Legendary gossip columnist David Hartnell has spent years being a guest at exclusive parties attended by Hollywood royalty. He met Princess Grace Kelly at one function and was even invited to Elizabeth Taylor’s star-studded 60th bash, held at Disneyland.
But when it comes to his own 70th birthday celebrations later this month, he won’t be making any fuss. In fact, David hates birthdays.
“When I turn 70, I’m not leaving the house,” he exclaims. “Nobody’s coming here, there will be no cake and no singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ – none of that rubbish.”
Although one might assume the Auckland-born-and-raised personality is pessimistic about all milestones, his face lights up when he talks about the two treasures in his life that he believes are worth celebrating.
“This year marks 50 years of my being in the entertainment industry and it’s been 21 years since my partner and I got together,” he says proudly. David’s long-term love is Somboon Khansuk (47), whom David met soon after Somboon moved to New Zealand from Thailand.
“We hit it off straight away. It was just right,” David says with a smile, as he glances at Somboon. “He had no idea who I was and I liked that. The only celebrity he had ever heard of was Michael Jackson.”
The couple moved in together after three months, and as Somboon spoke limited English at the time, he brushed up on the language by watching Fawlty Towers and Coronation Street with David. They now live with their pooch Liza in a quaint Auckland villa, filled with hundreds of photos of David with stars, and a vast collection of memorabilia and books about Hollywood.
“We’ve lasted this long because we are best friends,” Somboon tells.
Somboon is Buddhist and David holds no religious views, but despite their differences, the couple have enjoyed a lasting friendship. Both their families have embraced their relationship. They’ve even bought a home in Thailand and visit it each year. But despite celebrating 21 years together, and David being one of the first openly gay men on New Zealand television, he says marriage is not for him and Somboon.
“We’ve crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s with wills and legal documents, so why get married? I think it’s great that people can, but I’ve never been one to wave any flags,” David tells.
Landing a job as a make-up artist at Revlon in Australia in the 1960s led David into the world of celebrity, and eventually into writing.
“I’d always wanted to be in show business,” says David, who had a passion for magic tricks and roller skating as a teenager. “I can’t sing, I can’t dance, so writing about celebrities was the nearest I could get to being a part of this world.”
The Weekly was the first magazine to offer David a permanent gossip column in New Zealand in 1976. “Jean Wishart was the editor then. She is what Hollywood would describe as a classy dame.”
These days, David continues to write a weekly Hollywood quiz column and compiles the annual Best Dressed List.
Celebrating 50 years as a gossip columnist, David says the pinnacle of his career was receiving a New Zealand Order of Merit from the Queen in 2011 for services to entertainment. He’s the only gossip columnist in the world to be bestowed such an honour.
The writer says his gossip is tongue in cheek, and he always sticks to his self-enforced rules. He never talks about stars who are pregnant until the baby is born, in case something goes wrong. “As soon as the baby is born, trumpets are blaring,” he says. And he always takes pictures of himself standing with every Hollywood celebrity he comes across.
He learned a valuable lesson when he attended the premiere of Total Recall, starring then-unknown actress Sharon Stone. He didn’t bother getting a photo with the now world famous star.
“When you attend these functions, you have to take a photo with anything that moves, because you don’t know how famous they might become!”
On David’s frequent trips to Los Angeles, he visits the cemetery where many of his celebrity friends now lie, often spending extra time at the grave of actress Eva Gabor.
“She was a huge star,” he says mournfully. “Now her final resting place is weathered, the gold lettering is fading, and all that is left is a piece of marble.”
During each celebrity interview that David conducts, he asks how they would like to be remembered. When asked the same question, David thinks of Eva’s grave and responds, “The only people I truly want to remember me are Somboon, my family and close friends. They are what is important.
Courtesy New Zealand’s Woman’s Weekly June 2014, reproduced with permission.