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Brooke Howard-Smith: Living the dream

The TV presenter is making his own wish come true.
Brooke Howard-Smith, presenter of Cadbury Dream Factory

He’s been a nightclub owner and a partygoer, and he spent seven years tracking down rogues and criminals on TV3’s consumer watchdog show Target.

Now as host of new TV3 show Cadbury Dream Factory, Brooke Howard-Smith is helping Kiwis realise their dreams – and in doing so, he’s made his own come true.

“I know it’s cheesy, and people will laugh at me for saying this, but doing this show is literally my dream,” laughs the irrepressibly energetic Brooke (41), whose own childhood dream was to be a gardening television presenter.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like an extreme home makeover show, giving good things back to good people, and with this show, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Without exception, every time we finished filming a story, I was like,

‘This is the coolest day of my life’. I just wish I’d been smart enough to come up with the idea for the programme, rather than just hosting it!”

For the next two months, Brooke and his team – which includes Shortland Street actress Kimberley Crossman, comedians Jesse Griffin and Guy Montgomery, and Sticky TV presenter Walter Neilands – travel around New Zealand, making people’s dreams happen. While some of the 10,500 wishes the team received were easy to create, some required a lot more thought – and a significant amount of effort.

The show begins in the small Northland town of Kaikohe, where single mum Alex Baker had wished for her children to see snow just once in their lifetime – one of several encounters, says Brooke, that left him and his dream-makers with tears rolling down their faces.

“Most of what you hear about Kaikohe isn’t good news – it’s a town that’s largely been forgotten. Luckily New Zealand has just made a series of amazing movies, so we got some of the guys who worked on the set of the Narnia films to create a winter wonderland in Kaikohe – a place I don’t think has even ever seen hail before – it was incredible,” explains Brooke. “I thought seeing Alex’s kids’ faces would be amazing, but the payoff for the whole town was beyond anything I had imagined. By the end I was bawling like a sook!”

Brooke insists that while he enjoyed the crazy years of what he describes as his “misspent youth”, and the challenge of presenting Target, the feeling he gets when rewarding New Zealanders who deserve it is addictive.

“I loved working on Target – I believe it was a very necessary show, and I certainly did my fair share of kicking down doors. But I love Cadbury Dream Factory infinitely more.

“It was the same when I created [fundraising event] Rise Up Christchurch, and with my work as an event organiser with Cure Kids, who I’ve worked with since 2011 – the emotional connection with what I’m doing is everything I could ever want. And I get paid for doing it!”

It’s not just bringing dreams to life that Brooke’s loving – it’s the people he’s meeting on the journey.

“I have no illusions – I’ve been dealt a pretty good hand in life,” he says. “I have an incredible set of parents who I love dearly and who were engaged in giving me a good childhood, and a great extended family.

“There are a lot of kids not going to school because their parents are missing in action – the truth is, for most people, you can’t make your own luck, and opportunities aren’t equal. This is about doing something for people who would normally never get the opportunity to realise their dream.

“I just hope that we as people aren’t so addicted to bad news that we don’t want a show that doesn’t feature homicides or gratuitous sex scenes.

“Is this show from another era, or do we still want to see good things? I guess we’re about to find out.”

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