My Kitchen Rules NZ winners Chris and Bex’s tragic goodbye

“Bex saw the news on Facebook and called me at midnight. I immediately went to her and held her in my arms for eight hours while she cried. We didn’t sleep at all. It was achingly painful.”

When the grand finale of My Kitchen Rules New Zealand went to air on November 26, newly separated husband-and-wife team Chris and Bex Wright shed plenty of tears, regardless of their win.

Competing in the ultimate all-or-nothing TV cooking competition was epic, exhilarating and exhausting for the winners, but it was also the last time they ever saw one of their best friends.

Larger-than-life Harry Hitman, 37, who was a groomsman and the MC at their wedding almost three years ago, was the Wanaka couple’s biggest cheerleader and they thought he would always be in their lives.

But just a few short months after the pair triumphed in the finale of the TVNZ 2 reality series, the property developer died in a tragic road accident and for Chris, who’d been firm friends with Harry for 17 years, it was the end of an era.

The two Brits met in their halls of residence on their very first day at the University of Manchester. “He’d come home after losing a shoe and went off to register wearing just the one,” laughs Chris. “He really was the life and soul of the party.”

The following year, they and a bunch of friends shared a house, where foodie Chris began honing his cooking skills and Harry enthusiastically scoffed the results. It was Harry who inspired Chris to relocate to Aotearoa.

“Harry’s mum Helen lives in New Zealand, so he visited a lot and he was always showing me pictures of glaciers, telling me about the skiing and snowboarding.”

Chris was intrigued by his adventurous friend’s tales and in 2009, after establishing a career in banking, he hung up his suit and flew to the other side of the world to be a ski instructor on Mt Ruapehu, where he fell in love with Bex.

Chris saw Harry whenever his old friend visited NZ. He says Harry “owned the floor as MC” at their 2015 wedding and couldn’t speak highly enough of their skills in the kitchen.

Chris and Bex’s dear friend Harry

“He was so encouraging,” tells Chris, who now works as a real estate agent. “In fact, Harry was the first person we told when we’d been accepted on to MKR. We said, ‘We have some exciting news,’ and he replied, ‘You guys are having a baby – about bloody time!’ We had to say, ‘Well, it’s nearly as exciting as that!’”

As fate would have it, Harry was staying locally with his mum when Chris, 35, and Bex, 32, made it into the final. They didn’t think twice about asking Harry to be one of their two guests invited to be part of the audience at their big cook-off.

“The day before, we completely transformed our Auckland hotel room into a kind of galley kitchen, with half an oven and two stove tops,” says Chris. “Then we spent an absolute fortune buying enough food to feed at least 25 people and practised our five-course meal on Harry. It was so nice to have him as our guinea pig.”

On the day of filming, Harry was his usual irrepressible self, chatting and eating up a storm as he visited the kitchen. “The last time we saw him was in the taxi after that huge day,” says Chris quietly. “We gave him a big hug and said, ‘We’ll see you at Christmas!’”

Harry was MC at the former couple’s wedding in 2015.

Harry headed back to England, and Chris and Bex returned home to Wanaka, where a few months later they made the amicable decision to call it quits on their marriage.

Just two days after their break-up, they learned that Harry had died in a motorcycle accident while holidaying in Phuket, Thailand. In the early hours of the morning, while riding without a helmet, he “came off the scooter and hit his head on a brick wall”, says Chris.

“Bex saw the news on Facebook and called me at midnight. I immediately went to her and held her in my arms for eight hours while she cried. We didn’t sleep at all. It was achingly painful.”

Harry was cremated in Thailand and his ashes returned to England. Chris and Bex weren’t able to attend his memorial. Instead, they climbed Wanaka’s Mt Iron, where two years earlier, they’d shared a special starlit evening picnic with Harry the day after their wedding.

“We wanted to do something positive as opposed to just crying and mourning,” explains Chris. He also contacted the producers of MKR to tell them what had happened and this week’s final – in which the couple find out if they have won – contains a tribute to their mate.

“Harry’s greatest legacy was how he managed to fit at least three lives into his one short life,” says Chris. “He lived for the moment, giving everything as much energy as he could. I’m going to miss all the adventures. We had so many planned, like doing the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track together this summer. We’re still going to do it and now it will be in his honour.”

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