One Question Quiz

SummerDecember 20, 2021

The Spinoff’s biggest stories of 2021, updated


Our favourite stories and biggest reads of the year aren’t over just yet.

If you’re wondering what happened to Little Ted’s head, Skyworld, Queen’s Rise and Tomfoolery, well, we are too. So we asked the journalists who wrote some of our biggest and best stories of the year to give us an update.

Updated: The hunt for Little Ted’s head

‘It disappeared into the ether. It just rose to heaven.’ Illustration: Toby Morris

Hayden Donnell thought he’d lucked into the story of a lifetime: What happened to Little Ted’s head after it was rigged with explosives and blown off one day in 1989? The story turned out to be all-consuming. “For months, all I thought about was this mystery,” Hayden says. “I rang every crew member from Play School. I rang museums and TV people. I found someone who revealed to me that not only is the head still around, but it’s safe and retrievable. Then the failures started. The person who has it didn’t want to part with it.”

Tragically, when Hayden’s story was published it didn’t seem to connect with readers. “I thought I’d unraveled one of the greatest New Zealand TV mysteries of all time. I was fizzing. This would finally be my big break! No-one cared. They may have been distracted by some kind of pandemic.” Hayden recently tried calling the owner of Ted’s head again, and no-one picked up. His disappointment is palpable. “I know I got so close to the bear’s head. It was almost in my grasp. Just as my fingers were about to close around it, it dissipated into thin air. Just as with the rest of life, hope was illusory all along.”

Updated: Skyworld’s glitzy launch to its bleak present

Force Entertainment Centre, Skycity iMage, Queen Street Cinemas Metro Centre, or Skyworld? Photos: Sam Brooks, Image: Tina Tiller

Sam Brooks spent six months piecing together a thrilling deep dive into Skyworld, Auckland’s entertainment complex that has seen better days. “It was not easy, to put it mildly,” Sam says. “Firstly, sifting through library newspaper archives to find out about a building that has had about as many names (Force Entertainment Centre, Metro Centre, SkyCity Metro) as tenants is a very finicky thing. Secondly, getting anybody to talk about its current state was near impossible. I eventually got enough for a piece, but it took a lot of digging.”

As for the state of the Queen Street building now, Sam says it’s back open and something is up. “There’s a big reconstruction or revamp happening on the ground floor, and everything except the cinemas and Metrolanes is empty. A bolder, brighter, better future for the CBD’s weirdest building? One can hope.”

Updated: Menopause, MHT and me

Image: Archi Banal

Anna Sophia’s experience with menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) resulted in this heartfelt and emotional story that many people connected with. Sophia says it was a story she needed to write, and others needed to read. “A revolution has truly started,” she says. Since her article was published in July, she’s been stalked (in a good way) by readers struggling with similar issues who took her story to their GPs, told them they wanted the same treatment, then tracked Sophia down to tell her about it. She’s been interviewed on podcasts, delivered a Massey lunchtime talk via Zoom, and even been recognised in public. “They tell me their own stories of menopause and how MHT has helped them,” she says.

Sophia’s also happy to report that she feels better than ever, and has a huge summer planned. “I’m just about to head off over the Routeburn track. And I’m walking the Queen Charlotte track and the Heaphy Track later in the summer. MHT has given me the mental and physical power and confidence to go for multi-day hikes.”

Updated: He was ejected from MAFS – now he wants to open a bar

The lots inside St Kevins Arcade where Chris Mansfield planned to open his bar, Tomfoolery. Photo: Jean Teng

Married at First Sight NZ contestant Chris Mansfield was fired from Three’s reality show and his scenes removed in 2019 after allegations of domestic violence surfaced. In March, Charlotte Muru-Lanning reported Mansfield’s latest endeavour: trying to open a bar called Tomfoolery on Auckland’s K Rd. Did it happen? “Despite Tomfoolery’s website once advertising that the bar would open in early 2021, their doors remain closed,” says Charlotte. “Throughout the year they were plagued by an enormous amount of objections to their liquor licence and multiple delays to their District Licensing Committees hearings. Now, the bar’s social media and website have vanished and the Tomfoolery-branded brown paper that once covered the windows in their St Kevin’s Arcade space has been taken down.”

Updated: Every pudding in the Edmonds cookbook, cooked and ranked

The orange Edmonds sunrise logo with pudding ingredients (eg eggs, apples, sugar, milk) superimposed
That is a 5kg sack of sugar. Image: Tina Tiller

Catherine Woulfe has been making Edmonds’ puddings since she was a kid. Earlier this year, The Spinoff’s books editor realised she’d blanked a bunch of them for decades. What the hell was a Dominion Pudding? A Queen of Puddings? Yoghurt Cream? She was already in the kitchen all day making endless snacks for small people so had the deranged notion to cook the whole section and find out. She thought: “Let’s be pedantic and follow the recipes to the letter – it’s supposed to be a book of basics for beginners, so they best be good recipes.” It turns out many were not. The chocolate self-saucing pudding, in particular, did not come out looking good.

Her endeavour resulted in this story and a lot of feedback: mostly laugh emojis, some laugh-cry emojis, the odd facepalm emoji from readers who misunderstood the premise and thought she was just a shitty cook. Just this week, Catherine published her ultimate sequel: Every cold dessert in the Edmonds book, chilled and ranked. Definitely make a pavlova for Christmas, says Catherine – just don’t make the Edmonds one.

Updated: A sunrise lamp changed my life

Madeleine Chapman, asleep in various places.

In August, The Spinoff spent a week asleep. Not really: we dedicated seven days (actually 11) to stories about the art of slumber. None connected more than Madeleine Chapman’s struggle to wake up, a daily drama that took her seven attempts, sometimes more, to rise. That changed when she discovered a tech toy called a “sunrise lamp” which mimics the sun’s orange glow, helping activate the body’s circadian rhythms, or something.

Now, Madeleine is able to wake easily, but is being disturbed by something else: readers who suffer from the same problem. “They want to know where I got my lamp because they’re still virtually impossible to find,” she says. Watch out on TradeMe, because Madeleine may soon be able to get rid of hers: “In the New Year I’m moving into a room with two big windows and lots of natural light.”

Updated: The long, slow demise of Queen’s Rise

The empty interior of Queen’s Rise with, from left, Ottoman Mezze Lounge, Poke Bar and Dante’s (Photo: Alice Neville)

Alice Neville first wrote about troubled Queen Street eatery Queen’s Rise in 2019. “I started digging and quickly found ample evidence that all was not well,” she says. “I spoke to a bunch of current and former tenants and it resulted in my first Queen’s Rise story, published back in October 2019 – that innocent pre-pandemic time when we had no idea what was about to hit us. Then 2020 arrived, bringing Covid with it. I had Queen’s Rise in the back of my mind as the year progressed, with hospitality struggling to bounce back after the first lockdown and then Auckland’s second. By the time of my follow-up in May this year, just one Queen’s Rise tenant was left.” She was flooded by messages: readers felt a lot of empathy for the tenants and angry about how they’d been treated.

Things haven’t improved. In fact, they’re worse. “Sadly but unsurprisingly, Queen’s Rise is now no more,” Alice says. “I presume lockdown was the final straw, but I don’t know for sure – its last Facebook post was on June 30. Panda Town, the last remaining tenant, still exists on Uber Eats, but it says ‘unavailable’. None of the tenancies are being advertised, and I’ve contacted Colliers to ask for an update on what’s happening with the site. I’m yet to hear back.”

This story first appeared in the latest edition of The Spinoff Weekend newsletter. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Saturday here.

Keep going!