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Nothing is different, everything is different: Clarke Gayford on his first days as first gent

When you watch your cat attempt to derail your partner’s phone call with Donald Trump, it’s hard to avoid the word ‘surreal’, writes Clarke Gayford.

Write us a diary, the Spinoff asked. What do I call it? Diary of a plus one? Hello from the other side? First-man musings? Prince Philip or bust?

I’m sitting here in the barely settled dust of the last couple of months feeling guilty about my past flippant use of superlatives. I’ve been forced to rethink applications of words like “surreal”, “life-changing” and “bananas”.

Because while nothing is different, everything is different now. I’ve found the best way to not get too overwhelmed is to not process it too much, I’m walking a fine line writing this. Thankfully distracting me is a pressing deadline for my TV series. In fact I’m writing this back at 90 Mile beach in Northland. We were here filming just two weeks ago, when it looked like Winston was ready to make a call the following day. It was evening at the Pukenui café in Houhora and strangers next to me were intensely discussing which way he was going to go – National, they had decided. So I finished my Puku Burger, got in a Ute, drove back to Auckland, and jumped on a flight to Wellington.

Illustration: Toby Morris

The nervous tension on the third floor of the parliament building that next afternoon is not something I will ever forget. A dedicated bunch of people, after nine hard years of slog from the handicapped position of opposition, had arrived at this very sharp point.

To pass the last moments some Labour staffers down the hall were nervously watching Family Feud on TV. They anxiously laughed along so much that a lurking journalist reported this as: “Sounds of rapturous applause heard coming from the Labour office!” Clearly a signal.

But in reality no one had a clue.

Several snap polls were run among those gathered and it was 50-50 every time. With no prior heads-up, we all learnt our fate along with the rest of NZ via television that evening. I tried to document the moment on camera but the adrenaline flowed so freely that I was shaking uncontrollably.

And so here we are.

To be fair I’d had a small taste of the changes to come in the lead up to this room-reveal. I mean it’s hard not to notice when your partner suddenly has three suited, handsome, well-trained (and groomed) men following her every move. Meanwhile I didn’t even own a proper suit, although I have since remedied this – via Hallensteins.

Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford walk into parliament with Clarke’s nieces after after the swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

So I find myself now experiencing new moments that have been resetting my brain’s go-to bag of descriptors. How else but “surreal” can you describe hearing your partner take a call from POTUS. There we were at home on a Sunday morning when “Nick” from the “Situation Room” in a thick all-American accent called to give a 30-minute heads up. Then in a wonderful little taste of Kiwi, a parliamentary work colleague turned up in jandals. As the call was transferred our cat (yes that bloody cat) came flying through the cat-flap. She leapt up onto the chair next to Jacinda and began announcing her very squawky arrival. There was a flurry of action as I tried to hustle it into the next room while quite literally the leader of the free world was connected through to our little home in Pt Chev.

There’s other odd small things that stick with you as well.

Incidents like turning up to Premier House in a taxi having packed Jacinda’s entire Wellington shoebox apartment into six boxes. Boxes that then took up just one corner of a spare bedroom in the new considerably larger residence. Incidents like Jacinda then ordering a curry to said Premier House, only for the order never to get made as they had assumed it was a prank call.

Paddles the cat and friend. Photo: Clarke Gayford

From a media perspective I’ve also found it equal parts fascinating and frustrating watching journalists translate reality into their own words.

Especially knowing the facts around the event described and then watching and reading their interpretations of it. This reached a deafening cacophony in the last gasps of the campaign as normally calm and measured reporters moved from 5 to 9 on the scale. It forced the likes of poor Paddy Gower up to 11, which meant that Lloyd Burr was almost cast adrift in space. All in the madness of being heard.

So I guess the plan from here is to keep life as normal as possible for us both. I don’t think the boy from Gisborne and the girl from Morrinsville will find this all too difficult. Having said that, a friend has just sent me an article about my cat in a Danish newspaper, so I’m off to buy a thesaurus to help me through the moments ahead.


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