Earlier this year several women spoke out on social media about their experiences with Andrew Tidball, founder of Cheese on Toast and a prominent member of the New Zealand music community. Alex Casey and Duncan Greive spent two months interviewing those women, along with their friends and family. The interviews, along with emails and chat logs, are the basis of this feature. All the women’s names have been changed to protect their identities.
Content warning: This feature contains distressing descriptions of a sexual and emotional nature, along with their mental health implications, which may be triggering to survivors.
It was a summer’s evening in Melbourne when Allison opened up Facebook. Scrolling down, she came across friends sharing a blog post about a new single from a band named Hex.
This should have made her happy – she knew members of the band, and loved what they stood for. But the post was on a New Zealand music site run by a man with a dark history involving a good friend of hers. Allison felt that if people knew what she knew, Hex would never have allowed their music to be featured on his site. Impulsively, she opened Twitter, and began to type.
She said she “wished onto it New Zealanders would stop using” a site run by an “abuser” to promote their music. Her messages came in part from the experiences of her friend Nicole, who had been deeply traumatised by her relationship with the man. She and Allison had made it their business to share information about his actions within the music scene. It was a collective response, driven by a sense of wanting to protect other women.
It wasn’t just Nicole’s story though. Allison had her own history with him, half her life ago. They’d met online, and in person, when she was a fourth form high school student. He had regularly flirted with her in a way which she found uncomfortable at the time, and deeply troubling on reflection as she got older.
There was anger in her tweets, but also resignation. She pointedly hadn’t named him or his site, and wasn’t planning to. The intent was simply to express frustration.
A little over an hour after she sent the tweet she received a reply. Are we “talking about Cheese On Toast Andrew Tidball?” a Twitter user named Lily asked. Allison affirmed that they were.
Minutes later Lily issued a volley of tweets in quick succession:
“Cheese On Toast / Andrew Tidball is a fucking disgrace,” she wrote. Tidball, more than 20 years her senior, was her second kiss. It happened when she was 14.
“I’ve never talked about this publicly before,” she wrote, “but it looks like he’s done it to other young girls and that makes me fucking angry.”
For the next few hours Allison and Lily issued a stream of messages, offering unsettling detail about his actions and describing the enormous impact he’d had on their lives.
A few hours earlier they had hardly known one another, and never met in person. By the night’s end they had formed a bond of shared experience, one which lead them to finally speak out about events which had haunted them for over a decade.
Later that night, Allison opened Facebook in a browser tab. Still furious from what she had learned over the course of the night, but very aware of Twitter’s impermanence and limited audience, she wrote a post on her public Facebook page as a musician. After a content warning, it repeated the allegations, and gave more background about her knowledge.
At 11pm, in her inner city Auckland flat, a 26-year-old product manager named Bridget read Allison’s Facebook post. They’d known one another for 14 years, but she had been unaware of Allison’s history with Tidball. It brought memories of Bridget’s own relationship with him flooding back. They had chatted online nearly every day, escalating quickly to cybersex and eventually phone sex. Their contact began when he was in his mid thirties.
She had been 12 years old.
Tidball founded cheeseontoast.co.nz in 2003. It was one of the first New Zealand music blogs, and coincided with a rapid resurgence of our independent music scene, which it both fed off and fostered. Bands like the Mint Chicks and The Datsuns found strong local fanbases and international interest. At the same time new venues, labels and promoters brought energy to a stagnant live scene.
It seemed like Tidball attended every show, camera in hand, off to one side of stage, shooting images for Cheese on Toast. At the time the site was predominantly composed of gig listings and photography, along with brief reviews and news.
The independent music scene in New Zealand already had its own media – student radio, magazines like RipItUp, fold-out gig guides and self-published magazines like A Low Hum.
But the internet, which was approaching a tipping point in terms of adoption and usage, remained something of a wasteland. There was no Facebook, no YouTube, no iPhone and no cloud. MySpace was only launched toward the end of 2003. There were scattered places to discuss new New Zealand music, but nowhere that covered it with any regularity. Certainly not at grass roots level.
Tidball became a player within the industry: his name always on the door, known to bands and fans alike. He became friendly with other local music identities, and, thanks to an entrepreneurial flair, created a cottage industry around himself and his site.
This landed him in a 2006 Metro feature about adults who refused to grow up. He was 37 at the time, already earning a full-time living from Cheese on Toast. The story has him rejecting the trappings of adult life: he finds those who buy houses and have children “abhorrent” and says disdainfully of bFM that it is “actually quite a big business”. Toward the end it notes that his then-girlfriend was 19 years old.
Over the coming years he continued to grow in influence and power, counting many local labels and promoters as clients of his site. He got over his antipathy to acquire a key slot on bFM, and hosted a show on the now defunct Alt TV.
The start-up channel was headquartered on the block of Karangahape Road between Queen and Pitt Streets. Tidball seemed to live most of his life within a few hundred metres of that stretch of asphalt: Real Groovy down the hill towards the CBD, key venue the King’s Arms across the gully in Newton, and St Kevin’s Arcade, with its vintage shops, venues and record stores, at the heart of it all.
For over a decade he cemented his position as a respected member of the independent music media and industry. But for a group of young women he would always be something else.
For the first few days Tidball stayed silent. Allison’s posts had caused a great deal of private conversation throughout the New Zealand music industry, but little in public. One exception was 18-year-old musician Eddie Johnston, who releases music under the names Lontalius and Race Banyon, and has over 5000 Twitter followers. He tweeted links to the Facebook posts along with statements supportive of the women. Not long after he received a letter from Tidball’s lawyer, demanding that he remove the tweets or face “substantial” costs and damages.
There was little else though, and the women wondered whether it would all just disappear. On the Thursday evening, three anxious days after Allison’s tweets, Bridget decided to take advantage of a moment of calm to write a statement detailing her own experiences with Tidball. “There is absolutely no way to defend or to justify what he did as anything other than abuse,” she wrote.
“Abuse of power and abuse of trust. Abuse of someone young, someone loving, someone totally vulnerable.”
She sent it to Allison, both so her experiences were written down, and so that, should any legal consequences arise for Allison, she had it to form part of a defence.
The following afternoon, on January 22nd – nearly four days after the allegations were first aired – Tidball finally responded. He wrote “important message attached”, and posted a statement as an image to Facebook and Twitter:
The statement received 113 likes and over 40 comments in support of Tidball, a number from critics, media identities and musicians. They spoke of his “moral integrity” and reputation as a “straight up and ethical” member of the industry. “I hope whoever is throwing shit around gets what they deserve,” one user wrote. “Stay strong and show them who the better person is”, said another.
There was a comment from a woman who identified herself as being part of the music scene: “you were nothing but professional and a total gentleman towards me when many other men weren’t.”
Lily and Allison saw the comments beneath his statement and felt helpless. The support Tidball received contrasted so markedly with the muted public response to their speaking out. They started to feel like no one would take their word over his.
Only one response ran against the grain, a comment from former RipItUp magazine editor Leonie Hayden. “When I try to use logic to think about the matter, I fail to come up with anything that they stand to gain by falsifying these allegations,” she wrote.
“Are you denying that you ever had any relationship at all with these young women, at the ages they claim, online or otherwise, of a sexual nature or otherwise?”
The comment gathered 64 likes. And no response from Tidball. (When contacted for comment by The Spinoff, Tidball said “I have nothing further to add”).
Bridget saw Tidball’s statement soon after it went live. She messaged Allison immediately about her own: “post it”. Within minutes it was live on Facebook.
The events she described started in the early ‘00s. Bridget was living on a semi-rural property on the outskirts of a South Island town, spending most of the time with her solo mother Susan, after her parents split.
The summer she finished primary school the family attended a free concert on a nearby beach. A wave of young New Zealand bands had just hit pop radio, and one of the most successful of the era were Zed, a Christchurch quartet who’d had huge chart hits with songs like “Renegade Fighter” and “Glorifilia”.
From the moment they took the stage that afternoon, Bridget was hooked. She bought the album soon after, and eventually traveled around the South Island, driven by her mother, to see them whenever they played nearby.
When she started intermediate at the end of that summer she was disappointed to discover the other kids didn’t care about New Zealand music. With Bridget feeling detached from school, Susan went online to try and find out more about the band for her daughter. She stumbled across NZMusic.com, a fan community run by future Red Peak designer Aaron Dustin.
Susan loved what she found. Discussion boards about bands, albums and concerts, all filled with passionate and knowledgeable conversation.
The family had been early and enthusiastic adopters of the internet, but Susan was not naive to its dangers. Links to pornography were rife in bulletin boards, so they had a rule that the family computer lived in the lounge, and she would thoroughly vet a site before allowing Bridget access to it.
NZMusic.com seemed perfect – well moderated, friendly and peopled by fans of all ages. Susan enjoyed her time there, and suggested her daughter check it out.
Bridget was 11 years old, and approaching the end of form one, or year seven, as it had just become known. NZMusic.com was at the start of a steep growth curve, during which time it functioned as a proto-social network, connecting people around the country and the world, all drawn in by their interest in New Zealand pop, rock, hip hop or dance music.
Along with the more permanent bulletin boards there was an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) community. Its users came from the site, but weren’t controlled by it. It allowed real time conversation, in groups, and as individuals. In large groups, and one to one. Within weeks both Bridget and Susan were fixtures, chatting most nights with the most sociable and opinionated of the community.
The site quickly became embedded in their lives, and the IRC chats were where all the best discussion happened. The conversations were as much about life as about music, and the distinction between an online friendship and a real world one soon seemed petty. Users soon lost the relative anonymity of “handles”, with real names, ages and occupations becoming widely known. And while Bridget was initially reticent about her status as an intermediate schoolgirl, the most committed users all knew her, and enjoyed her company regardless.
As the site’s popularity burgeoned, new members arrived, expanding the community. Early in 2002 Andrew Tidball arrived, under the username Geekboy.
Tidball was born in 1968, and attended school in Torquay in England, before emigrating to New Zealand in the mid ‘70s. He spoke at a The Watercooler live storytelling event last year, the transcript of which was posted on The Wireless, talking about his life prior to Cheese on Toast.
“I found myself living in South Auckland, watching Radio With Pictures and fawning over NME magazines bought three to four months after their publication date,” he told the audience. “I was saving paper-round money to make weekly pilgrimages into the city to buy records that for many shouldn’t have been in the same record collection. Look Blue Go Purple, Sonic Youth, The Pogues, Salt-n-Pepa and Madonna.”
After school he got a job at the Inland Revenue Department, and worked there for nearly two decades. His passion remained music, particularly indie rock, which would come to dominate his life. Some time in the ‘90s, the internet came along, to which he took just as rapaciously.
“The squeal of the dial-up modem connecting soon became something that happened every night after dinner,” he said. “I found myself on a New Zealand music IRC chat room and a regular on a New Zealand music bulletin board.”
That bulletin board was NZMusic.com.
Users remember him as an authority on the site, a guy who attended a lot of shows and had strong opinions. He was also extremely friendly, quick to add users to MSN messenger, a chat programme which superseded IRC. On any given night he’d be part of group chats, and also conducting a number of simultaneous private conversations.
As blogger Robyn Gallagher wrote in a 2011 post reminiscing about the site, one of NZMusic.com’s attractions was its democracy, facilitating conversation amongst a diverse range of users.
“A 14-year-old and a 28-year-old could equally argue about who was the best New Zealand drummer of all time,” Gallagher wrote, “and no one really cared about (or noticed) the other’s age.”
While that might have been true for most forum members, it wasn’t true for Tidball. He sought out private conversations with a number of very young women found through the site.
One was Allison, a Filipino living in South Auckland with her father. Music had always been a huge part of her life, gravitating toward Madonna, Michael Jackson and Meatloaf. The first big concert she went to was by the manufactured girl band TrueBliss, and from then on she was hooked. She was particularly obsessed with Rubicon, the pop-punk band started by ex-Shortland Street star (and current developer of a revamped St Kevin’s Arcade) Paul Reid. A big internet user, she created a fan site, and would email the band constantly.
Around the same time, she discovered NZMusic.com, and felt a rush. “I saw there were forums and was like ‘yes!’,” she says. “Because I loved talking online.”
The site became a big part of her life – she made a number of friends she retains to this day, and would actively try and meet up with other users at gigs. “I’m the girl in the rainbow sleeves,” she recalls writing. “If you see me come say hi.”
Among those she met was Tidball, who would regularly start private conversations with her. There was a flirtatious element to their chats, which was absent from those conducted with most other NZMusic.com users.
He was an avid and suggestive user of text-based emoticons. “He’d ask how I was, and I’d say ‘feeling emo’,” she says. “He’d say ‘I could give you a hug!’. And then there’d be a wink. Or, ‘I could cuddle you’. Wink.” It made Allison uncomfortable, and she changed the subject when he chatted with her in that way. They had met at shows in passing, always in very public situations, but he would ask her to meet up more privately too.
“It was a bit odd to me,” she says. “It went from a group thing, to situations where it would always be just me and him. He would compliment me, he’d say ‘you looked so pretty’, ‘you’re really cute’, ‘you’re sexy’. I would never say ‘you’re hot too’,” she says, “because I didn’t think that. I didn’t flirt back with him when he tried weird stuff.”
Despite her discomfort, she remained in touch with him due to his enviable authority within live music, and he remained a physical presence in her life at gigs.
“He wasn’t just a line of text on the screen,” she wrote. “He was very real… Also I was 14, I very much wanted to be desired, I wanted to be validated that someone would want me, even if I didn’t want them.”
Eventually their relationship changed. She realised she was queer, and became much more cynical about his advances. “His agenda… just wasn’t something I was interested in fulfilling anymore.”
From then on they became increasingly distant. “He would still chat to me and try and entice me by talking about a song or band I liked, or a gig coming up, to try and steer the conversation in his favour,” she recalled in an email. “But I lacked enthusiasm and clearly wasn’t letting the topic get back to him wanting to spend time with me or hug me. So the conversation would die.”
His attitude toward her became increasingly resentful, she felt. One day Allison saw him outside a record store with another young Asian woman. They had a brief, terse conversation, and she got the distinct sensation he had moved on.
Around the same time, he was also chatting with Bridget, still 12 and starting her second year of intermediate school, down in the South Island. He’d befriended her mother Susan first, and, after establishing a rapport with her, would talk daily with each of them.
From the start, it was a type of performance for Bridget, who relished the adult company and conversation. The culture of online chat allowed for actions to be conveyed as well as words.
“In chat, people would type in their speaking voices,” Bridget recalls, “but would put actions between asterisks. It was a useful tool for what would develop. It could start off playful and fun, and progress from there.”
Their relationship moved quickly. First chatting, then flirting. Then cybersex.
“It wasn’t like there was this big event – it just kind of happened,” she says. “I guess I was just curious, I went along with it.”
They would talk most days, and conversations were “not always – but usually” of a sexual nature.
“We talked about all kinds of things,” she recalled in an email. “Day to day things. I guess he’d had some cheesecake. So our conversation that afternoon featured me kissing remaining pieces from the corners of his mouth. ‘But you don’t even like cheesecake.’ True, at the time. ‘No, but I like you.’
“That could be classified as mild flirtation compared to many of our conversations though. A lot of the communication that went on between us was outright sexual. Think classic cybersex. ‘What are you wearing?’ Hands. Mouths. ‘Pussy’. ‘Cock’. I didn’t have the knowledge to lead these conversations or even contribute much. Much of my participation was limited to meekly interjected “mmm’s” and the answering of questions. ‘Would you like that?’ ‘Are you wet?’”
Eventually he progressed to sending the occasional pornographic image. She found that distressing.
“It definitely crossed a line for me,” she says. “It’s one thing to talk about all this stuff, but when you’re really confronted by it… I did find it quite frightening.”
Geographical constraints on their relationship prevented it from progressing into the physical: he lived in Auckland; she in the South Island. There were hundreds of kilometres and a large body of water between them. That distance seemed to shrink as time passed. They began talking on the phone, and cybersex became phone sex.
“When it was via the internet I could let the curiosity play out, so it wasn’t so much of a big deal,” she says. “But when it was via the phone, it becomes a bit more realistic and therefore more confronting.”
She was very conscious that he was masturbating during their phone calls. Today she thinks he was likely unaware of how the acts made her feel.
“I think if you can get what you want from someone, it doesn’t really matter.”
Her mother Susan says she had a “spider sense” that something was going on with her daughter and Tidball. On MSN at the time the act of logging off meant messages disappeared, limiting her ability to monitor their interactions.
That changed one day, when Susan came upon an open chat session and discovered what was going on between her daughter and Tidball. A conversation which showed their relationship had become highly sexualised.
Susan found the messages abhorrent. She took a copy and emailed them to a friend, a fellow NZMusic.com member in the US. “It felt violating to even read what he’d said to her,” her friend wrote in an email to The Spinoff.
Susan felt paralysed by what she had discovered. Her immediate impulse was to cut Bridget off from the site and its associated chatrooms, to try and protect her daughter. But she worried that Bridget’s knowing her mother was snooping could cause a rift in their relationship, and might push her away.
Instead she instigated a very serious conversation with Tidball, telling him to leave her daughter alone.
He didn’t obey immediately, but the relationship began to wind down of its own accord. Just as with its beginning, there was no defined moment which signalled the end. Bridget simply stopped believing he truly cared for her.
“I guess I didn’t really trust that there was an emotional element there,” she says.
With simulated sex as the dominant mode of communication between them, there was little room for other forms of emotional expression. She began to feel used, like an object to accompany his sexual fantasies. By the time she turned 15, while she remained close with many of the friends she’d made through NZMusic.com, Bridget and Tidball barely spoke.
Unbeknownst to her, he’d met another schoolgirl through the internet. And this one lived in Auckland.
Lily first encountered Tidball through NZMusic.com too. She was 14 at the time, attending an all-girls’ high school in central Auckland. Lily was raised in South Auckland by her Tongan and Filipino parents. Her father was a local bishop, and theirs was a devout Mormon home.
Lily had always found it difficult to make friends, and as early as intermediate school found her tastes differed vastly from those of her peers. They all liked Beyoncé; she preferred Kings of Leon. She commuted up to the central city every day with NME magazines and folders decorated with then-popular bands like Interpol and The Strokes.
She was enrolled in the same inner-city school as her sister, but the year before she began in 2004 her elder sibling had transferred to board in Hamilton. The only remaining pupil she knew was a girl who had bullied her at intermediate.
Unhappy, lonely and in an unfamiliar place, Lily struggled to connect with anyone her own age. She was regarded by peers, teachers – and later, she says, Tidball – as someone who seemed very mature. She always hated hearing that.
After school Lily would walk to St Kevin’s Arcade, and get badges made of Jared Followill, the lead singer of Kings of Leon. She was convinced they would marry. St Kevin’s was a gateway into the alternative music scene, a welcoming haven for people of all ages. Lily would spend her afternoons talking to patrons and shop owners in vintage stores like Fast and Loose, Vixen and Search and Destroy.
The St Kevin’s scene introduced her to local artists like Motocade and Cat! Cat! Cat! at a hole-in-the-wall record store – a place that she recalls as something of an “indie shrine”. A precocious reader, she borrowed books from the owner and became acquainted with the likes of Salinger, Vonnegut and Camus at 14. It was the type of cultural sphere and sense of community she deeply craved.
Although St Kevin’s served as a haven for Lily, she still found herself feeling disenfranchised from her own peers. She had signed up to NZMusic.com during third form, hungry to find more like-minded music fans. A young local band called The Checks became an obsession after she recorded a VHS of their 2003 Smokefree Rockquest performance. The band also played the first local gig she ever attended, at AUT’s Vesbar during fourth form. They quickly became what she referred to as her “rock and roll saviours”.
It was on NZMusic.com she first encountered Tidball’s online persona. He learned of her infatuation with The Checks and, as an acquaintance of their manager, would frequently pass on band gossip to her. They began emailing after Lily won a CD in a competition through Cheese on Toast.
Towards the end of 2004, when she was still 14, her exchanges with Tidball moved into a more personal realm. They not only continued to email, but texted and chatted over MSN. After a while he asked her for a photo. The one she sent featured her wearing her church youth programme outfit: a black shawl with a denim skirt and brand new Chuck Taylors – her proud first pair. He told her she looked “exotic”.
One day, by chance, they met in person. Lily was inside St Kevin’s Arcade’s cramped record store and recognised Tidball walking across the foyer. She went across to say hello, but found him surprisingly withdrawn and wary. Lily later emailed him to confirm that it was her he had met. He replied saying that he was just nervous because he thought she was so beautiful.
Their relationship continue its shift from the internet into real life. During the 2005 Big Day Out, Tidball texted Lily, telling her he wanted to meet. When she agreed, he left the concert early to see her, a significant move for a man running a New Zealand music site, as the event was then the undisputed highlight of the local musical calendar.
He drove down to collect her from her family home in South Auckland. Having spoken almost daily, she had developed trust in him and had no second thoughts about getting into his car. Tidball drove around South Auckland suburbia, pointing out landmarks from his youth, and where he worked at the IRD along the way.
They stopped at the Botanical Gardens, and took a seat on a park bench. Still too young to own any makeup, she had applied cherry lip gloss in an attempt to appear grown up. It was there that they had their first kiss, the second of Lily’s life. Tidball fondled her breasts.
Following that day, their relationship became even more explicit online. Tidball frequently engaged Lily in cybersex over MSN, and told her about his fetish for Asian women. He spoke of women being submissive, doing things for men and other stereotypes. Lily was encouraged to become more passive towards him, to cater to his every whim. This included deleting their chat history.
At night she received texts requesting phone sex, and she would oblige at an arranged time, using the family’s home phone. He instructed her to touch herself over the phone. Confused by his requests, and at times unfamiliar with anatomy he mentioned, Lily would rub herself against her pillow. “I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing,” she says. She increasingly felt like her body and sexuality were no longer her own.
After their first kiss, Lily returned to school for the start of fourth form. She remembers carving ‘Andrew Tidball’ into her desk in science class, and writing ‘Cheese on Toast’ all over her media studies folder.
Tidball arranged to pick her up after school one summer afternoon. She got in his car, still wearing her school uniform. They drove towards the Harbour Bridge. Disoriented, Lily became worried – she didn’t know where he was planning on taking her.
They pulled in below the bridge at a lookout. It was about four o’clock, and people were enjoying the sunny day on the waterfront. Inside the car, Tidball kissed Lily, putting his hand up her school shirt and touching her breasts. He stroked her crotch over the top of her skirt. Interpol was playing through the car stereo. It was the first time Lily had heard bFM.
Later that same year things began to turn, when Lily began to make friends her own age. They were a group of young women who shared an interest in alternative music and would frequently attend all-ages gigs at the Masonic Tavern and Ellen Melville Hall. All came from very different suburbs, and the city centre was the one place that they could easily converge.
Many knew of Tidball’s presence in her life, but none the true extent of it. To them, he was just a creepy old man. A close friend remembers calling him “Tiddyballs” in private, and groups of them giggling as they did the middle finger to him behind his back at gigs. More than one of her friends spoke of them warning other young women in the community to be wary of him.
What passed for their relationship began to disintegrate towards the end of 2005. Lily had befriended the drummer of The Checks, much to Andrew’s distaste. He became jealous of her affection for the band, increasingly bad-mouthing them in private to her, despite their growing critical acclaim. When out at gigs, Tidball would approach Lily, but only briefly, and would seldom engage with her friends.
As Lily’s own relationship with her peers strengthened, Tidball reined in their contact, limiting it to MSN and phone sex. Although he had cut off the physical element of their relationship, he told her online that they would be together again when she was 18, and that she would make a wonderful wife. “I felt that, if our relationship was legitimised legally one day,” she says, “I would be saved and I wouldn’t be a bad person anymore.”
Lily also found Andrew’s presence looming over her in the new growing online social platform at the time: MySpace. He sent her private messages whenever she added photos of herself and her friends to her personal account, saying that she looked “hot”, or accusing her of trying to “tease him”. She felt as if he was threatened by her new-found freedom, and was determined to remind her that he was still keeping tabs on her.
Being pushed away in public and drawn close in private by Tidball wreaked havoc with Lily’s sense of self. Part of her wanted to rid him from her life, and the other part remained in need of validation that she remained desirable to him. It was during this time that Lily began to develop an overwhelming feeling of shame and self-loathing. She began thinking the whole situation had been her own fault, and only she would be blamed.
Lily’s mental health suffered markedly through this period, with her parents becoming increasingly concerned. She became isolated and angry. “I saw everyone’s lives around me getting better,” she says, “and mine was just getting worse.” She began attending counselling both privately and at school, but stuck to telling half-truths so as to not get anyone in trouble. She felt as if she was carrying a heavy burden for everyone around her.
Every morning before school Lily attended her church’s seminary class, where she tried in vain to reconcile her faith with what she considered to be “wilful sinning”. She reached out to anything that would help her better understand what Tidball had done to her, including watching Kubrick’s Lolita. Desperately wanting an adult in the community to reach out and help, she recalls visiting St Kevin’s Arcade in the hope that someone who had seen her and Tidball together would ask her if she was alright. Nobody ever did.
Entering fifth form, Lily became more frustrated with Tidball, and would try to shut him down publicly. “I started to test the boundaries,” she says. “I was sick of waiting for adults to swoop in.” She realised that the reality she had been living was abnormal, and wanted a chance at the same experiences that her peers had. At a Mint Chicks gig at the Schooner Tavern one night, she noticed Tidball staring down her top in front of her friends. She told everyone that he was her uncle.
Down in the South Island, Bridget too was processing her relationship with Tidball, and starting to gain a greater appreciation for its true nature. The sexual component had ceased, though they continued to talk occasionally. Once, when she was 16, she chatted with him online about their relationship, and what it had meant.
After they finished talking, Bridget instinctively took a copy of the chat. Even back then, still a schoolgirl, she thought it might prove useful one day.
Tidball’s career continued to progress. He held release parties for albums, sat on the panels which decided where New Zealand on Air’s public funding was spent, and remained omnipresent at key scene occasions.
In September of 2007 he headed along to Craftwerk, a daytime fair for hand-made and small-run handiworks, zines and independent music, held in St Kevin’s Arcade. That day he met members of a new folk-pop band.
Nicole, then 19, was a vocalist in the group. She grew up in Wellington with her parents, European Jewish immigrants. Through her teenage years she’d been isolated and unhappy, and music was an escape, vaulting her into new friendships, a vibrant social scene and opportunities for creative expression. Her band became a minor sensation lighting up music blogs and swiftly being signed to a prominent New Zealand label. After finding her teens difficult, she was experiencing real success, and had found a community which felt far more like home.
When she met Tidball he was 38. She thought him a little odd, hanging around with people so much younger. But she knew he had status within indie music, and saw the value in being friends with him.
Not long after, he requested her on Facebook. Nicole didn’t view their friendship as romantic or sexual, and was in a long-term relationship at the time. Even so, he was sometimes sleazy, she felt: he referred to her as “Wellington’s resident sex kitten”.
Their friendship grew, and she’d meet up with him whenever she was in Auckland. Which was increasingly often – the band toured Australia, released an album, and were positively reviewed on a number of international music sites.
After the album cycle was complete she moved overseas for nearly a year, during which she stayed in touch with Tidball. At this point she seemed in an enviable position: a prominent member of an acclaimed band and commencing her Honour’s year at Victoria University – all at just 21.
Things began to turn upon her return to New Zealand, when her long-term relationship ended. She was distraught in the aftermath, and Tidball’s posture shifted. He became her online shoulder to cry on, always there, consoling her through this difficult period.
He lived in Auckland, and she in Wellington, but he swiftly became one of the people she chatted with most frequently about the breakup. Over the course of a few weeks he messaged her constantly online. The dialogue became sexually explicit, and moved to other mediums. “He really wanted to have phone sex; I didn’t really want to,” Nicole says now. She felt both flattered and pressured, and eventually gave in.
Soon Tidball suggested she come and stay with him, to help get over the breakup. She agreed, and flew to Auckland for a few days around the time of her 22nd birthday. The fact that, at 41, he was nearly twice her age wasn’t a problem to her. In fact, it was what she found most attractive about him. Coming out of a three year relationship, she felt she had an opportunity to experiment in love and in sex. For his part, he seemed to particularly enjoy her youth, telling her at one point “it’s pretty hot that you’re under 25”.
Despite the casual nature of their relationship, he exhibited intense jealousy throughout, which manifested itself increasingly as controlling possessiveness. He’d monitor her on social media, and angrily interrogate her about men who left comments on her profile. The 20 year age gap began to create problems – when together they were always at his house, in his car, on his terms.
During the second of her three trips up to see him, she made fun of him during a radio show he was hosting. Afterwards he became furious, frightening her with the intensity of his anger. When she returned to Wellington, she thought that whatever they had was now coming to an end.
By September, the relationship had become toxic. His jealousy was obsessive and all-consuming, and she says he constantly pressured her to fully commit to him, to move to Auckland and be his girlfriend. Even his friends joined the chorus. She recalls one telling her “‘you have to stop fucking around with Andrew, because it’s making him impossible to work with’.”
The final visit was arranged around a party on a boat they’d organised together months earlier. It had the makings of a great show – young, cool bands and an unconventional venue. But their relationship had deteriorated markedly in between their booking the show and its arrival. By the time she flew up, she had begun sleeping with other people, while he remained insistent that they become a serious couple.
Just prior to arriving, under the pressure of his constant requests, she had assented to giving the relationship a chance.
It didn’t work. The gap between his desires and her own proved too wide to bridge, and the visit was tense from the first. She arrived on a Wednesday, and they spent the rest of the week prepping for the show, fighting throughout. “He was angry and needy and interrogating my every move the whole time I was there,” she says. “I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
On the Friday the pair had dinner alone at his flat in Kingsland. They ate Indian food and drank wine. It went well until he produced a tub of ice cream, and insisted they eat it together, sharing a spoon. She resisted, and went to the kitchen to get her own.
According to Nicole, this set him off into a rage, the spoon somehow embodying the distance between them she stubbornly resisted closing. He yelled for a long while, and she was shaken by his rage. “He didn’t hit me,” she says, “but I was scared he would.”
She finally calmed him down, and they began having unprotected sex.
“Partway through, I decided I didn’t want to have sex anymore,” she recalls. “Because he wouldn’t put on a condom.” She was unable to move him – he is a physically imposing man, much heavier than her – and he ejaculated inside her.
Afterwards, she went to the bathroom and made a futile attempt to scrape his semen out, before returning to bed. She recalls him asking “is this going to be a problem?”
“It’s fine,” she replied. And then went to sleep.
After finishing high school in the South Island, Bridget moved to Wellington to attend University. She lived overseas briefly, before settling in Auckland at 23. One day she was talking through her past relationships with her then-boyfriend, and mentioned, almost in passing, what she’d been through with Tidball. While her boyfriend was appalled by the story, he wasn’t surprised, and mentioned that he knew another young woman who had been through a similar experience with Tidball.
It was a shocking revelation. At that moment she realised, almost for the first time as an adult, just how exploitative he had been. And that she was not alone.
Two years later she saw Tidball DJing at a festival in the Waitakere Ranges. It was her 25th birthday, and should have been a great day – but his presence overshadowed the whole event. She watched him playing records from afar, thinking about what he had done, and that she remained 10 years younger than he had been when they’d first met online. She couldn’t escape the thought.
The anger didn’t last. She had a good job, and great friends. The only time she was really affected was when her flatmates happened to have bFM on during his show. Hearing his voice took her right back to their phone calls all those years ago. She’d turn the radio off and try to lose the feeling.
Those moments aside, she managed to mostly avoid thinking about him.
In the years following her interactions with Tidball, Lily experienced an extreme deterioration in her mental health. She had been placed in streamed classes since the age of 10, but in the aftermath of their relationship found it increasingly hard to concentrate at school.
Consumed by guilt and anxiety, Lily failed NCEA level one and two, and suffered from severe panic attacks. In sixth form she told her Dean that she was depressed and wanted to drop out of school. Her Dean told her that she was a smart girl, and that she wasn’t depressed – just lazy.
“My life had become a shellshocked mess,” Lily recalls. “I couldn’t deal with it.” The impact on her education had been immense: she had gone from being the nerdy girl – collecting university prospectuses at intermediate – to a high school dropout.
She removed herself from both schooling and the music scene in sixth form, and describes herself as having a “complete meltdown”. For the first time she revealed the full details of her relationship with Andrew to a handful of those closest to her.
The height of her depression lasted eight months, during which she barely left the South Auckland family home, and instead chose to rewatch The Gilmore Girls – all seven seasons and 153 episodes – three times over. “Rory [Gilmore] was living the life I was meant to,” she says, “she was smart and dated boys her own age.”
She only left home for late night trips to gas stations and drive-throughs, escorted by her father, who just wanted to see her get out of the house. Over that eight month period she gained 35 kilograms. “I just didn’t want men to look at me the same way,” she says. “I felt like I was living in a body that belonged to other people.”
When Nicole awoke next to Tidball she “un-happened” the events of Friday night as a coping mechanism. The boat party they’d organised was that evening, and she busied herself with preparation. Once it was under way, the previous night seemed to catch up with her. “I got drunker than I’d ever been in my life,” she says. “Fall down, pass out, shit-faced. On a boat.”
They had a very public confrontation. “I yelled at him about how many people I’d slept with,” says Nicole. She also revealed to him that a couple of weeks earlier she had begun to engage in sex work. “I was acting out, to force a crisis, to force what had happened on Friday to the surface.”
The episode left him hurt, humiliated and enraged.
After the party, the pair returned to his house, but he woke her at 6am and told her to get out. They had a huge confrontation, with him oscillating between fury and begging her forgiveness. He repeatedly called her a whore – the beginnings of an obsession with her job as a sex worker which would define the remainder of their relationship.
Eventually she left, and called acquaintances asking for a place to stay, all while trying to process what had happened. She knew it was very bad, but didn’t know what to call it, what it was, what it meant.
A few weeks later, back home in Wellington, she missed her period and discovered she was pregnant. Distraught and frightened, Nicole confided in a classmate from university, with whom she was working on a project. When she learned about the circumstances of conception, her friend was horrified, and urged her to seek counselling.
Nicole dropped out of her post-graduate study immediately, finding the combined weight of the relationship, the incident, the pregnancy and her schooling far too much to bear. (She returned the following year, graduating with first class honours.)
When she told him she was pregnant, Tidball insisted she have a termination, and she soon booked it in. When asked, she told the clinic “it wasn’t entirely consensual”.
A friend who was privy to their communications at the time described them thus: “He would act like her being pregnant and having to have an abortion was something she made up to be dramatic.”
Still, Nicole and Tidball remained in almost daily communication – characterised, she says, by threats and admonishments. “He obsessively tracked my social media – including creating fake profiles on platforms where I advertised under a work persona, and would then message me to call me a lying slut based on the things he read.”
“I felt very trapped in the situation, and also isolated, because Andrew had rules about who I confided in, and would often interrupt me with angry or upset calls and text messages when I did try to socialise.” She often found it difficult to end their conversations, even to go to sleep – it would just invite accusations she was cheating on him.
As the year wore on she became increasingly depressed. “My self-esteem was destroyed,” she says, and she had internalised much of the stigmatising language he used about her job. She recalls him referring to her as a “dried-up hooker”.
Nicole sought out “pockets of resistance,” to his negativity in music, art and writing, and found support with a group of sex working women who she describes as her “main life-line” during that time.
This reached fever pitch in early 2011, when Nicole became resentful of his control over so many parts of her life. Their relationship ceased entirely when she blocked both his cellphone number, and his presence on social media. “I just felt free suddenly,” she says, “like I was getting myself back again.”
A couple of years afterwards, she sent Tidball a long email describing the after-effects of the incident. It described what had gone on between them and how it had continued to impact her life, as it does to this day. The email concludes:
He never replied.
Lily still blamed herself, but was trying to get back some of what she had lost by studying for university entrance. She twice failed the course, before finally passing in 2013 – five years after most of her schoolmates.
In 2010, during her first year back studying, she found herself sitting outside a counsellor’s office. There was a 2006 copy of Metro magazine – the one with Tidball featured prominently within. Seeing it awoke a familiar fury within her, as she compared their lives – his so successful, hers so stunted. She turned to the story, and started reading.
In it he talks about being approached by 16-year-old girls who recognised him from his blog, and jokes about being thought of as “this old weird guy with a camera, some sort of pervo who’s preying on these young girls.”
“I made sure that was never actually the case,” he adds.
Lily left seething. One lunchtime, a few months after reading the Metro feature, she walked into Wendy’s on Queen Street with a friend. Andrew was sitting at a table alone, a Real Groovy bag at his side. Without a moment’s hesitation, she walked over to him.
He looked pleased to see her, smiling gently as he began to ask her how she was. She furiously cut him off.
“I just came over here to tell you that I hate you, and that you ruined my life,” she said. “If I ever find out that you have done this to any other young girl – I will come forward.”
Six years later she read Allison’s message on Twitter. And started typing.
If the events depicted in this story have been triggering in any way, please consider contacting any of the following organisations:
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us continue our work and cover the stories that matter. Get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel when you contribute $80 or more over a year.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.