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Bronte Bell is the mystery  Shortland Street baby. Image: Tina Tiller
Bronte Bell is the mystery Shortland Street baby. Image: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureFebruary 15, 2024

Exclusive: We found the Shortland Street mystery baby

Bronte Bell is the mystery  Shortland Street baby. Image: Tina Tiller
Bronte Bell is the mystery Shortland Street baby. Image: Tina Tiller

The global hunt is over – Alex Casey talks to Shortland Street’s first ever baby.

Bronte Bell’s first thought was that she was being scammed over Facebook Messenger. “A few people sent me this weird looking link,” she laughs over Zoom. “You know, when you get sent links from multiple people saying ‘is this you’ it definitely seems a bit dodgy, so I didn’t open it.” 

From her home in London she eventually opened the link, and discovered that a global hunt was underway to find her, the mystery baby from Shortland Street’s very first episode back in 1992. “It was just crazy and funny,” she says. “My sister loved it especially, because she knows I don’t want to be the centre of attention. I haven’t even done a post about it.” 

Bell, 31, was just a few days old when she was thrust into the spotlight on what would become our country’s most enduring soap opera. In the climactic scene, Dr Hone Ropata, nurse Carrie Burton and a real life midwife work together to dramatically deliver the baby (Bell) of teenage parents Lisa Stanton and Stuart Neilson (played by a young Martin Henderson). 

A star is born. Image: Youtube

Naturally, she can’t remember the appearance herself, but a text from Bell’s mum sheds more light on the events of the day. “Everyone was really nice, Temuera and Martin and the other actresses were lovely with you,” reads the text seen by The Spinoff. “They did a few takes of the scene, I was right there in front but out of shot of course.” Bell is even reported to have cried on cue.

“I was proud of you being a little star at just a few days old,” her Mum added. 

Being a Shortland Street star earned Bell some crucial social currency during her primary school years. “Whenever I wanted to make a new friend, or just seem a bit cooler, I’d drop it in – I was the first baby on Shortland Street.” She took a hiatus from acting for a decade, returning in the school nativity play in the hallowed role of “an angel holding up a little sign.” 

Like many New Zealand kids, Bell also has memories of watching Shortland Street. “When you grew up watching a show, it’s kind of comforting to come back to,” she says. “The one memory that was quite clear was I think I had a massive crush on one the doctors, Maia. She was so dreamy. That’s a core Shortland Street memory.” 

Having lived in London for the last five years, Bell admits she doesn’t watch much Shortland Street anymore. Still, she says there has been interesting foreshadowing from the soap appearance into her real life. Working every day on Harley Street – “London’s version of Shortland Street” – the skin clinician wears scrubs daily and works with doctors and nurses. 

Bronte Bell, Shortland Street’s mystery baby, in her real life line of work (Photos: Supplied)

Despite her claim to fame, Bell only watched her episode on YouTube for the very first time just last week. “First of all, I didn’t know that the theme tune had words – that was weird,” she laughs. “But watching the scene where I was ‘born’ actually made me really emotional. You see pictures of yourself as a baby, but actually seeing video was crazy.”

“I realised I’ve lived a whole life since then; I almost cried because I’m like a full-on adult now. When you’re in your 30s, you can’t quite pretend to be a little baby anymore.”

Although she has stayed away from the limelight for the last three decades, Bell is open to the idea of returning to Shortland Street for a cameo appearance, perhaps even for an onscreen reunion with her midwife and, if the stars align, Temuera Morrison and Martin Henderson. “It would be so trippy and weird,” she says. “I bet we’d all feel super, super old.” 

Until then, Bell is quite happy with her scrub-wearing life in London, although she says she misses her cats and hearing the New Zealand accent. When asked to impart any advice for aspiring actors out there, she had one final piece of wisdom to share: “Sometimes your acting career peaks at just a few days old, and that’s OK. Life goes on.” 

Watch the 1992 season of Shortland Street on Youtube, and the 2024 season at 7pm weeknights on TVNZ2 or on TVNZ+.

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