The Kiwi icons that raised me

A children’s television presenter, New Zealand’s first supermodel, and bloody Cocksy! Jordan Hamel pays tribute to the Kiwi icons that helped get him through his life.

Adolescence was not a great time for me. Depression, anxiety, sexuality, awkward social interactions, emotional repression, being shit at sports – all the cliched tropes you see in any coming of age film, I had them in spades. But this article isn’t my own personal pity party (that comes later, watch out for your Outlook Calendar invites) because it wasn’t all darkness and inappropriate boners. My journey into the swamp of adulthood happened to coincide with the golden era of Aotearoa pop-culture, aka the late-90s/early-2000s, obviously.

The likes of Suzy Cato, Dei Hamo and Ben Lummis were life rafts for me. The epitome of cool, influential adults who had their shit together and were adored by the masses. Escaping the real world to spend my spare time with these cultural titans helped me slowly become OK with my weird-ass puberty-stricken self and turn me into the well-rounded, high-functioning, pillar of masculinity I am today. I’d like to honour a few of them and reflect on my journey.

Suzy Cato, surrogate mother of the nation.

Suzy Cato

There’s no other place to start. She’s the surrogate mother to a generation. Sun-gold hair, glasses framing her knowing maternal stare, dulcet guitar – Suzy had it all. She sung songs that taught us the importance of matauranga and whakawhanaungatanga from a young age. Her tunes were educational as well as fun, she serenaded us with tales of tides, magnets, bacteria, stars and countless other natural phenomena. Her music was the first exposure to science for a lot of children and I’d bet anything that a significant portion of today’s medical professionals, engineers and researchers owe their careers to the spark of scientific curiosity Suzy ignited. Exposing our weird little prepubescent sponge brains to science wrapped in catchy tunes sung by a cardigan-wearing angel was the perfect Trojan horse for learning. 

Her performance on Dancing with the Stars NZ reignited the nation’s passion for Suzy. She stole the limelight every time she took the stage, her quickstep brought a new level of comedy and magnetism, and she proved, once again, its Suzy’s world – we’re just living in it.

Builder of the nation, John Cocksy.

Cocksy

I come from a long line of men who cannot use tools and have no business calling themselves ‘handy’. If something ever broke in our house, Mum would fix it. The closest dad and I ever came to home improvement was watching celebrity builder Cocksy on My House My Castle. Cocksy showed us there was no problem that couldn’t be fixed with a few nails and a positive attitude.

He was the Aotearoa renaissance man, the jack of all trades (literally). If I ever paint a house or plaster a wall, it’ll be because of Cocksy. Unfortunately, Cocksy passed away earlier this year after a battle with kidney cancer, and New Zealand lost a true hero that day. Thanks for everything Cocksy, I hope you’re up there laying floorboards in the great mansion in the sky. 

The men of NZ Idol: Frankie Stevens, Ben Lummis, Michael Murphy

The year is 2004 and all is quiet on our shores. But in the distance you see it: a storm gathering slowly, but inevitably, born in the shade of Simon Cowell’s scowl and Simon Fuller’s fist. It was NZ Idol! What a moment this was for us. We finally got our own little slice of the worldwide sensation and boy, did we make it our own. We had our own holy trinity to rival Simon, Paula, and Randy. Remember Frankie Stevens, the Rasputin of Christmas in the Park? His smooth velvety baritone booming ‘Ohhhhhh yeaaaah’. Frankie made for the perfect on-screen father figure: caring, charismatic, influential, and surrounded by a bunch of Millenials getting on stage every week in hopes of winning his approval. 

If Frankie was my Idol daddy than Ben Lummis and Michael Murphy were definitely my cool older brothers. Chalk and cheese in style and personality, Lummis was reserved, deep, magnetic, with an air of mystery. Whereas Murphy was every bit the rockstar: electric, unafraid, and responsible for the dramatic increase in Timaru hair wax sales during the mid-2000s.

I’ll never forget when the season one finalists performed at the Timaru Theatre Royal one majestic evening. After the performance, Ben, Michael, and six other contestants whose names I’m too lazy to Google, all signed my arm cast which I kept in my room long after my arm healed. This was despite my parents’ pleas to throw it out because of the dead skin smell. But how could I throw it out? That night was the greatest experience of my young life, and you can’t take that away.

True warrior princess love.

Lucy Lawless

More specifically Xena, the Warrior Princess. Xena was my first introduction to on-screen fantasy and to be honest, nothing has come close since. Not Game of Thrones, not Lord of the Rings, not the one about the boy who goes to magic school, none of em. Seeing one of New Zealand’s own dressed as an ancient warrior, kicking ass alongside her partner/sidekick/lover Gabrielle brought a certain pure joy to my preteen heart that only violence could. The fact that Lucy went on to become a climate activist and inspirational Kiwi only deepens my fondness for her time as Xena as she repeatedly proves you don’t need a sword or a bow to be a warrior.

The Deceptikonz

My childhood coincided with the golden era of Aotearoa hip hop. ‘Not Many’ lived at the top of the charts, New Zealand’s finest were collaborating with international superstar Akon, and everyone was getting ready to stop, drop and roll. As a young pākehā boy from Timaru I didn’t have much exposure to hip hop in my younger days, it was all Cotton-Eyed Joe and Thunderstruck. That was until the Boost Mobile ‘Hook Up’ tour rolled into town.

Remember Boost Mobile? Not only did they let you send 5,000 texts a month for $10 from your flip phone, but they also put on the biggest hip hop tours Aotearoa had ever seen. Seeing the Dawn Raid All-Stars was a watershed moment for me and I went home drenched in DJ Sir-Vere’s sweat. Afterwards, I bought copies of The Crusader and White Sunday, watched The Holla Hour on C4 religiously, and learnt to rap the entirety of Fast Crew’s ‘I Got’. I wish I could say I still had those rap skills, but much like Dane Rumble, my Fast Crew days are long gone. 

Jacquie Brown and New Zealand’s First VJ Clarke Gayford.

Clarke Gayford

Way back before Clarke was the first man of Aotearoa and the ultimate stay at home dad, he was a C4 VJ. This handsome young rogue would saunter onto my screen every afternoon and fill me with the latest pop sensations. What’s that Clarke? You’ve got some Avril Lavigne for me? How about some Ying Yang Twins? The Pussycat Dolls? HOOK IT TO MY GODDAMN VEINS.

Clarke played a crucial role as a musical gatekeeper to a whole generation in the mid-2000s and while C4 – may it rest in peace – featured a murderer’s row of hosting talent (I’m looking at you Jaquie Brown, Joel Defries and Drew Neemia), Jacinda’s beau stands out above them all.

Rachel Hunter (specifically in ‘Stacy’s Mom’)

In the immortal words of Hera Lindsay Bird: ‘Throw me in a haunted wheelbarrow and set me on fire’. I can’t think of a more apt sentiment to describe the way Rachel made me, and teenagers everywhere, feel after this video dropped. I haven’t watched this video in years and I have no doubt it’s probably super problematic. But in 2003, I thought Fountains of Wayne were gods.

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This video made me ‘feel things’. Strange, awkward, embarrassing things that we don’t need to mention right now. But let’s just say I had a television in my room from the age of 13 and I’d wait patiently all night for this video to come on C4 for those sweet 3 minutes and 19 seconds. 

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People often ask me who my biggest influences growing up were because now I’m grown up and important and people ask me things like that. These people are my go-to answers. When most people get asked that question and they say their parents or some quirky teacher. These people are either lying or nerds.

Pop culture permeates every aspect of our lives: our relationships, our interactions our social values, and the footprint these giants left on Aotearoa will stay for years to come. 


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