"Overwhelming. It was one part extremely exciting, because it was a new experience, and then it was terrifying because I wasn't quite prepared for it to be so big."

That's how Johnny Barker remembers the early months of 2008. His Shortland Street character had just been unmasked as the Ferndale Strangler, marking the end of the soap's biggest whodunnit and the beginning of a strange new chapter in Barker's life.

Murder had never been an unusual event on Shortland Street, but 2007 saw the show take it to a new level.

On a Monday in July, it all began with the discovery of Claire Solomon's body in a rubbish skip. What seemed to fans like a one-off act kick-started an epic storyline that lasted the rest of the year.


The entire country seemed obsessed with the show, everyone wondering who was the Ferndale Strangler.

When Joey Henderson was exposed as the killer, Barker remembers the reaction he got in public was emphatic and instantaneous. "Every single person had an opinion and was excited to tell me about it, whether it was positive or negative."

It was an intense time for the actor, who faced abuse whenever he went out in the public, with one man yelling at him during a concert he was playing the night the cliff-hanger aired.

Barker is remarkably relaxed about the experience.

"It will follow me around for the rest of my life, and I'm happy with that. I'm quite proud of that, actually," he says. "Normally I'm quite lazy and have a big beard and no one bats an eyelid, and as soon as I shave for a project or whatever, when I go to the supermarket, people always spot me. It's crazy. People have amazing memories. It's just a good conversation starter these days."

Johnny Barker as Joey Henderson.
Johnny Barker as Joey Henderson.

Although the storyline lasted eight months, Barker was kept in the dark about Joey's true nature for much of that time.

"I remember doing one version of it and then they said 'do it like you've got something to hide'," he recalls of his first audition. "I thought, that's great, there's a big question mark over this character. But then when I started the gig, we all decided [Joey] would be JD from Scrubs, good-time nurse."

When he was finally told, Barker was "gassed and excited", and made the most of all the dark stuff that came his way.


"You just don't get that kind of opportunity. I remember reading the script, shaking with excitement," he says. "It was like a dream come true."

Although Barker still acts, much of his focus now is on directing, working on the likes of Funny Girls and Jono and Ben, as well his true love - music.

His first solo album, Sleepwalking, was released yesterday.

"It's a sci-fi record - the song-writing process is like writing short film scripts ... I've chosen characters and genres and obstacles and then written short film scripts that are like films I'd like to make but instead just craft them into images and melody and make them into songs."

Yet no matter where he goes with his career, Barker knows he will always be Joey to most people, and he is happy to embrace the name and all the comes with it.

"I definitely do the strangle selfie," he says, laughing. "I'm always happy to oblige. "