He's been Mr Wayne the hairdresser, Mr Wayne the butler and remains Willow the artist.

The wonderfully flamboyant Wayne Mullineaux is a recent and delightful addition to Rotorua.

His back story is bursting with colour - his Buddhism-influenced mantra is "colour is my life and life is delicious colour".

Our first meeting was at a charity art exhibition where, under his Willow persona, his watercolours were having their first Rotorua showing - local collectors swooped.

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There he's wearing a 19th century smoking cap and flowing white robe; another wardrobe staple's a full-length opera cloak. He's a towering, impressive fellow.

With whispers circulating, he's been Madonna's butler, Our People's news nose twitched. Wayne Mullineaux's story has an aroma to it.

He is, we discover, very much one of a kind.

Kiwi born, a good slice of his life's been lived in Europe and the UK, with retreats to Thailand for artistic inspiration.

"I love the country, the whole Buddhist mentality, enjoy the food, the warmth, the men, all those delicious lady-boys."

Wayne isn't compelled to camp it up, it's the way he is; take him or leave him, he doesn't give a damn.

His upbringing was prosaic, his working life launched as Auckland cinema mogul Michael Moodabee's office boy. "For me it was like Hollywood, all those film stars' pictures on the walls."

Regardless, the ladies' hairdresser who'd always lived within him was demanding freedom of expression. Wayne enrolled in night classes, beginning that episode of his multi-tiered career in Helena Rubenstein's Auckland salon, rounding it out at Chandelier, owned by the country's then leading male ballerina, Phillip Chatfield.

"That's where I learned to pronounce the word the French way."

Chandeliers have been with him since, foils for his antique collection that embraces a stunning piece whose provenance includes the name Marlene Dietrich.

From hairdressing he switched to hospitality, working through the Logan Park Hotel hierarchy. "It was very smart, people like the Rolling Stones stayed."

By his early 20s Wayne had outgrown Auckland, "London was where I wanted to be, it was the 1960s Carnaby Street was at its height - quite wonderful."

Jobs in London salons were sobering experiences. "Compared with European-trained stylists I realised I was very mediocre."

He remedied the situation by moving to Berlin. "I couldn't speak a word of German but found a job in a very smart salon, my employer paid for me to go to the Goethe Institute, it was very hard, I hated it, I learned to speak the language by going to the movies."

Berlin was an occupied city - work in the British forces NAFFI came his way.

"It was very social, I was invited to the Redgrave family villa where a special guest needed her hair done. It was Princess Alice, a lady-in-waiting came in with a box, out came a magnificent tiara and jewellery ... wonderful, absolutely wonderful emeralds and diamonds. I had to work her very fine hair around the tiara. When she appeared in a green silk gown I broke protocol, said 'Oooh. Ma'am you look fantastic' and she said 'Why thank you, Mr Wayne'."

Mr Wayne hankered to visit Russia but his association with the British turned his trip into a mission of the 007 kind. Grounded at the Berlin Wall's Checkpoint Charlie his New Zealand passport saved the day eventually.

In Moscow Russian security details tailed him. "It was all a bit of an adventure."

He'd been in Berlin 17 years when his parents summoned him home. "They claimed they were getting older, needed me, but it was blackmail. When I returned, they separated."

Whangarei became home base with Wayne's appointment as director of Forum North. "I pushed a few people off the cliff. I was dealing with a lot of artists, had had art classes in Berlin, painted there."

Following his mother's death he followed another dream. "I was attracted by an ad for the London-based Ivor Spencer butler school. I'd always been fascinated by royal teas, etiquette, decorum. The classroom was in the Dorchester Hotel, I absolutely loved it. Mr Spencer said you are the idyllic [sic] butler."

However, with Forum North giving him leave, he felt compelled to return but soon quit to become "Mr Wayne the butler" at Berlin's Four Seasons Hotel.

Mr Spencer tempted him back to London with the cream de la cream of butler jobs, overseeing the penthouse suite at Claridge's, Mayfair's most exclusive hotel.

That's where Madonna enters the frame. "She was hot property - all the windows were blacked out to keep her out of sight of paparazzi in helicopters.

"Her daughter was a baby. I'd see this superstar on the floor looking quite tatty playing with her - she was relaxed with me, I did her private laundry."

The Queen Mother was a Claridge's regular - "when she came for afternoon tea with Princess Diana, the gypsy orchestra would play The Teddy Bear's Picnic."

It was gypsies of the Romanian kind who named him Willow.

"They said it was because I was so tall and flexible. I was fascinated by their esoteric ways, they taught me to read their tarot cards, believe in ghosts, I love ghosts, this place [Rotorua home] has a ghost."

At Ivor Spencer's urging, Mr Wayne the butler transferred from Claridge's to a private household in Munich.

"Then for some reason I just came back to New Zealand and retired to Christchurch, then Tauranga now Rotorua.

"I'd always continued in my little world of painting. I must have the right feeling to paint, I don't begin until 11pm, I work on the kitchen table, have a drink of water before picking up my bush, I believe that water's what wakes my inspiration, it's like the prince's kiss on Sleeping Beauty."

WAYNE MULLINEAUX:
Born: Auckland, 1944.
Education: Onerahi Primary, Kamo Intermediate, Papatoetoe
High.
Family: "My mini poodle, Charee."
Interests: Painting, antiques, caravanning "Call that glamping". Reading "Autobiographies, I've read so much about the Dalai Lama."
On why Rotorua's now home: "I absolutely love it, it's so close
to nature and the houses are cheaper here."
Personal philosophy: "Don't suffer any negativity that can
come upon you."