David Lomas has made a career out of finding important people in others' lives. Now, with partner Clarinda Franklin by his side, he's found the missing person in his own.
"It's just a feeling of absolute happiness and contentment," says the David Lomas Investigates host, sitting side by side with Clarinda, a teacher and school principal, at her home in Devonport. "I don't quite understand why Clarinda would like me, but we just get on. I find it quite remarkable."
Clarinda laughs at this – there are many attributes that drew her to David, his empathy and voice among them, although she confesses that his fame wasn't one of them. They met when David was working on Lost & Found, but not being much of a TV watcher, she hadn't even heard of the show nor its predecessor Missing Pieces, in which the investigative journalist hunts down long-lost family members, sometimes tracking them all over the world.
"It's quite refreshing," tells David, "because a lot of people do recognise me and it was nice to meet Clarinda who knew nothing of me but took me for who I was."
It turns out that on this side of the bridge, Clarinda is arguably better known than TV star David. For the past 20 years, she's been the principal of Hauraki Primary in Takapuna, and David says it's not unusual for the couple to bump into students.
"Crikey, you walk around this neighbourhood and every second kid remembers Clarinda," says David. "The amazing thing is that she remembers just about everyone's names instantly, even if she taught them 20 to 30 years ago."
The couple are now entering their fourth year together after a chance meeting at Regatta, a popular waterfront bar overlooking Takapuna Beach. David was meeting a friend for drinks, as was Clarinda. It turned out their friends knew one another and before long the group were chatting.
"We talked very briefly, but I just sensed a really nice person," says Clarinda. "I was curious and found him so interesting. I knew I'd met someone really special."
David felt similarly and not long afterwards, having established Clarinda's single status, he asked her out. Their first date took place at the bar where they met.
"I didn't hesitate to say yes," Clarinda says.
However, it was some time before David was "allowed" to visit Clarinda's stunning 1930s apartment overlooking Cheltenham Beach, as she was in the midst of a renovation and living out of a single room downstairs. In the meantime, Ponsonby-based David and Clarinda would take turns taking the ferry, meeting up in town or Devonport.
After enjoying many dinners out, they took on more active outings – long walks along Bethells Beach, cycling the Central Otago Rail Trail, visiting Stewart Island and the South Island's West Coast, and taking a particularly challenging walk around the base of Mt Taranaki's Pouakai Crossing.
"Meeting David has changed my life," admits Clarinda, who had taught at several North Shore schools before becoming a principal. "So many new dimensions have opened up. Embarking on all these adventures – it's just been wonderful to have someone special to share them with."
Although David had occasionally dated over the preceding years, it wasn't until he met Clarinda he wanted to pursue something serious. Many years had passed since the death of his former partner Sue Donald in 2012.
David and Sue had worked together extensively on Missing Pieces and later Family Secret, a show investigating unsolved murders, double lives and other family mysteries, for which Sue was co-creator, researcher and producer. Sue had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and David told the Weekly the year after she died that he'd known something could happen in the next few years, but that he'd thought they had more time. Sue died suddenly at home while David was away filming in Haverfordwest, Wales.
"For a while you're sort of lost," he says of the grief. "Then life happens around you."
For a time, work kept his connection with Sue alive, particularly as she had worked on so many of the stories that continued to evolve, even up to a year or two after she'd passed. David says it was never a conscious decision that he was ready to move on romantically.
"Meeting Clarinda really was a wonderful surprise."
Clarinda was equally unprepared for their romance. Her role at the school had "consumed my single life for the last 20 years", she shares. She'd been married for 27 years and has two "wonderful" sons and three grandchildren.
The night she met David, there was an instant spark.
"I knew right from the very beginning," says Clarinda. "I think what attracted me first was David's way with words. And he has great values that really aligned with how I live my life. Humbleness is his most endearing trait."
The couple try to get away together as often as they can, even if that hasn't been easy given their career commitments. Although Covid put a large spanner in the works, preventing any international travel last year, David and his team filmed a new series of David Lomas Investigates, travelling around New Zealand and following up leads offshore with help from contacts based overseas.
Filming a series means David is often away and he also needs to be available to take spontaneous trips to follow up leads, making planning personal trips difficult.
"Clarinda is a very dedicated worker – she puts her heart and soul into her school," David adds. "She works incredible hours and goes way beyond expectation. So our options come down to school holidays if I'm around."
Adding to the bank of emotional stories David has covered over the years, not to mention the huge number of disconnected families he's helped to reunite through the shows, the upcoming season promises to be just as heart-rending. It will be the first time the show has investigated sperm donors, with two separate stories coincidentally emerging, one focusing on a donor and the other on the offspring of one.
"You can't not get emotional when you see a reunion," explains David. "There are not many jobs you get quite so much satisfaction from. As a journalist, I get a lot out of telling a good story and we change people's lives every time. I keep in contact with a lot of people I've dealt with. There are so many positive stories to come out of it."
Naturally, Clarinda is now an avid watcher of the show, and says the episode that sticks in her mind was about a disabled Bulgarian girl seeking her birth parents. She'd been adopted from an orphanage following the Chernobyl disaster and had settled in New Zealand for many years after marrying her Kiwi husband.
"David has so much empathy that shines through on the programme," enthuses Clarinda. "He's like that all the time."
It's a trait David says Clarinda shares as well.
"She has such a peacefulness, a calmness, a kindness," says David. "She's just a very good person to be around."