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PoliticsOctober 14, 2021

Exclusive: Stuart Nash attempts to explain his shirtless vax pic


The Labour minister got his second dose without a shirt on. Mad Chapman asked him to justify himself.

Stuart Nash is driving, presumably with a shirt on. The minister for economic development is running late for a meeting at the Port of Napier and doesn’t have time to answer my probing questions about a picture he put on his Instagram last week, showing him getting his second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, shirtless. He can’t answer my questions but he does say one thing before he hangs up in a hurry.

“Look, I have gotten a lot of shit for that.”

The shit-inspiring post is from Tuesday, October 5, 2021. “Second jab, so now fully vaxed!” begins the inoffensive caption. The accompanying image shows the hands of a vaccinator, a blurry needle, a side profile of Nash’s masked face, the top of a rope necklace, the upper half of a left areola, and a large, naked, left deltoid. Stuart Nash is getting his second jab shirtless. As of writing, 142 accounts have liked the post, including The Spinoff Podcast Network and Peeni Henare. No matter how long you look at the image, there are no hints as to a reason for Nash to be sans clothing at the Kāpiti vaccination centre. And yet there he is, not a cloth in sight.

“There’s a story behind it,” says Nash, calling me after his port meeting, presumably still clothed. There’s always a story, and Nash’s tale is that he hurt his back last Tuesday morning while lifting weights at the gym. He then spent a physically painful day with Mana MP Barbara Edmonds, who was formerly his ministerial advisor. “Driving around in Barb’s really low car, getting in and out of that all day, by the end of the day I could hardly walk.”

But what does that have to do with him being shirtless at a vax centre?

“They asked me to roll up my shirt which I couldn’t do because I was wearing a business shirt because I was going to business meetings with Barb… In fact if it hadn’t been Barb then I would’ve just cancelled the day.”

Wait, so it’s Barbara Edmonds’ fault?

“That is rubbish, he did not say that at all.” That’s Edmonds. “He was the one who was asking me if I’d get [the vaccine] with him and I was like ‘nah, I’m getting mine with my kids’.” And what of Edmonds’ “really low car”? Turns out it’s a Hyuandai i30 and “it’s not lowered or on mags or anything like that.”

But back to the back. Nash couldn’t roll up his sleeve, he says, so “the only thing I could do – because I couldn’t twist my back – was really, really slowly take off my shirt. Then sit there and hold my shirt in my lap. If I hadn’t been incapacitated I probably would’ve just taken one arm out and done that, but I couldn’t do that.”

I’m about to ask seven follow up questions simultaneously when Nash interrupts. “I’m sorry I’ve got a Zoom with Michael Barnett in a couple of minutes.” A classic political move. When under interrogation, just say you have a Zoom with the chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber.

I’m left wondering about composition, framing, the rule of thirds. Who took the photo? Why? How?

The answer to all of the above is: Barb.

Edmonds was there when Nash got the jab. She sat behind him as he struggled to roll up his sleeve. She watched, bemused, as the nurse asked him to “just take off your shirt”, and she dutifully took a photo for his Instagram when he did. But she wasn’t happy about it. “I take the photo and I’m just like ‘oh fuck this, I am not doing a front photo so you can tense your abs or whatever’,” she says. Instead, she opted for the traditional blurry-hands-left-nipple approach. “I tried to get a photo that could take the least amount of flesh as possible without showing the needle but then also showing enough of Stuart’s face but not the grin on his face because he’s got his shirt off. It was all about angles.”

If Edmonds took the shirtless pic, who took this one? (Image: ???)

She is staunch in her position that the photo we can all see today was the best outcome for everyone. That by photographing only a bare left shoulder and back, Edmonds was acting nobly. “I was doing it for the team,” she says, stubbornly. “I was protecting us all.”

The next morning, Nash calls me. It’s unclear whether or not he is wearing a shirt. I ask if he has any final words on the matter, something to inspire others to get the vaccine, or at the very least clear his name. He says he hopes others will get vaccinated, even if they feel more comfortable without a shirt on.

And then, unprompted, Nash mentions a video he posted online a few years ago of himself lifting weights in the gym. To be more specific, “they were 50kg dumbbells and I was bench pressing them, and they were the heaviest weights in the gym”. He says he got “so much shit” for posting the video, including from his own wife, but “there is a constituency, it might not be that big, but there is a constituency that sorta likes that”.

That constituency includes at least 142 Instagram users, including The Spinoff Podcast Network and Peeni Henare. I’m still laughing at him name-dropping the 50kg dumbbells when Nash speaks again. “The other thing I would say is for people who do enjoy going to the gym. If you want to be assured that you can continue to go to the gym for as long as you want, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” he says. “If you end up with Covid, and as a consequence end up with long Covid, which is pretty much a form of chronic fatigue syndrome, you will not be going to the gym again.”

He thinks of a snappy mantra to tie up his message. “To protect your gains, get vaccinated… I gotta think of something smarter than that.”

Moments later he has it. “If you wanna train to the max, get the vax.” It’s not the worst vaccine slogan I’ve heard. In fact, it could actually be effective if posted on gyms and exercise centres when they reopen. And it’s a good, strong note for the strong MP to end on. I thank him for his time and am about to hang up when he speaks again.

“Oh and just for the record, I wasn’t flexing.”

Keep going!