There’s something about our First Bloke that keeps nagging me every time I see his cheerful face.

Is it the fishing, the posing, the DJing, the pleased-with-himself grin, the apron, the "first man" thing, the flourish of an "e" in Clarke?

The truth is, I admire our Jacinda but I'm not convinced about her partner.
The picture of Ardern in her korowai at Buckingham Palace was magnificent. The picture of Gayford posing like the Bachelor with the Chogm spouses was cringey.

Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg (who wrote Jacinda Ardern's recent profile in Time magazine) said one of a woman's most important career decisions is shacking up with a supportive partner.

Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford arrive for the Queen's dinner during Chogm. Photo / AP
Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford arrive for the Queen's dinner during Chogm. Photo / AP

Ardern seems to have done well in that regard. And I'm a feminist. I should be applauding Gayford for stepping up to this new role. So why does the "first man of fishing" give me a little bit of acid reflux?


I realise my antipathy is mean-spirited, and out of all proportion to any actions by Gayford. Why shouldn't he enjoy his newfound status? This just makes me more curious why I find him so vexing.

It's true I have a general distaste for the local celebrity scene and he has been a social pages regular pre-politics. There is something unseemly about brazenly trying to be a famous person in New Zealand, when the height of success is a Woman's Day cover. To re-purpose Kissinger's quote: the battles between publicity whores are so vicious because the stakes are so low.

Speaking of low, one of Gayford's earliest breaks was on reality TV. He came second in the 2001 season of Treasure Island. This was the no-frills "civilian" Treasure Island, not the later celebrity one where Lana Coc-Croft stood on a piece of coral. This gig doesn't seem to feature in the official Gayford bio. It may not fit the narrative of Clarke Gayford as a hipster salty seadog.

"Gayford's earliest childhood memory is from when he was 3. His dad was pushing him on a surfboard, into a wave. He grew up tying his own lures, making his own sinkers, pouring over books and committing the Maori and Latin names for fish to memory," Canvas' Kim Knight wrote in a 2016 profile. (Impressive. Not many people can remember what happened to them when they were three.)

Usually a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to craft even the most rustic personal brand, but possibly in this case the aw shucks-ness is authentic. Gayford certainly does seem to love fishing. Still, he might want to watch out that he doesn't sound smug when he dismisses the rest of us mugginses who are not out there being Hemingway.

"They go to work before the light comes up, they're not happy in their jobs, they've over-leveraged into a mortgage they can't afford, but oh my God, how successful are they! And you go, 'well, how successful are you?' Because on Wednesday it was a nice day and I went fishing," he said in the 2016 profile.

Clarke Gayford and PM Jacinda Ardern pose with Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall. Photo / AP
Clarke Gayford and PM Jacinda Ardern pose with Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall. Photo / AP

So here's another theory. My Clarke snark might be an allergy to spouses who piggyback on their other half's success. You know those corporate wives, Betty Draper-style, who talk about how "we" are running the company. There is something shameful about gratuitously getting status you didn't "work for". And yes, Junior Freud, I'm fully aware that probably galls me (it's called projection) because I feel guilty about how many of my own advantages got handed to me on a plate in just that fashion.

And then there is the gender issue. When women stay home and bring up kids they are considered to have a jammy gig and need to earn back their right to exist by being extra-virtuous and making organic baby food. But when a man declares he is going to stay home with the baby he instantly gets membership to the helluva guy club before he has even changed a single nappy. High fives for that dude!

No wonder Gayford seems to be enjoying the whole political circus so far. Possibly a little too much.


Political commentator Claire Trevett notes the past female spouses of our prime ministers did not get as involved in the Chogm spouse programme as Gayford has, and they very rarely did interviews. The women had a background support role, but Gayford seems to lap the attention up, like the political equivalent of manspreading.

But forget all that. Here is the real reason I find Gayford problematic.

I feel disquiet about his jolly japes because I worry for him. Clarke honey, please don't love all the shits and giggles too much. You're in the media! Surely you know the things we love today are the things we hate tomorrow?

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Could this be an alternative explanation for Tall Poppy syndrome? We don't like it when we see someone riding too high because we know they will stumble. We fear we won't be able to bear their humiliation and pain when the inevitable happens and they come a cropper, so our defence is to simply get in and knock them down first.)

So enjoy the ride, Clarke with an "e": hopefully you will be one of the few who can emerge from the shitshow unscathed.