Alex Casey looks back at the media journey of Dug the Potato, a good news story that brightened our lives among some very gloomy headlines.
He was the show-stopping spud that took the sting out of a truly shit time. Dug the Potato, the tank of a tuber discovered in Hamilton last year, filled the country, and later the world, with joy during a period filled with doom and gloom. He had a cart. He was unapologetically lumpy and bumpy. Sometimes he wore a towelling blue hat. He was not the hero we needed, but the one that we deserved – a knobbly symbol of growth, renewal, surprise and hope.
But this week, Dug’s story took a turn – he wasn’t the potato he claimed to be, dashing our dreams that he could be crowned the largest spud in the world. Nonetheless, he achieved something arguably more important: he made us crack up when everything else was making us cry. Here lies the complete history of Dug the Potato, the ultimate relatable Kiwi battler that shocked and wowed and ponged and kept us happy during a time when we needed it most.
September 4, 2011
The Guinness world record title of heaviest potato is awarded to Peter Glazebrook at the National Gardening Show at the Royal Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet, United Kingdom. The potato weighs 4.98kg. The UK also gains records this year for world’s largest jacket (12.95 metres), most knee bends on a Swiss Ball in one minute (65) and world’s largest gathering of skeletons (2,018). Covid-19 does not exist. Everything is fine.
August 30, 2021
Nearly a decade later, Colin and Donna Craig-Brown are doing their regular spruce-up of their vegetable garden in Ngāhinapōuri. Colin encounters a large mass beneath the soil, so digs it up and has a lil taste with the garden fork. It is a huge potato that weighs 7.9kg. There are 53 new cases of the delta variant of Covid-19 in the community and the entire country is in lockdown – Auckland is to remain in lockdown for at least another two weeks.
August 31, 2021
The Waikato pair read through the 128-page application guidelines on the Guinness World Record website, and complete the online application form. This includes photos and videos of their prize potato. They are advised they won’t hear back for 12 weeks or so. There are 49 new cases of Covid-19 in the community. At midnight, the entire country – apart from Auckland – moves to level three.
October 30, 2021
Doug (more on the spelling later) hits the local papers, providing the above information in this truly terrific Stuff article which asks “Is this the largest potato in the world?”. Colin recounts first encountering Doug. “I said to Donna this must be one of those white kūmara that we grew, because some of them just grew massive here.” Alas, a kūmara ‘twas not. He was Doug, he was a potato, and he was about to change our lives for the better. Colin also reveals that Doug is currently wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge to keep him in good nick.
That same evening, Doug makes his small-screen debut on Newshub. He is being cradled by his parents Colin and Donna, and is wearing an aqua blue towelling bucket hat. “He’s a quiet little guy,” the reporter coos, “Doug by name, dug by nature.” Colin adds a bit of poetic flair to recounting his moment of discovery, claiming to have exclaimed ‘holy snapping turtle teeth what’s going on here?’”. There are 160 new cases of Covid-19 in the community.
October 31, 2021
Australia commits the ultimate “trick or treat” this Halloween by attempting, yet again, to claim one of ours as their own. Due to Colin originally being from Victoria, Sky News attempts to frame this as an Australian triumph and claim an early title with the ballsy headline: “Aussie grows world’s largest ever potato”. There are 143 new cases of Covid-19 in the community.
November 4, 2021
The Associated Press runs another illuminating article about Doug, republished by the likes of the NZ Herald and America’s NPR. The story remains much the same, except this time Colin muses that the potato might have been a “puffball” rather than a kūmara. Crucially, it is revealed that Doug now has a small cart that he cruises around town on. Upsettingly, it is revealed that Doug has begun to grow mould and reek. “He was getting a bit pongy,” says Colin, who now keeps Doug in the freezer.
There are 139 new community cases of Covid-19.
November 5, 2021
Doug makes it to the Guardian and Colin Craig-Brown appears on RNZ’s Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan to speak about his discovery. Here, he posits that he first thought the mass may also have been a “monster truffle”, but it was discovered to be “a dirty great big potato”. Colin also reveals that Doug now weighs 1kg less due to his time in the freezer – putting him still at a world-beating weight of 6.8kg – and that he “smells like sardines”. There are 163 new cases of Covid-19 in the community.
November 6, 2021
CNN picks up the Doug story from the RNZ interview and runs the below great headline. There are 206 cases of Covid-19 in the community.
November 8, 2021
Doug makes it all the way to the Washington Post’s aptly named “Inspired Life” section, where a spelling scandal is revealed that will rock Doug fans to their nodes. The tater’s title has been misspelled throughout his whirlwind press tour and his name is actually DUG, not DOUG. “Because we dug him up. Plain and simple,” says Colin.
November 9, 2021
Two outlets frankly have egg on their face over their humiliatingly inaccurate Dug coverage. The first is the so-called “Smart News” section of Smithsonian magazine, which runs a headline calling Dug “Doug” and then adding insult to injury by calling him “ugly”:
The second is ABC7 (WZVN-TV) in southwest Florida, which similarly disrespects both our national tuber’s name and appearance. Normalise👏 knobbly 👏 potatoes 👏
There are 125 new cases of Covid-19 in the community.
January 18, 2022
After enjoying a quiet Christmas free from media attention, Dug appears on Newshub again. There’s been a development: Guinness isn’t playing ball with the application process, and it is driving owner Colin Craig-Brown “starch raving mad”. He explains that they have had to slice a small portion of Dug off to be sent to Christchurch, and then on to Scotland for DNA analysis to prove that he is, in fact, a potato. There are 14 cases of Covid-19 in the community, including a household contact of an MIQ case who is positive with the emerging omicron variant.
January 20, 2022
Dug is back on the world stage once more, appearing with Colin on UK breakfast show This Morning. Hosts Phillip Schofield and Rochelle Humes are in tears as Colin describes Dug’s journey to the world record. During the segment, Phil asks whether Colin has oiled up Dug, because he is looking particularly shiny. “No mate, just water or he goes frosty like he’s been sitting out in the swamp,” Colin replies.
Scottish potato expert Alex Bartlett joins the panel to weigh in on Dug’s chances of taking out a world record title. “I’ve personally never seen a potato that big,” he says in awe. When asked about the knobbliness, Bartlett explains that “we take out knobbly bits before it comes to you”. He appears to find Dug’s warts-and-all bravery inspiring, musing that there could soon be a variety on the market in his namesake.
There are 39 cases of Covid-19 in the community, and one possible omicron case. In three days, the country will move to the red traffic light setting.
March 14, 2022
After months of no news, a horrible twist: Stuff reports that Dug the Spud is not who he says he is. An email from Guinness World Records sent to Dug’s minders over the weekend revealed that the results for his DNA test at Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture have come through, and they’re not what the world was hoping for. Dug is a “tuber of a type of gourd”, rather than a potato, and is therefore out of the running to be the world’s next hot tater star.
Colin tells Stuff that it has been “a real roller-coaster of potato-rama” with Dug. “We hopped on the roller-coaster eyes wide open and enjoyed the ride and this was the last real twist.” He wonders if the seedling he purchased was perhaps a hybrid of gourd and cucumber. “The mysterious part is why did it grow so big? And why does it taste and look like a potato?”
Despite the setback, Colin still dishes out a bevy of memorable quotes to mark the occasion. “If it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and has feathers on it, then it must be a duck. But nah – this one turned out to be a turkey.” He’s disappointed, as we all are, but still has a soft spot for the spud that captured a nation. “He’s still ‘Dug – not the biggest potato’,” he said. Headlines quickly begin to sprout up around the globe as the world mourns the news.
There are 15,353 new cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19 in the community.
March 15, 2022
Colin and Dug return to This Morning in the UK to share the upsetting news. Dug is now wearing sunglasses, presumably to hide his tears of devastation. He is still quite shiny. “As you walk along through life, these shitty sandwiches… somebody chucks one in your lunchbox,” Colin says of Dug’s failure. Host Philip Schofield then apologises for Colin’s swearing live on air.
There are 21,616 cases of omicron in the community, and one less good news story for us to hang onto.