Clarke Gayford is the narrator for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Planet Earth Live In Concert. He talked with Sarah Daniell about nature, near death experiences, and Neve.

1. Are you New Zealand's answer to Sir David Attenborough or Bear Grylls - a hybrid?

I'm very careful not to make comparisons to someone who is incomparable. I'm borrowing some of David's words.

2. When have you had a life-changing experience when communing with nature?


I've spent a bit of time diving with humpbacks in Niue, and especially if you've been floating with a female that's just calved you can see the stress, emotion and worry in her eyes as she's watching you. I think that's why people have such an emotional connection to whales because they sort of see a little bit of their own struggle reflected back in them. But you have those moments all the time. I always talk about fishing trips not being about the fish you come home with.

It's about the experience, being out there, seeing a pod of dolphins or a manta ray or a crazy bunch of birds you haven't seen before ...

3. When have you felt small?

I had a bit of a whoopsie in Niue free diving where I pushed myself too far. I was spearfishing a large dogtooth tuna. I ended up too deep and the line dragged me down to about 30 metres. I didn't quite make it back to the surface. I had a guide who grabbed me as I blacked out - he brought me around. It didn't hit me straight away but it was several weeks later I realised how close I had been to not making it back. It made me take stock of where I was at ... and it helped reinforce my desire to be doing something that I wanted to do, which was trying to push all my energy into making the fishing show happen.

4. Has fatherhood changed your ideas about the boundaries - the risks you're prepared to take?

That was a big wakeup call on personal limits and working within them. But I spend quite a lot of time in the water with sharks, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. Some people might see that footage and think that is really dangerous. But once you start understanding behaviour and risk, then you can insert yourself into those environments. But yeah, you're right - you are now thinking of someone else, and it does play a part.

Clarke Gayford struck fishing gold on a recent trip to Samoa. Photo / Mike Bhana
Clarke Gayford struck fishing gold on a recent trip to Samoa. Photo / Mike Bhana

5. I used to scuba dive but since I've had kids I just can't go there. Advice?

You should never hold yourself back. You look at incidents of people dying on roads, and you think, it can be over so quickly and you have little control over that. So just roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.

6. If you could bring something extinct back what would it be?

I think it would have to be a moa wouldn't it? Imagine. Wouldn't it be cool. It would bring such an exciting element to your hike through a national park. You startle a moa and it comes bolting out of the bushes. It would be just phenomenal.

7. It would be terrifying. What are you scared of?

That's why I love spearfishing so much. You are not the top of the food chain. And you give yourself a decent fright every time you're in the water. Something will happen, whether it's a big stingray you didn't see while you had your head under a rock trying to pull a crayfish out. Or a light change that casts a big shadow behind you, or a shark. You go, wooof, okay. You feel alive. You really do.

8. When have you encountered the biggest sharks, literally and figuratively, given that you do hover around the Beehive sometimes?

Ah, you mean those sharks. Humans are far more dangerous to us than sharks are. So yeah, in terms of the figurative sense, I've been lucky in that I have a background in media, and it does prepare you in the sense you can see the sharks approaching. Literally, I've dived with great whites down in Stewart Island, and that unsettled me a bit because I did not understand how big they were till I got in the water and saw them and went, okay, now I can understand how people can disappear ...

Clarke Gayford says he will encourage daughter Neve to have a go at whatever she has a passion for. Photo / Michael Craig
Clarke Gayford says he will encourage daughter Neve to have a go at whatever she has a passion for. Photo / Michael Craig

9. Who in your life, in your circle, would be the most surprised about where you are now?

My late friend Helena McAlpine, who was a hilarious firecracker. I'm just sad she's not around, but also to hear her say in her thick English accent, 'What? How have you done this? What's going on ? I can't believe it.' And also I was very sad that my grandmother passed away a couple of years ago, because meeting the Queen, all I could think about was, what would grandma make of this! I even said that to the Queen.

10. Have you and Jacinda had that parental milestone - a night away from Neve?

We did in China. We decided because it was so short, she would stay with grandma. Because it's a long flight for a short time. We just spent the whole time talking about her.

11. What advice will you give to Neve you wish you'd had yourself?

So many things. I'd just encourage her to have a go at whatever she has a passion for. I had an awesome family environment but I remember growing up in Gisborne thinking that there were limitations on what you could do. I spent my whole childhood watching What Now and I always wanted to call but I didn't think you could call if you didn't live in the main town centres. And so I just spent the whole time thinking it wasn't for rural kids.

12. Is there anything from your past that you are worried about popping up?

Find me a human being that wouldn't say yes to that. The joke I have is when friends suggested I have a career in politics, I used to say the only reason I would go into politics would be so that someone could piece my 20s back together for me.