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Pop CultureNovember 4, 2023

‘I will never live that down’: Sir Ashley Bloomfield on his biggest TV gaffe

Image by Archi Banal
Image by Archi Banal

The former director general of health reflects on his unexpected TV career, the endurance of the Bell Tea jingle and being there for that ‘spread your legs’ moment. 

New Zealand’s breakout television star of the decade so far, Sir Ashley Bloomfield made hundreds of appearances in the short-lived local drama 1pm Daily Update (2020-2021). His stirring performance in the role of director general of health eaened him two of the most coveted accolades in showbusiness – rave reviews on IMDB and a knighthood – although some critics thought he deserved even more. “Give Dr Ashley the Oscar he deserves,” wrote IMDB user MoofMilker. “He is the superstar of the show.”

In 2022, after 1pm Daily Update was thankfully not renewed for another season, Bloomfield announced that he would not be reprising the role. These days he’s stepped away from the spotlight, and says he’s grateful to have a bit more time to watch TV. “I really enjoy sitting down and watching something just to relax,” he says. “When I was constantly on TV, I would be worried that if I turned it on I might catch a glimpse of myself, or someone else speaking about Covid, which is just not what I needed.”

That said, the former public servant will soon be returning to our screens in the new season of TVNZ’s Anika Moa: Unleashed. “It sounded like a lot of fun and a bit light hearted,” he says. “There’s a big difference between being in a studio with Anika, who’s so much fun, and having a live performance review on national television at one o’clock every day.” He can’t say too much about his appearance, except that “should the zombie apocalypse arrive, I think Anika is much better placed to lead the fight than I am.” 

What Bloomfield was able to share with us were his own television habits and memories, including the endurance of the Bell Tea ad, the shock of that “spread your legs” moment and the local television drama he wishes he could star in. 

My earliest TV memory is… watching programmes after school with my siblings. Things like The Brady Bunch, The Waltons, The Jetsons. Another memory is getting up at three in the morning to watch the All Blacks play England or the Springboks on a Philips K-9 colour TV. Hot cups of Milo, the whole family sitting there, it was a real ritual. 

The TV moment that haunts me the most is… When I was younger I was on a show called It’s Academic, hosted by Lockwood Smith. It was a bit like University Challenge where you had schools playing off against each other. The question that was put to me was to spell the word cemetery. In the moment I thought “Oh, I know how to spell cemetery”, so – I didn’t even realise I had done this – I started the word with an S and spelt out “S-E-M-E-T-E-R-Y”. I thought to myself, “I nailed that”. My two teammates just looked at me and Lockwood Smith looked at me and said “Cemetery is spelt with a C”. I will never live that down. Just a few weeks ago, I was at a 40 year reunion with my schoolmates and one of them brought it up. 

My earliest TV crush was… Gosh, Farrah Fawcett Majors in the Six Million Dollar Man. We just used to watch every episode. 

The TV ad I can’t stop thinking about is… I still like a cup of tea in the morning and I always have Bell tea bags. Every time I look at the box I always think [singing] “Yes Bell Tea bags with their feel alive flavour, they’re for your teapot or your cup.” You see, there was that big shift from tea leaves to tea bags, and there were so many ads. There were Choysa tea bag ads, PG Tips ads which had chimpanzees acting in them, but the Bell tea bag one is the jingle that goes through my head as I make my cuppa every morning.

My TV guilty pleasure is… My go-to binge watch if I’m feeling like I just need to blob out is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m just such a fan, I’ve read the book five or six times. When things were pretty tough at work – not so much during Covid, because I didn’t have time – that would be when I would turn to Lord of the Rings for that escapism. I watched the Amazon series and frankly I thought it was dreadful, I’m not going to watch any further seasons. Honestly, I don’t think they could have done a worse job of it, which is a pity, but the movies are just absolutely outstanding and have stood the test of time. 

My favourite TV character of all time is… Steve Austin from the Six Million Man. We used to watch it, and then go outside and just pretend to be him. I can still remember the voiceover at the start: “Steve Austin, astronaut, a man barely alive, we can rebuild him, we have the technology, we can make him better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”

My most memorable TV moment is… I was standing alongside Chris Hipkins for the “spread your legs” moment. I was standing there thinking “Did he really just say that?” while all the journos sitting in front of us had tears rolling down their faces. He did incredibly well to hold it together, until at the end when he made a comment and the whole room just absolutely erupted. At my farewell, he commented that he wouldn’t play poker with me, because I’ve got a useless poker face. To be honest, I thought I did pretty well – all I did was raise my eyebrows. 

The most stylish person on TV is… Jack Tame always looks a million dollars. When I met him face-to-face, I just thought “How do you always look so good and so stylish all the time?” He’s become a fantastic interviewer, I think one of our best, but he’s also always absolutely rocking whatever he’s wearing. 

My most used streaming platform is… I’ve got a few subscriptions, some of which I use more than others. It would be Apple TV at the moment. I’m a big Ted Lasso fan – well, I got through two-and-a-half seasons but I actually found the third season a bit slow and treacly. 

My defining onscreen role is… My 300 plus appearances in the Covid standups is what people will remember me for, probably for the rest of my life. I still have people come up to me as well on the street to comment on the Covid response, and I can honestly say 99.9% of those interactions have been really positive. It’s probably been a bit harder for my wife, who has taken more photos of me with other women than I’ve taken with her.

The TV show I wish I was involved in is… If I think about New Zealand TV, one of the last things that I really enjoyed was Outrageous Fortune. I’m a really big Robyn Malcolm fan – I just think she’s fantastic – and I thought that show was so clever and so Kiwi. I’m not sure exactly who I could have played, but I’d love to have been a part of that show. Maybe I could be in a spinoff season called Outrageous Fortune: The Covid Years. 

My most controversial TV opinion is… I have never watched an episode of Game of Thrones, even when it was a huge big brouhaha. Part of it probably goes back to my Lord of the Rings thing. For me, in terms of fantasy, Lord of the Rings is the absolute pinnacle and everything else just feels a little bit second rate. 

The last thing I watched on TV was… A great series called Slow Horses, which is about a group of not very capable and slightly rogue MI5 agents. The last episode I watched was the culmination of quite an exciting first season. There is a new season that has just come out in the last few days, so I’ll be getting into that next. 

Watch Sir Ashley Bloomfield’s episode of Anika Moa: Unleashed from Wednesday on TVNZ+ 

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