One Question Quiz
Anchor Me in the middle of your deep blue sea, Chris Warner (Photo: Screengrab / Design: Tina Tiller)
Anchor Me in the middle of your deep blue sea, Chris Warner (Photo: Screengrab / Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureDecember 21, 2023

Ten years on, Chris Warner singing ‘Anchor Me’ is still an absolute banger

Anchor Me in the middle of your deep blue sea, Chris Warner (Photo: Screengrab / Design: Tina Tiller)
Anchor Me in the middle of your deep blue sea, Chris Warner (Photo: Screengrab / Design: Tina Tiller)

In 2013, Chris Warner sang ‘Anchor Me’ on national television. Was this the best Shortland Street cliffhanger ever? Tara Ward thinks so. 

Ten years ago, the sun set at Piha Beach as a beautiful blonde man strummed his guitar. He began to sing, out loud. The song? ‘Anchor Me’. The mood? Incredible.  

It’s December 2013 and Chris Warner is sitting on his deck in Piha, playing his guitar. Behind him is the golden light of a west coast sunset, beside him his closest friends and colleagues. As Chris’s heart soars in this tranquil moment of togetherness, so does his voice. He begins to sing ‘Anchor Me’, the award-winning song by The Mutton Birds, calling everyone around him to the middle of his deep blue sea. His friends and family smile warmly at each other, joining in on the chorus with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Grace Kwan is so moved that she even starts to sway, ever so slightly. 

Nobody knows there’s a ticking bomb under that deck. As the storm clouds roll, all they’re thinking about is Anchor Me. 

One decade later, some of us are still thinking about Anchor Me. Though that musical scene lasted only a few precious seconds, it created a Shortland Street cliffhanger like no other. Over the past 31 years, New Zealand’s longest running drama has delivered unforgettable Christmas finales filled with plane crashes, truck crashes, shootings and murders, but this quiet moment rises above all that tragedy and heartbreak. Each cliffhanger strives to be bigger and better than those before, but nothing beats the simple joy of watching Chris Warner sing ‘Anchor Me’ as the sun slowly sets on 2013. 

Producer and director Simon Bennett worked on Shortland Street for 19 years, and oversaw the 2013 cliffhanger. He remembers it as one of the most significant episodes that he was involved with on the show, and he’s thrilled that a “random decision in the heat of the moment” to make Dr Love sing in public has endured in the public consciousness for so many years. 

Galvin had already danced and rapped on Shortland Street, but viewers had never heard him sing. Bennett, however, had worked with Galvin in musical productions like Blue Sky Boys and Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera, and had no doubt that the talented singer and playwright could pull off ”that slightly awkward moment when your uncle picks up the guitar”.

Anchor me, anchor me, anchor me (Photo: Screengrab)

Bennet wanted to include a song that New Zealanders would recognise, and initially considered using Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Loyal’. Instead, Bennett chose the poignant, “less cliched” love song ‘Anchor Me’, which he believes is an iconic New Zealand anthem. “It’s warm, it’s positive, there’s a hint of melancholy there – it’s just a wonderful song.” He sought permission from songwriter Don McGlashan, who he knew was “quite particular” about how his songs are used. “He was happy for us. He gave us his blessing, which was great.” 

Watching a hospital CEO transform into a modern-day troubadour could easily veer into David Brent territory, but it’s Galvin’s rendition of ‘Anchor Me’ that keeps the ship steady. “It’s really good to have a moment of warmth and closeness and harmony and happiness immediately before the bomb goes off, and the whole place gets blown to bits,” Bennett says. “Chris Warner is not supposed to be necessarily the world’s greatest singer, so long as it was sung with conviction and heart – which Michael definitely did.”

Angela Bloomfield played Rachel McKenna on Shortland Street for 24 years, and agrees about Galvin’s performance. “Michael’s a great singer,” she says. “It’s kind of sweet to see Dr Warner as human.” Bloomfield experienced her fair share of cliffhangers during her time on the soap, and says the 2013 finale stood out as “a big deal” at the time. Galvin recently told the NZ Herald it took eight takes of him singing ‘Anchor Me’ to get the perfect shot, and Bloomfield says that the longer Galvin serenaded them, the more “stupid and ridiculous“ the cast became. 

Not for long (Photo: Screengrab)

The cast and crew spent two days and nights filming the cliffhanger at a bach at Piha Beach, and both Bennett and Bloomfield remember the setting as more humble than you’d expect from a Warner residence. “We always talk about Chris Warner being the richest person in the world, and we turned up to this little bach, and I was like, ‘what’s this?’”, Bloomfield remembers. “Then you go, ‘hang on, no. If we have a really big luxurious bach, no one’s going to let us film there.” 

Just as well. If ‘Anchor Me’ was the heart of the 2013 cliffhanger, then the explosion was the heart attack. Deep beneath the Warner deck – full fathoms five, almost – the bomb detonated, blowing the deck into smithereens and sending everyone above plummeting to the ground. “I was out there when they shot the explosion, it was quite phenomenal,” Bennett remembers, the deck having been especially built to collapse and explode during the fiery crescendo. “It was one of the biggest things that Shortland Street had undertaken in my time with the show.” 

Kaboom (Photo: Screengrab)

The compass turns, the glass it falls. The episode climax saw the mood shift to darkness and tragedy, leaving Shortland Street fans to worry all summer about who would live and who would die. It’s exactly what Bennett wanted. “If you’re going to potentially blow up a whole community of characters, you want the audience to go, ‘ah, we love them,’ just before the bomb goes off,” Bennett says. “It’s building up the positive in order to maximise the impact of the negative.”  

It’s also a cliffhanger that maximises what Shortland Street does best, by reflecting New Zealand society back at us. Yes, the sequence is full of classic soap melodrama: Grace Kwan wants Chris’s super sperm to make a baby, while villainous doctor Josh has something called “hero syndrome” and plants the bomb just so he can save everyone. But the absurdity is balanced by the heartfelt moment when a group of friends gather at the beach, someone pulls out a guitar, and everyone sings along. It might be corny, but it’s recognisably, wonderfully us.

Tonight, Shortland Street fans will watch the 2023 Christmas cliffhanger, with delicious expectations of a bumper episode bursting with intense drama. But for all of the show’s impressive finales and memorable music moments – Ed Sheeran turning up at the IV, Sol3 Mio singing through a hostage situation, the 30th anniversary musical number – it seems nothing compares to the safe harbour of Chris Warner singing ‘Anchor Me’. It may be 10 years later, but he’s still just a man, singing on his deck, asking his employees to love him. 

The hour-long Shortland Street cliffhanger screens on Thursday 21 December at 7pm on TVNZ 2 and streams on TVNZ+. 

Keep going!