VAC Patron in the Press

David Hartnell Patron of the Variety Artists Club IncGossip columnist David Hartnell has seen, and told, it all. The Westmere author was honoured with The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand’s Fullers Entertainment Award for his 49 years working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. Reporter Jess Lee sat down with him to find out some of his own secrets. 

1. How does it feel to be recognised for your work?

It was a great honour and for once in my life I was gobsmacked. I certainly never thought that would happen when I started out writing gossip. People said you can’t make a living out of writing gossip and here I am nearly 50 years later.

2. Why do you think you have been so successful?

I woke up in New Zealand and thought – they’re not going to come to me, I’ve got to go to them. You must be where it’s happening and that’s what I did.

I’ve never written salacious gossip – I’ve always written tongue-in-cheek. There are other gossip columnists but I find them too vicious.

There’s only been one celebrity in that 30-odd years that has complained and she’s not worth even mentioning.

3. What are some of your tricks of the trade?

The worst thing you can say to a celebrity is: “tell me about yourself” because they don’t want to hear that – so do your homework. There are areas that you don’t write about. You never write about anybody that’s pregnant because by the time it goes to print they could have lost the baby.

Never take things for granted, never assume anything.

Agents and assistants will say to me that entertainers won’t talk about this and that and then you get there and they’ll really talk about anything. It’s just the way that you ask them really.

4. Who or what stands out as a highlight of your career so far?

Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn was just beautiful, she is one of the most serene women I have ever met. One of the things that sticks out was when I was doing Elizabeth Taylor’s makeup I ended up holding the million dollar ring that Richard Burton had given her.

It’s just one of those things that happened in a working situation so who would have thought I would have held that.

5. Is there still a person you haven’t met that you would like to?

I would love to meet the Queen. I would probably ask her about the Royal Command Performances that she’s had over the years and who she likes as an entertainer. Does she make the list or do agents put it together and she just goes?

6. What do you think of the calibre of celebrity today compared to back then?

In 10 years’ time Miley Cyrus won’t be around. I mean she’s a go-getter, she’s changed her image, she’s out there and we’re sitting in New Zealand talking about her now so she’s a good marketer. But they won’t have the longevity these people – even Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, George Clooney. Never feel sorry for the celebrities in the gossip columns because it’s up to the agents to get them in there.

7. Who would be your five dream dinner party guests?

I would have the Queen, Noel Coward [English playwright, director, actor and singer] because he’d be witty, Elizabeth Taylor because she was just so wonderful, she was always good fun. Phyllis Diller for the jokes and I’d probably have my dear friend Eva Gabor [Hungarian-born American socialite and actress], she was divine so she would add that elegance to the party. Not Zsa Zsa [Gabor, Eva’s younger actress sister] she would be far too bitchy at a dinner party.

8. How did you end up in the entertainment business?

My grandparents took me to all the shows at His Majesty’s Theatre, The Civic and the St James so that that really gave me the grounding.

My grandfather really should have been on the stage. He loved vaudeville shows so I probably get it a lot from him and I’m very grateful.

My parents also took me to roller skating and I just loved it. That’s where I really got into makeup because we did shows.

9. Why have you maintained such a commitment to the industry?

Entertainment is the vein of blood of any country that is down, any country that’s at war. You can get completely lost in a performance and that’s what a production should do.

I love to go to a theatre with a red curtain that goes up, I love an orchestra pit. I very seldom go backstage because I want that magic to be there.

I don’t really like reviewing stage shows because I know what effort has been put into it and it’s only my opinion. Never read a review for theatre or for a movie, just go.

10. Where to from here?

People always ask me if I’m going to retire. I’m not because what else am I going to do? I have a new book coming out next year, that will be my ninth book.

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