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Street Week: Life as TK Samuels’ Doctor Doppelganger

Richard Cowley had just started med school when TK Samuels arrived in Ferndale. Their uncanny resemblance has haunted him ever since. Simon Day sat down with him for a chat about his time as the real life TK. //

The theatre of Ferndale has been known to imitate life. But for a young orthopaedic registrar at Middlemore hospital, his life has become some farcical imitation of Shortland Street’s art. Dr Richard Cowley’s is constantly mistaken for Shorty’s resident heartthrob, and former Mr New Zealand, TK Samuels.

Te Koha Samuels arrived at Shortland Street Hospital in 2006, the same year Richard Cowley started medical school in Dunedin. Fortunately for Cowley their paths diverged for time. He hasn’t had two wives killed – one by a bomb planted by a jealous lover, the second by a deadly virus spread by an illegal drug that preserved youth. He hasn’t run anyone down in a drug induced stupor either.

But his budding medical career has been shaded by the way his chiseled chin, brown skin, silky black hair, and toned body call to mind Shortland Street’s brooding, hunky head of ED.

Despite being a physician Cowley claims to never watch Shortland Street. But his scarfie flatmates, who first noted his similarities with TK, observed interesting effects of TK’s arrival in Ferndale on Cowley. According to one, when TK first arrived on the scene with long wavy locks, Cowley decided he would grow his hair. Six months later when TK got a cut, so did Cowley.

“Although he’ll never admit it, I think Richie enjoys the attention he gets from being the doppelganger of one of The Street’s heart throbs,” says former flatmate, Charlie Thompson. “I’ve been with him several times where people have mistaken him for TK, not once has he corrected them.”

I sat down with Cowley for a chat on life as the real life TK Samuels, determined to get to the bottom of their strange relationship.

When did you discover you first looked like TK?

Fate brought them together. Acting holds them apart.

Fate brought them together. Acting holds them apart.

In Dunners. [My flatmates] Charles Thompson and Jesse Grey, they loved Shortland St, from the first episode. All of a sudden I’ve got a majority in the flat and it was done. “You are TK. This is unreal.”

When I started working, coming to Auckland I was often recognised as TK. Patients mainly. As a junior doctor, when a patient stays for three days, on the first interaction you can see them wanting to say something. By the time you give them the paperwork at the end they ask “has anyone ever said you look like TK?”

Have you worked in ED?

I did a three month run in ED. So there was plenty there. If someone is drunk, obviously they have less inhibitions. They’ll be like: “I thought you were him man!” There a few colleagues of mine who find it really funny.

Fliss Dominick, an anaesthetist – she thinks it is hardcase. In theatre the other day, it was 2am. She was saying, “we are so lucky to have TK Samuels in the house.” I was like ‘fuck off Fliss – you used to be an Otago Highlanders cheerleader’.

Have people genuinely mistaken you for TK and thought they were inside Shortland Street?

Yeah. Not just patients. There was a whole ward of nurses. I was on nights for a week, and I would go and help out in the ward on whatever needs doing and they all thought I was TK. I spun them that during the day I’m at Shortland St and at night I’m doing the job. We have to learn the medical side and then act on the side.

Do women love you like they love TK?

There have been numerous packs of drunk girls. Drunk girls often break their ankles in high heels or dancing. They’ll be hammered and come in with their crew. They’re all in their short skirts, in their late teens or early twenties. To start off they will just giggle. Then it will move to: ‘Oh my gosh, you must have been told you look like TK. You are actually the same.’

Then I fix their ankle up.

The place I used to get it the most was when I lived on New North Rd. I would walk to Auckland Hospital. When I walked to work it was 5.30am and all these people were hammered. Their inhibition is nothing. They’d shout at me from across the road.

So – have you met TK?

We were having dinner in Kingsland with some mates, who were massive Shortland Street fans, and TK walked in. Everyone at the table was like “oh my god, you have to go outside and get a photo.” He was waiting to get some takeaways. So I approached him.

I had to quickly add that a few people have said we looked like each other. Just to say ‘I don’t want a picture with you just because you are TK, just people have said that I look like you.’ He was sweet. He owned me. He seems to love his cars and women. And his guns.

When you met him did you think you looked the same?

I look at him and I think he doesn’t really look like me. But, obviously there must be similarities if people on the street, people in the hospital, are always like ‘holy shit you look like TK’.

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