Season's Greetings from the Spy team, we hope Santa treated you well and the New Year brings your wishes to fulfilment. We have enjoyed another star-studded year with no shortage of A-Listers. As we prepare to farewell 2019, we have selected the annual Spy Award winners from the people that stood out and shone on our pages, mostly for all the right reasons.
Best 'comedienne' who makes us smile
Tom Sainsbury has juggled as many roles as he has social media filters this year. One of his latest Facebook shoots sees him create a dating profile using a glossy beauty filter and going through various stages of modelling poses. It sees him getting a little bit seductive in bed and then going to the fridge looking for a fish.
Sainsbury's many personalities have been helped by using various social media filters. One of them, Fiona, brought a little levity to the Auckland Mayoral elections. His most famous impersonation of National Party Deputy Leader Paula Bennett is etched into the public consciousness.
Sainsbury's talent isn't just limited to online. This year, the Matamata boy done good has appeared on numerous successful live shows. His latest is on this month at the Q Theatre, where he has starred as "Grunta" Thompson in a Kiwiana Comedy Spectacle where he tries to win Top Town circa 1989.
Also this year, his comedic talents were recognised when he was nominated for the Billy T Award. We think with his past work in theatre, writing, TV and movie appearances and of course, the social media joy he brings to many, he should be a shoe-in. We can't wait to see what he does next.
Best Streaker Performance
June saw Kiwi action star Manu Bennett make our pages for getting his kit off in Romania, whilst in the country for a Comic Con festival, and not impressing the local police.
The Shannara Chronicles actor travelled to the ancient capital of Dacia and approached the Sarmizegetusa Regia, which was the most important military, religious and political centre of the Dacians prior to the wars with the Roman Empire. It was erected on top of a 1200m high mountain.
Bennett approached an ancient temple of Dacia wearing his boxer shorts, and then stripped naked and performed a haka within the circular stone sanctuary. Such a practice is forbidden by site-visit regulations, which led Bennett to apologise, as he did not speak Romanian and did not understand the signs.
"It was very traditional for Maori warriors to go into battle naked and basically, naked is more sacred, with personal items not considered sacred. All things have energy and to fight naked means to fight pure, as with haka," Bennett told Spy of his performance.
Most Surprising Hook Ups
Out of the many relationships that have emerged this year, none turned heads more than the hook up of Eric Watson's son Sam being linked with one of his step mum Lisa Henrekson's best friends and fellow Swedish model Frida Andersson Lourie.
Andersson Lourie is a mother of four young children and made the social pages of London's elite for many years with husband, uber-wealthy hedge fund manager Jonathan Lourie.
Mid this year we reported the beautiful Swede posting loved-up shots with Watson on Instagram. The pair's romance took them to luxurious destinations throughout Europe and it is noted that Watson would be as good with Andersson Lourie's young children as he is with his father's and Henrekson's youngsters.
Another couple that turned heads are former All Black Ali Williams and billionaire toy maven Anna Mowbray, who have been dating since around April this year. Mowbray, 36, is one of the owners and CFO/COO of ZURU, the billion-dollar Kiwi toy company that has had massive growth over the last five years.
Williams works for Sky TV on sports opinion and commentary and has international business commitments that, it is understood, he has tailored so he and Mowbray can see each other . The pair went public during their time together at the Ruby World Cup in Japan.
Best Music Arrival
This year, Benee replaced Lorde as the country's favourite pop sensation. Her attitude on stage at the NZ Music Awards showed anyone that wasn't quite with the programme that she had well and truly arrived. The 19-year-old took home four awards on the night, a clean sweep, taking home best solo artist, best pop artist, best breakthrough artist and single of the year.
Her EP Fire on Marzz was released earlier this year, winning fans with the relaxed pop-funk of its now award-winning single Soaked. Fire on Marzz has racked up over half a million views on YouTube, while over on music streaming service Spotify it's been played more than 12 million times.
The quirky and addictively entertaining rising star dropped out of AUT last year after two weeks, to focus fulltime on her music. Her name is actually Stella Bennett - her nickname is her stage name - Benee.
Music pundits are expecting an even bigger 2020 for the young popstar. She has followed up her success at the VNZMAs with a sold out headline tour of Australia. Then as a supporting act for Conan Gray on select dates of his "Comfort Crowd Tour". including Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Denver and more. She will then kick off 2020 as a performer at Laneway Festival, first in Auckland and then across Australia.
The No 1 Kiwi Actor Export
Is it actor/director Taika Waititi or young Hollywood stars Riverdale's KJ Apa or Jo Jo Rabbit's Thomasin McKenzie? No, it's New Zealand-based Sam Neill. Earlier this month, Neill, who has 130 film credits to his name, including Sleeping Dogs, Jurassic Park and Kiwi-classic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, was presented with the Australian Academy's (AACTA) most prestigious award – the Longford Lyell Award - at The Star in Sydney.
It follows Queenstown-based Neill charming the local television talent at the year's NZ TV Awards at the Auckland Aotea Centre in November.
Spy saluted Sam the week before. At 72, it seems he is the busiest actor in New Zealand.
The Kiwi acting legend, who we hope gets a Knighthood in the New Year's Honours' List, was recently on the big screen in Aussie movies Palm Beach and Ride Like a Girl. He is soon to reunite with his 90s Jurassic Park co-stars Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum on Jurassic World 3. His movie Blackbird, in which he stars alongside Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon, also premiered late this year.
Neill is also in Rams, another Aussie movie about a decades-long feud between two sheep farming brothers that comes to a head when disaster strikes their flocks. He is scheduled to film The Guinea Pig Club, directed by his Sleeping Dogs' director, Roger Donaldson, alongside British actor Richard E. Grant.
The Tippy Toe Comeback
Producers, the public and Spy all wanted to see former All Black Zac Guildford shine when he went on TVNZ 2's reboot of Celebrity Treasure Island.
His fellow contestants, by and large, loved him. Being in Fiji to see who would find the treasure was to be Guildford's chance to show NZ who he really was, after years of scandal and bad headlines.
In an upset for everyone and before a rumoured romance could possibly light up screens between former Bachelorette Lily McManus and himself, Guildford was the unwitting loser in the battle of the Weathermen, The Hits' Sam Wallace and Breakfast's Matty McLean.
In the first elimination challenge of the show, Wallace nominated Guildford to take on McLean in a ball game. McLean won, leaving viewers wondering what the real Guildford was really like. Wallace went on to win the show, McLean went on to win People's Choice at this year's Television Awards and this month, Guildford did a warts-and-all interview with a Woman's magazine where he was candid about his problems with alcohol, drugs and depression after the loss of his father in 2009.
He also spoke of his hesitance to step back into the spotlight on TV earlier in the year. The former rugby star says he is in a good place now back home, and is getting fulfilment from his job as a teacher aide.
The Perfect Songbirds
In March, Kiwi singers Hollie Smith and Teeks (Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi) performed a duet of Whakaaria Mai at the National Remembrance Service for the Christchurch terror attack victims The pair took to the stage to sing the Te Reo Māori version of the hymn How Great Thou Art for the crowd of thousands at Hagley Park. They matched the nation's call of togetherness with Smith wearing a white hijab for the performance, while Teeks donned a white suit jacket. The result was moving and beautiful.
Later in the month the pair recorded a video of their version of the song that Sir Howard made a Kiwi household favourite, along with the Auckland Gospel Choir at Roundhead Studios, which has had 250,000 views on YouTube.
Last month, the pair reunited on stage at the NZ Music Awards and their magic and vocal power was apparent again when they performed Whaakaria Mai in memory of those the music community lost this year.
Smith and Teeks are amazing singers in their own right and together they are songbirds with love and soul.
Biggest Reality TV show muck up
It's not been a good year for reality shows, with bad headlines hitting shows in NZ and internationally. Weeks before Three's reality show Married at First Sight hit the airwaves in September, scandal hit the news about the shady past of one of the grooms.
Aimee Collins unwittingly got married to Chris Mansfield in front of the cameras, before it emerged that he had been charged with domestic violence in the US. He was axed and the couple edited out of the show.
To say it was an editor's nightmare is an understatement and the show's image never recovered throughout the season, leaving future seasons in doubt. His removal came after his ex, Candace Casady, 32, claimed he "almost killed me a couple of times (through) strangling", before he was arrested on a domestic violence charge on May 4, 2009.
Mansfield pleaded not guilty and was released on bail, but it is understood that after missing a second pre-trial hearing on June 15, he was taken into custody by US immigration services and sent home to New Zealand.
Best Wedding Venue
Of the many celebrity weddings this year one venue stood out … three times.
Rakino Island was the venue for All Black Beauden and Hannah Barrett, Golfer Ryan Fox and Anneke Ryff and America's Cup Sailor Andy and Kirsten Maloney last Summer.
The luxurious venue, Hurakia Lodge, offered the perfect seclusion for all three couples – each decorating the venue with their own style.
Built to the highest architectural standards, the lodge offers unrivalled privacy with expansive living areas and spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf and its surrounding islands.
Five minutes by chopper from Auckland, the volcanic island has had a resurgence in popularity since the Barretts' modernist wedding spread in a woman's magazine in January. Expect the island to be a favourite spot for well-heeled America's Cup watchers.
Best Rich List celebrity spotter
Kiwi Rich Lister Ben Cook and his partner Lavinia White stretched out their European summer for several months, rubbing shoulders and getting pictures with the rich and famous on the Mediterranean, including superstar singers John Legend, Lionel Richie and Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson.
Cook, an Auckland property developer, entered the NBR Rich List in 2016, and since then his wealth has more than doubled to $165 million, which is believed to have been boosted by investments in Australia.
In July, they found themselves moored next to Legend in the port of Portofino, and as good super yacht neighbours do, the All of Me singer happily posed for a picture with them. The pair attended the Ferretti Group and Yacht Club de Monaco annual concert, this year starring Lionel Richie. They posed with Richie on the dock and also posed on a private boat with Pulp Fiction star Jackson.