At first glance, Shavaughn Ruakere and Clarke Gayford are everything you'd expect a celebrity couple to be. They are both gorgeous and successful – Shortland Street hottie Shavaughn has graced the top 10 lists of sexiest Kiwis for the past four years, and TV presenter, DJ, reality TV star and scriptwriter Clarke is one of the country's most recognisable faces – and voices.
So when the pair became an item a year ago, it wasn't surprising that everyone wanted a piece of them. Speaking exclusively to the Weekly, the fun-loving but surprisingly low-key couple reveal for the first time the lengths they went to in order to keep their relationship private until now.
"This double celebrity thing is quite hard. We were a bit scared, I guess," admits Shavaughn (34), who plays nurse Roimata on the hit soap. "I've never dated anyone from the same industry before, so all the attention was a bit weird. I've always been a pretty private person, and I've never talked about any of my relationships in public before. This is a first for me."
"It was tricky when we first started dating, because even though we'd known each other for years," – the couple met when they worked together on kids' show favourite What Now in 2006 – "as soon as the relationship started, the media were asking questions, and we didn't know ourselves where we were at, really," explains Clarke (35), who has hosted New Year's festival Rhythm and Vines for the past five years, and currently hosts the Drivetime show on Auckland's MoreFM.
"We felt really coy and shy about talking about it yet, and once you get into that state of denial it's hard to get out of it. It wasn't that we had anything to hide – we just wanted to protect it, at least until we knew the relationship was going somewhere." And a year on, this couple are most definitely serious about each other, despite some initial commitment issues from Shavaughn – a story Clarke clearly enjoys telling.
"Shavaughn was completely in denial that she lived with me, despite spending every night at my house," he laughs. "She was still paying rent at a place that was gathering mould and cobwebs! It was only when her bank statements started turning up at my house that I suggested she should accept she was living with me."
Now Shavaughn has moved in with Clarke full time. There's even a puppy. "I desperately wanted a puppy, although Clarke took some convincing," says Shavaughn. "As [former C4 co-presenter] Jaquie Brown told me, dogs are the gateway drug to children," rejoins Clarke jokingly. But while kids aren't on the cards just yet, marriage and babies are not out of the question for these two, who both feel they've met The One. "I think we're really happy," says Shavaughn. "At first it seemed like such a big deal, committing to a serious relationship, but it's not."
"I think it's an age thing," agrees Clarke. "When I was younger, 35 felt really old, but now I'm actually that age, I don't feel old – I just feel like before now, I had to get some stuff out of my system, work out what I like and don't like before I could share a life with someone else. And then I had to find someone with the tolerance to hang out with me."
And typically for the endearing couple, what for a moment had threatened to be quite a serious conversation collapses into hilarity – because despite their closeness, Shavaughn and Clarke are like chalk and cheese. "We're quite different people," smiles Shavaughn with a cheeky grin at Clarke, who admits he's "a bit worried about what she's going to say now".
"Clarke has to have his systems in place and his lists written, while I'm a Piscean – I'm completely the opposite, which is very frustrating for him." Clearly. "If Shavaughn was a car, her warrant would be three months expired," says Clarke in mock exasperation. "She'd always be meaning to get one, but it wouldn't actually exist. Mine would have been carefully planned and done months before."
Clarke is also a "tidy freak", according to Shavaughn. "Compared to you, anyone who puts a pair of shoes away is tidy," teases Clarke. "At least I don't ring the school next door to complain about noise," squeals Shavaughn delightedly, referring to the time Clarke objected to a pupil practising his conch on the court adjoining his house at 7am each day a few years ago.
"I was working nights. I wasn't getting in until 2am. I loved the sound, but did he have to do it at 7am?" says Clarke. "What kid goes to school at 7am, for a start? I got a telling off from the receptionist for complaining too. I felt terrible." It's a typical exchange between the pair, who laugh lots, and easily. "He cracks me up, yeah. We have a lot of fun together," says Shavaughn.
But while the pair has an easy rapport in public, part of the secret to their success is that they know how to switch off and settle quietly when it's just the two of them. "What you see of Shavaughn outwardly isn't necessarily what happens at home," explains Clarke. "People find it hard to believe, but she's actually quite shy and retiring – I often have to egg her on."
They describe their favourite evening as a nice meal at home, often with friends and usually eating fish that Clarke has caught on his beloved boat, then cooked himself. "We love entertaining at our house – people love it here," says Shavaughn, explaining that part of its charm is the "magical" garden, complete with specialist lighting, that has become Clarke's hobby.
"It started as a bit of fun – a flatmate left a big blue orb light once, and it looked good so I started adding to it. Then the idea just took off. Before I knew it, I was getting an importer's licence and bringing in a couple of crazy palm tree lights. I've even put 80kg of concrete into the ground, just to counter-balance some lights."
This vision of Clarke as a domestic god who cooks, fishes, tidies and decorates is clearly one that Shavaughn adores and appreciates – despite the DJ's quips that "my mum's not going to recognise this person you're writing about".
"He's pretty cool," muses Shavaughn. "The truth is, I've never been with someone who I laugh with as much as I do with Clarke. We just 'get' each other. It's really nice to just be silly with someone. I like being silly with him, I think. And he thinks I still look good after a night out! "Clarke complements my personality – I'm a bit useless at some things, but he's so good. He takes care of me."
And despite the pair's teasing, Clarke is clearly besotted. "Everyone who knows Shavaughn loves her, for obvious reasons," he says, without a trace of his trademark gentle sarcasm.
"She's fun to be around, doesn't judge anyone, ever, and we can talk for hours – just naturally go off on tangents that make no sense, but are great fun to us. And that to me is a good indicator of someone you want to hang around. It's a wonderful bonus that she comes in the package she comes in."
And the future? "He's the practical one, but we give something to each other," says Shavaughn. "We'll see how it goes," smiles Clarke, who earlier this month joked on his radio show that Shavaughn was looking forward to changing her surname to Gayford. He is currently in the market for a boat with a cabin, so the pair can enjoy overnight trips together, just the two of them.
"It all feels pretty grown up. It's a new phase for me, but it's funny how your goals and what you constitute as a good time changes. For me, she's the whole package."