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In the words of The Wiggles: hot potato, hot potato (Image: Tina Tiller)
In the words of The Wiggles: hot potato, hot potato (Image: Tina Tiller)

KaiDecember 29, 2023

The most glamorous New Zealander is a 40-year-old potato named Désirée 

In the words of The Wiggles: hot potato, hot potato (Image: Tina Tiller)
In the words of The Wiggles: hot potato, hot potato (Image: Tina Tiller)

Summer reissue: Sometimes attraction can take us by surprise – as Tara Ward learns in the potato aisle of her local supermarket.

First published on June 8, 2023.

As the place where the cost of living crisis bites the hardest, finding any joy at the supermarket is rare. This is why I love the potato section the most – because if you’re lucky enough to live in the South Island, it’s here that you’ll find the mysterious, enchanting figure that adorns the Pyper’s Desiree potato bags.

I have known this sultry spud since I was a child, but my affection for her has only increased over time. Like many fans of wax and starch, I am a moth to the tater flame, so get out of my trolley and into my heart, Potato Lady. 

She’s beauty and she’s grace (Photo: Alex Casey)

Potato Lady, or Désirée to those closest to her, is an absolute vision. She has eyes (obviously, she’s a potato), as well as a refined nose, a cheeky mouth and a charming little beauty spot. Her lashes are long and her brows thick, but most unusually for a potato, she has two arms draped in long black opera gloves – because tatties are nothing if not classy. One elegant limb is raised in a genial greeting, while the other rests seductively on her sweet potato rump. She has curves in all the right places, and regardless of whether you intend to bake, roast or chip, Potato Lady promises a delicious time. Those hips don’t lie.  

I do not wish to objectify a vegetable, but frankly, this is one steaming hot potato. Does the wearing of gloves imply the rest of this luscious lass is in fact… nude? Potato Lady doesn’t care.

“Try me, ‘cos I’m gorgeous,” this confident dame of the dirt demands, her voice as warm and silky as scallop potatoes. She is premier, she is 1st grade. Everything about Potato Lady, from her silky pink skin to her smooth bald head, tells us she has places to be and people to see, most of which involve a pot of boiling water and a good forking. 

Potato Lady in the wild (Photo: Tara Ward’s Mum)

But who is this tantalising tuber? Other than her astonishing beauty, we know almost nothing about Désirée. Some famous spuds have sought international fame and fortune, only to bury themselves in disgrace when revealed to be nothing but – shudder – a gourd. Others have literally fallen apart under pressure. Potato Lady, however, has played the long game. She has never appeared on British morning television wearing sunglasses, but instead dedicated her life to the true potato values of timeless glamour and effortless elegance. 

Weirdly, few other New Zealand companies use sexy potatoes in their branding. Thank goodness for Southland company Pyper’s Produce, who started growing Désirée potatoes on their farm just north of Invercargill in 1972. Apparently Dame Alison Holst once said Pyper’s grew the best tasting potatoes in New Zealand, which is the equivalent of being blessed by a culinary angel. They also have a history of anthropomorphising vegetables – take this fine Southland carrot wearing a jaunty top hat and snazzy bow tie, for example. 

Seems like a lovely fellow (Screengrab: Pyper’s Produce)

Perhaps Carrot Man and Potato Lady will fall in love and make beautiful salads together, but we’re still none the wiser as to why Pyper’s feature such a saucy spud on their packaging. Pyper’s did their best to dig up the goods, but it seems Potato Lady is an enigma wrapped in deep and well drained soil.

The company’s previous owners Nelson and Rosanne Pyper came up with the idea to put Potato Lady on the bag, a Pyper’s spokesperson said via email, but sadly they could find no details about the original artist. “The picture has been on the bag for a long time – over 30 years, probably getting closer to 40 years now,” they revealed. 

And yet, Potato Lady still looks as chic now as she did in the 1980s. Fashions change, but style endures, and Potato Lady is a spuddy stunner who has resisted both drought and disease, fashion trends and unrealistic body expectations. Parsnips could never rock long black gloves like that, and as for swedes? Forget it. Those pricks hold a grudge like nobody’s business.

Désirée is a hero of the soil and a rural New Zealand icon, a strong Southern woman unafraid to live her best (naked?) life in the public eye. Tea’s ready, but I’ll never stop loving you, Potato Lady.

Keep going!