Clarke Gayford on Melania Trump, media stress – and Obama’s nose

Clarke Gayford on Melania Trump, media stress – and Obama’s nose

Source: ADAM DUDDING – Last updated 06:59, September 21 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern videos

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives in Wellington, and back to work leading the country, with daughter Neve and partner Clarke Gayford in August.

Clarke Gayford says Barack Obama has a “lovely soft nose”, Malcolm Turnbull is “really quite personable” – and he’s not yet decided if he’ll hang out with Melania Trump when he’s in New York next week.

Speaking at an on-stage Q&A in Auckland on Thursday night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner also said since his family had become the focus of intense media scrutiny, he’d deleted all the news apps from his smartphone, “because you get so frustrated by some of the stuff that comes out”.

Gayford was in conversation with former TV presenter Mary Lambie, in front of around 100 attendees at an event organised by the Public Relations Institute, PRINZ. Despite a rumour that Gayford was paid $20,000 for the appearance, he said he’d in fact received nothing more than a jar of chutney for his troubles: Lambie and Gayford are neighbours in Point Chevalier, Auckland.

This was a cosy chat rather than a hard-ball interrogation, and included Gayford’s narration of slideshow snaps of some of the famous folk he’s met since Ardern became PM last October – the Queen, musicians Ed Sheeran and Paul McCartney and Obama to name a few.

But alongside the smooth anecdotes about being a stay-at-home dad to three-month-old daughter Neve, and self-deprecating jokes about competing with cabinet papers for Ardern’s attention, Gayford also offered a stern critique of the current media environment. He said though journalists do their best, the analytics behind modern digital media mean outrageous opinions earn more clicks than facts do, and correcting errors by journalists can be “a game of whack-a-mole”.

Clarke Gayford reveals a few secrets

Clarke Gayford reveals a few secrets about prime ministerial family life, during a Q&A in Auckland on Thursday.

Gayford said he was glad to have already been a TV presenter and radio host, as otherwise the sudden attention “would have been bloody overwhelming – I feel sorry for some people who’ve been thrust into that, like a rabbit in the headlight”.

Mostly, though, he seemed rather chuffed to have stumbled into a strange and exciting new world via Ardern’s extraordinarily swift elevation from opposition MP to party leader to prime minister.

Such as getting to meet former US President Barack Obama.

“He was really lovely. He was asking questions about Māori culture and about New Zealand. He was an inquisitive, curious human being.

“We had to hongi him, and I was one of the first ones up and I was pretty nervous – and he’d only done one before either. Lovely soft nose!”

Clarke Gayford in the media

Clarke Gayford with partner and child in Wellington, on Ardern’s return to work after six weeks’ maternity leave. In New York next week, it’ll be Gayford who’s carrying the baby.

Gayford said though he’d met high-profile people through his work in music television, interviewees often have their guard up. But when meeting world leaders and the like in private, that filter disappears a lot, “and you get a much better judge of character”.

He sounds almost a little surprised by his impression of former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy, whom they met soon after Ardern became PM.

“He was actually really quite personable in a one-on-one setting, and Lucy was great as well. We got on really well with them […] It was interesting the way he talked, versus how some of the policy and politics line up.”

(Gayford was being vague, but the issues on which the current governments of Australia and New Zealand really don’t see eye-to-eye include the rights of Kiwi expats in New Zealand, and the status of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.)

Barack Obama wonderful man, inquisitive mind, lovely soft nose

Barack Obama: wonderful man, inquisitive mind, lovely soft nose, according to Clarke Gayford.

On Saturday, Ardern, Gayford and Neve will fly to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. There, Ardern has 40-odd scheduled events in seven days, plus three major media appearances: the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the Today Show, and a longer interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Gayford said he reckons Kiwis still don’t quite realise the phenomenal scale of the international interest in Ardern. When they travelled to the UK for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting there were around 70 media requests for Ardern. For the New York trip, Gayford said, Ardern’s staff had lost count of the number, but it would have been in the hundreds.

In New York, Gayford will mostly focus on looking after Neve, but he told Lambie that only that morning he’d received a very special invitation all of his own.

“I was in the office and one of the guys said, ‘Oh Clarke – we’ve got a couple of invites for you.”

He reached for his phone.

“I’ll read it. It’s pretty funny. I sent it to a few friends and said, ‘You will not believe this invite I just got.”

Gayford, Ardern, and a very famous Queen of England

Gayford, Ardern, and a very famous new chum.

He found the file on his phone.

“It has the United States crest on the top and it says, ‘Mrs Melania Trump requests the pleasure of your company for a reception on the occasion of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly’.

“She must be doing it for all the the spouses.”

“Tea and scones with Melania,” said Lambie.

Clarke Gayford's got his invitation to meet Melania Trump

Gayford’s got his invitation to meet Melania Trump in New York along with the other leaders’ spouses, but he’s not sure if he’ll have time.

“Yeah,” said Gayford. “Tea and scones with Melania. I don’t know quite where it is. I’ll see if we have time.”

How will you get there, asked Lambie. Jump in an Uber?

“We’ve actually got our own Secret Service detail assigned to us,” said Gayford, in a tone that suggested he found this both ludicrous and kind-of cool.

“So I’ll just ask them. Take me to Melania’s!”