The Game-Changer: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Empathy has distinguished Jacinda Ardern's rise in 2017, proving that so much can happen in a year.

Three words — women, youthquake and Jacindamania — have come to define this crazy, chaotic year, and one person embodies them all.

So much can happen in a year. In February, Jacinda Ardern secured the seat in the Mt Albert by-election (yes, that was this year). In March, Labour promoted her to deputy leader. On August 1, she became the party's leader; six hours later, she found herself at the centre of an archaic conversation about whether it's okay to ask women about their baby plans in the workplace (yes, in 2017).

In September, we voted, and then, we waited. Finally, in October, she became New Zealand's Prime Minister, declaring that her government would be "focused, empathetic and strong".

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That word, empathy, has distinguished Jacinda's rise. When she officially kicked off her campaign, she promised to run one characterised by "relentless positivity" — a refreshing change to the politics seen elsewhere. That hope and optimism, humour and energy were dismissed by some, but attracted young voters and women, who were bored with the status quo and pissed off by inequalities. They identified when her charisma was dismissed as "stardust" and they empathised when her grandmother — and her cat — died.

Jacinda is the youngest female leader in the world and her appointment also reflects the world's so-called youthquake this year. This month it was chosen by Oxford Dictionaries as the word of the year, defined as "a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people". When explaining their choice, they specifically noted the power of youth in the British and New Zealand elections — and the fact that it was originally coined by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland in the 1960s.

Earlier this month, Jacinda was photographed for US Vogue; wearing pieces by New Zealand designers. That platform and recognition in the world's biggest fashion title is huge for our local industry, of which Jacinda is a faithful supporter.

It is okay to talk about the Prime Minister's clothes. What she wears is certainly not as important as what she stands for, but her support of local designers is significant — and wonderful. She is also our Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage after all, and it feels old-fashioned to denigrate it as frivolous.

She is clearly making a deliberate choice to support local creatives, manufacturers and, importantly, businesses, by wearing Kate Sylvester, Ingrid Starnes, Juliette Hogan, Maaike et al. That list of modern female designers is symbolic in itself of a generational shift; with politicians in the past traditionally favouring more conservative brands.

It has also been a year in which women have been at the centre of political and societal disruption. In January, Jacinda took part in and spoke at Auckland's Women's March; sharing her reasons with us beforehand, she explained: "I'm marching because I want to make sure we're never complacent about women's rights. And that we remember there are things that we haven't achieved yet.

"We have a massive gender pay gap in New Zealand. We have terrible violence against women. These are things that we need to keep fighting for, and today is a reminder of what can happen if we do get complacent."

Now, after a year of change, the hard work starts.

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The Funny Guy: Tom Sainsbury

Comedian Tom Sainsbury. Photo / Babiche Martens
Comedian Tom Sainsbury. Photo / Babiche Martens

Tom Sainsbury's viral videos offer astute and hilarious observations on politics, social media and life in New Zealand.

During last year's US elections, political comedy flourished, offering a darkly amusing way to process the news of the day.

New Zealand's own comedy gold during the election — granted, much sillier and not as depressing — was "comedian and Snapchat dude" Tom Sainsbury, whose viral videos offered astute and hilarious observations on politics, social media and life in New Zealand.

Utilising the shareability of Facebook and the weirdness of Snapchat's face swap technology, the Auckland-based comedian and actor created short and snappy videos of various characters, fictional and not — updating the tradition of political satire through social media.

He impersonated everyone from "Bill Englush" to Julie Anne Genter, but it was his take on Paula Bennett — with her cheery greeting ("Hi sweeties, it's me Paula Bennett!"), snappy catchphrases ("two ticks blue!") and penchant for a panini and a bowl latte — that hit iconic status.

In November, Paula even impersonated Tom impersonating her, and a week later, Tom presented an award as Paula at the NZ Music Awards (before being interrupted by her nemesis "Cindy" Ardern).

"I think the videos were just a naughty treat for people," says Tom of the success of his Paula. "It was taking the mickey out of someone in power and that always provides a bit of a thrill. I think she may have also reminded people of their aunties, or mums, or something. The middle-aged Kiwi woman who's a bit ruthless and loves a scrummy treat."

That's essential to the success of Tom's videos: in lovingly satirising New Zealand stereotypes, people see themselves.

One of his most shared videos, created as part of Tom's Kiwis of Snapchat series for The Spinoff, featured "everyday New Zealanders" sharing who they were voting for, sending up the follies of voters across party lines.

Like the middle-aged white man character voting for National because, "look at how well we're doing as a nation. Last year, my wife and I bought an extra yacht, two extra properties and had three holidays in Fiji", and the young woman voting for "Jacinda's party" because "Jacinda's so cool and inspirational for so many girls.

"What's the party called again?"

"It made me happy knowing New Zealanders can readily laugh at themselves like that," says Tom.

Now, he wants to concentrate on different characters, but says Paula will always pop up now and then. "People are still requesting her, and love hearing about the latest panini flavour. And I'm more than happy to provide."

But it's Tom's naïve, and political free, character Maz Bazzington — an Animates employee being taunted by magpies, with a fairy bread loving girlfriend — who has been a post-election hit.

With his oversized mouth and delightful giggle, Maz's catchphrase also handily sums up politics in 2017: "what the actual f**k?"

The Champions: Restaurateurs Tony Stewart & Michael Meredith

Restaurateurs Tony Stewart and Michael Meredith. Photo / Babiche Martens
Restaurateurs Tony Stewart and Michael Meredith. Photo / Babiche Martens

The two have been instrumental in shaping the Auckland dining scene, and have even more to give in 2018.

This was supposed to be the story of two industry stalwarts, handing their keys over to a new generation. But do either of these two look as if they're done yet?

It's been a tough few years for fine dining. A menu is food plus imagination plus skill, and none of those three elements has ever been in better shape in Auckland. Customers, however, have been increasingly less willing to invest the time and money into this sort of night out.

Why spend $250 on a meal when you can get something casual and low commitment down the road for $25, goes the reasoning. Or, you could binge watch MasterChef, buy a home sous vide and do it yourself.

It's only when you eat a dish prepared by Michael Meredith, or sit in a restaurant run by Tony Stewart, that you realise there is still a level of dining so good that it's unimaginable until you try it. That's what Meredith's and Clooney have been — a glimpse at how good things can be.

The end of 2017 has seen Michael close the door for good on his Dominion Rd restaurant. For Tony it has been a tumultuous few months as he's asked himself, is it all worth it?

You can create whatever magic you like on a menu but you need someone to eat it (and someone to cook it — both have struggled in their own way to find the right kitchen staff).

Both men can be proud that their DNA is an integral part of the Auckland dining scene. Working at Tony Stewart's Clooney is a badge of honour pinned on CVs across the city, and Michael Meredith's proteges are spread far and wide too, running great restaurants like Pasture, Han, Orphan's Kitchen and Lillius, to name a few.

So what happens next? A comfortable retirement in a rest home for ex-restaurateurs, sharing stories of the souffle that got away? Don't you believe it.

Michael will continue working with Air New Zealand, Miele and the Eat My Lunch social enterprise that has redefined giving and filled hundreds of thousands of empty bellies.

He has a taste for how his expertise with ingredients and flavour can create change, and is working on a new project, a sustainable food business connecting with other people who are looking to make a difference.

And the light is back in Tony Stewart's eyes. As we went to press he was on the verge of announcing his own exciting plans, a project which will once again transform Aucklanders' expectations of what it means to go out and eat.

Will this be at Clooney? We can only wait until the new year to find out.

We are so lucky to have these two. Without them our city would not be the international dining destination it has become. Neither man settles for anything less than 10/10 in anything he does. That's what makes their next steps in 2018 so very exciting.

Visit viva.co.nz to see the rest of the series that will be published throughout the week.