He’s known for many things – Neve’s dad! Fish fan! First man! – but Clarke Gayford shows off a secret passion in his new show, Moving Houses.
Clarke Gayford is waking up to day three of a 600-kilometre slow-motion drive between Christchurch and Tuatapere, a small rural town near the bottom of the South Island. Wearing a hi-vis vest, he’s spent much of that time nestled into the passenger seat of a truck carrying a “big Christchurch villa” on the back. When it slowly approaches tight corners or a narrow bridge, sometimes with only inches of room to spare, Gayford jumps out with a camera crew and narrates the action.
Gayford is known for being many things. He’s a father to Neve, his daughter with his partner, prime minister Jacinda Ardern. He’s also a well-known media face in his own right, with stints across shows ranging from Treasure Island to Wellington Paranormal. Many also know him from his career hosting youth radio and music TV shows. Lately, he’s more widely recognised for holding a snapper wriggling on the end of a hook for National Geographic’s Fish of the Day.
In short, Gayford’s got plenty of things on his plate – including making headlines after firing up about a recent Covid-19 column from former prime minister John Key. With Ardern making sure as much of the country as possible doesn’t catch Covid-19, and Gayford keeping watch over Neve ensconced in their second home at Premier House, he really doesn’t need to be stuck in a truck carrying a huge old house along treacherous South Island roads.
Yet that’s exactly what he’s doing in Moving Houses, a new TVNZ 1 show beginning on Tuesday. While everyone thought Gayford was the country’s biggest fish fan, he’s actually had another love affair on the side: trucks. “The seven-year-old in me used to have Trucking Life’s ‘Rig of the Month’ up on my bedroom wall,” Gayford admits. “I grew up inland on a small farm. I used to find any excuse to get in the truck and go for a drive around when I could.”
That secret passion led him to his new hosting gig. In the 10-part series Moving Houses, Gayford provides a twist on the Grand Designs formula by following couples who save old homes and historic villas by moving them to a new location. The show follows that journey right from the start, when a “knackered” old home is picked up and shifted by trucks, to the big renovated reveal.
It is, says Gayford, a recipe for potential disaster. “There really is quite a bit of tension and stress. None of it is contrived,” he says. “It’s their largest asset in most cases.”
So why do it? Gayford says there are several reasons. “A lot of these older homes you simply can’t get any more. The construction and the finishings, the bits and pieces they have, we just don’t have the building skills or talent to recreate.” The other reason could be a reference to Aotearoa’s current housing crisis. “For a lot of them, they’re getting into a home they wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford.”
That’s true for one Ōtaki couple living in a tiny home who score a bargain on a “dilapidated villa” set for demolition. The transformation, achieved through many early mornings and late nights before and after work, is stunning. “If you do it smart, there are great savings to be had,” says Gayford.
It’s not always that easy. During his 600km South Island trek, Gayford found himself “slightly delusional and a bit mad by the end of it”. The 43-year-old spent “large parts” of the trip sleeping in the truck’s cab. It wasn’t the only moment of drama on the show. He mentions another story about a house left homeless when floods wash out the Ashburton bridge. “That house is stuck in Christchurch. It can’t get down to Lake Cromwell.”
For another, he follows a couple who spend eight years living in a woolshed in Christchurch’s Port Hills while trying to get the correct paperwork to move their dream house on site. “It’s not a warm place,” says Gayford. “To be able to see these guys in their home … is going to be really cool.”
Yet Gayford’s facing a potential disaster himself. The first episode of Moving Houses is finished and ready to go for Tuesday’s premiere, but thanks to Covid-19 lockdowns keeping his camera crew stuck in Auckland, he’s yet to film the endings for at least half the season’s episodes. After our Zoom call, he’s flying to Christchurch to get one of them in the bag.
Will they make it? “We’re trying to get there,” Gayford says. “I’m terrified. I would love to have them finished a month ago. We’re chasing our tails a little bit.”
Yes, the glee you see on Gayford’s face in Moving Houses is real. Ask him if he misses fishing, and Gayford says all his TV shows are actually about people. Moving Houses captures some classic Kiwi characters, especially the hardy truck drivers, and that’s his favourite bit. “TV and radio allows you to be incredibly nosy, really,” he says. “You get to experience how other people co-exist on this long skinny stretch of land that we have. There are so many unique experiences people have that’s very specifically their New Zealand experience.”
Through all of this, Gayford remains in the middle of a unique New Zealand experience of his own. Sitting at Sir Robert Muldoon’s old desk in Premier House, Gayford admits he doesn’t think much of the digs he’s in, with its 70s carpet and “stuffy” atmosphere. Despite seeing all the stress on the stars of Moving Houses, he says he’d happily give a house move a go himself.
But then there are his time issues. “My biggest problem,” he says, “is I don’t have enough hours in the day.”
Moving Houses, Tuesday, 7.30pm, TVNZ 1