacrest and has worked with him, which got him on to the books of Seacrest's then-agent, the William Morris Endeavor agency, which is a very big deal because he is one of only three of that agency's non-American hosts.

One definition of having made it in LA might be if you could count Seacrest as a friend. He was very funny about LA friendships. He said that if he goes to an agency party, which are generally big bang affairs with hundreds of people, and Seacrest is there, he'll say: "Hey!" So close as brothers in LA terms then.

He used to always eat his lunch with the crew and people would say: "Oh, you Kiwis are craaazy."

I agree with them. What was he doing eating lunch with the crew when he should have been sucking up like mad to the influential people?

Maybe he should have been snootier and starrier? "Maybe. Maybe." He has very good manners and while he obviously thought that was a craaazy thing to suggest, he was too polite to say so. He said: "You know, the great thing for me is that I got a great write-up in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety."

I know he did and I know what a big deal that is because I've seen Entourage. Has he got them framed? "Ha! No." He hasn't even got them in a little scrapbook. "No! Mum's got all that sort of stuff."

He's 36 and still has a boyish and coltish charm (he's 1.9m, so that might account for the coltish bit.) He goes up the road to his parents' house to watch The X Factor with them and his brother (Liam, whose company is Deadly Ponies which makes handbags and other cool stuff for cool people). His sister lives in Spain, where she crews on posh boats. He speaks to her on the phone every day. The Bowdens are a close Catholic family who still go to Mass together. He doesn't go to church every week but he does go and he prays but not for things because "everything is about preparation meets opportunity" so "more thanking for the good things". He said: "I have a strong belief on faith."

His father is a surveyor who is arty and paints; his mother is in management at Bay Audiology. They own a big beautiful house in Mt Albert, which they have restored. He loves his family and loves living down the road from his parents and living in Mt Albert again. He said: "I've realised that this is where I want to be." He's thinking about getting a dog and he's looking forward to that sort of life; a more settled sort of life although there is still the "itch" that is the States.

He's ambitious. But for what? Not fame, he says. He never went chasing it. But didn't he? Why else go off to the States? Perhaps the having gone is what cured him of wanting it too badly.

Of course, mean people will say he didn't make it. He said, "yeah and, you know, I think you're your own worst critic ... And the experiences I've had and the things I've been exposed to, both good and bad, and the life lessons, some of them (have been) hard, and some of them so rewarding".

And some, not so much. He met the Kardashians once, before they were "supposedly famous" and "they were just very vapid LA people. I wasn't impressed".

He used to do celebrity interviews for TVNZ (I thought he'd been dumped but he said not: "Ha, ha. No.") and now he does them for Sky. He says is not in awe of celebrity. He has just done an interview with Britney for The X Factor and as she had been a judge for the American show, you'd have thought this would have been a reasonably chummy arrangement. But he had to ask all the questions through her manager. He was amazed by how bonkers this was; I don't think he's bonkers enough for LA.

He is, it seems, squeaky clean although he rather desperately denies it. I'm still waiting for him to get back to me with an answer to my rather desperate question: What's the worst thing he's ever done?

His marriage to journalist Claire Robbie ended last year, and he says both of them have very nice families and for the sake of their families they have agreed not to talk publicly about what went wrong. I was pretty sure I already knew the answer, but I thought I'd better ask whether he'd been misbehaving and "no!", of course he hadn't.

It's their private business, of course, but they did get married in 2008 in a paid-for-by-a-woman's-mag whirl. He said he understood the trade-off and "I think you live and learn". He would like to get married again but at the moment he doesn't have a girlfriend; he's just working hard.

His profile is as the nice guy on the telly and he says he takes this very seriously. His friend Jason Gunn once said he was slick, which I thought sounded (I knew it wasn't meant to) as though he was fake. He says it means he works hard and can hold things together on live TV and that you can't be fake on live TV.

For what it's worth, I didn't find him to be a bit slick or fake. He certainly doesn't seem remotely big-headed. He doesn't even get to fly business class now. I was horrified by this because what's the point of being a celebrity - even one from Mt Albert? But he says premium economy on Air New Zealand is wonderful. I thought they must be his sponsors but he said, "I wish" and could I put it in that he'd love them to be. Why not? He's ever so eager to please and so you can't help but warm to him and that is perhaps what his own X Factor is.

- NZ Herald

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