Liam Stewart’s Kiwi love affair

He came for the ice hockey, but Rachel Hunter's son, Liam, is falling for his remarkable new life in the South Island.
Liam Stewart hockey queenstown new zealand

When Liam Stewart talks about “home”, it’s not always clear what he means. The ice-hockey star, who’s the youngest child of Rachel Hunter and Sir Rod Stewart, was born in the UK, raised in Los Angeles but says he has always felt like a Kiwi.

“I don’t really have a home base – I’m just wherever hockey takes me, wherever my family takes me,” he explains. “But I always consider England and New Zealand home.”

Liam, 24, has been based mostly in Queenstown since May this year, playing for the SkyCity Stampede ice-hockey team, which just picked up the 2019 National Ice Hockey League title last month.

On the morning of his chat with Woman’s Day, he cuts a low-key figure in a baseball hat and jeans – looking like any other 20-something Kiwi male. It’s somehow still surprising to hear an American accent come out of his mouth. It’s a slightly husky-voiced accent as well, a symptom from a late-night out with his fellow teammates.

Liam in his element, playing for the Stampedes. Photo: Simon Runting

He’s played hockey all over the world and admits there’s always a feeling of being “the new kid on the block” when he first joins a team. But the scratchy voice is proof that hasn’t lasted long.

“The team here is so welcoming – everyone always asks what the culture of a team is like and for me, that’s the biggest thing. Everyone here is like a family. It’s that New Zealand thing as well – we would just be sitting at home when three guys from the team would randomly show up at our house to hang out. You don’t get that in the States or England.”

It’s one of the longest stints he has spent in Aotearoa and Liam is hoping to last long enough to have summer here as well, as a Kiwi holiday still holds a place in his heart.

“When I was little, we did a lot of camping – Renee, mum, Jacqui [his aunt] and I. We went around all of the little islands and set up tents on the beach. Lots of fishing – which is random because

you wouldn’t expect my mum to fish! We often had little fun adventures. And I was always trying to learn how to surf.”

The Stampedes star likes chilling out with his teammates.

How are his surfing skills now? “Terrible,” he laughs. “I’m awful – I can get up on the board, though, that’s all that matters.”

Even though Liam has been a professional sportsman for many years, he’s delightfully down-to-earth. It’s something both he and his oldest sister Renee, 27, have in common. When you think about their lives on paper – the children of a rock star and a supermodel – it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that the pair of them might be, well, nightmare humans?

Liam laughs. “Yes, if you’re the child to celebrity parents, people might assume you’re stuck up – but I think having the Kiwi side to me helps. Just being a bit more chilled out and relaxed.”

He also credits the work ethic inherited from their parents. “Mum has always done what she does, and always got stuck right into it. Dad is still touring somehow, even though he’s 74. He’s always working out, it’s crazy. It’s nice my sister and I got that … I always have to be doing something.”

Rachel is thrilled that Liam is spending time in her home country.

“I was so happy when Liam decided to go down to New Zealand to play hockey,” she tells. “Just to know he’s home, he’s in an environment where I grew up. To have that experience – as Renee did when she came down and did a gap year there as well. He’s really enjoying it; the friendliness, the openness and that sense of adventure that New Zealanders have.”

The pair recently spent some time together in Pakiri, north of Auckland, and Rachel says it was obvious her son was having a ball.

“When I was just down there to see him, he seems so happy,” she gushes. “He speaks so highly of the team he’s a part of and it warms my heart to know my son is in New Zealand playing sports. Maybe we can get him a pair of rugby boots so he can play a bit of rugby as well!”

As well as playing ice hockey professionally, he’s also been working part-time for the local radio station in Queenstown. Not on air, he’s quick to add. “I don’t have a good radio voice at all!”

It’s also ideal his career is entirely separate from what his parents were famous for, although he jokes that he didn’t really have a choice in that.

“If I’d had a good voice, I definitely would have gone down that road,” he laughs.

“It would have been awesome – if I could do any singing or dancing. But I didn’t get the artistic side, I got the athletic side!”

His rocker dad is a passionate footy fan, meaning the pair can talk sports for hours. Liam has slightly less in common with his mum’s transition into the world of yoga, meditation and spirituality – but that’s not for lack of trying on his family’s part.

Renee recently went to India to do a yoga training course alongside Rachel, and now “they’re both trying to get me to go as well to do the whole yoga thing”, he admits. “I like yoga – but only for about 30 minutes. Mum will always try and make me sit in these random positions and I’ll do it … for five minutes. I can only sit still for so long.”

Liam is definitely more open to that world than some might be – he was raised in Los Angeles after all.

“There are times where Mum will be pulling out the tarot cards and I’ll be like … ‘Sure!’ But I’ll never get too into it – whereas Renee and Mum are always sending me inspirational quotes on Instagram. And I love it! It’s awesome.”

Maintaining long-distance connections is something Liam and his family are very good at. Renee is based in London, as is Rod. Rachel splits her time between NZ, India and LA, and Liam has also become excellent at adapting to this slightly nomadic lifestyle.

In Disneyland with Rachel and Renee in 1994. Image: Getty

His long-term girlfriend Nicole Artukovich lives in LA. The pair met when they were finishing high school and have been together for five years, which is impressive considering they’re apart for long stretches of time.

He’s trying to get her over to NZ as she’s never been, but with a high-profile job as an events coordinator, there hasn’t been an opportunity yet. The goal is to settle down and have children at some stage, Liam says, but luckily, technology keeps everyone in contact in the meantime.

Kicking a ball with footy-mad dad Rod. Image: Getty

The background photo on Liam’s iPhone is a family picture of Rachel, Liam, Renee, Rod and Ruby Stewart, taken back when he was a toddler, with Rachel looking every inch the glowing super-model.

“When they see the photo, people are always like, ‘Who is that?!’ and when I say it’s me and my mum, everyone always says, ‘Wow, she’s so young.'”

Watch: Blast from the past: Rachel Hunter gets her first big modelling contract at age 16. Article continues below.

Loading the player...

Getting to the age his mother was when she had him, Liam admits, “I can’t imagine having two kids at my age. It’s crazy how she managed that. But good for her being so young and raising us.”

The age difference is amazing now, he says. “When we get together, we’re just stupid – it’s like two buddies hanging out. She’s turned – sorry, Mum! – 50 this year and I’m turning 25. Obviously Mum looked at the spiritual side of it: ‘Wow, I’m 50 and you’re 25, and the moon is going this way…'” Liam laughs. “And I’m like, ‘No, Mum. I’m just 25 and you’re 50.'”

Winning gold for Great Britain at the Ice Hockey World Champs in 2017. Image: Getty

The Stewart-Hunter clan is something of a role model when it comes to how to be a modern family. “Some of my favourite times are when we all get together – for a family vacation or dinner. We’ll all meet up in England for Christmas and those times are the best,” Liam smiles.

There is one downside, though: with six siblings, parents, step-parents and grandparents, the present list can get out of control.

“We did gifts for Christmas last year and I was like, ‘It’s getting too much. Let’s just all buy a bottle of wine and hang out.’ My whole pay cheque would go on it! It’s like, ‘Guys, I love you, but I’ve got to live as well!'”

Considering he’s in Aotearoa for the foreseeable future, there’s a chance Liam might be looking at his first Kiwi Christmas – although he’s not sure if he can cope with a sunny big day. He tells, “It has to be a winter Christmas – I’m a big Christmas person. I start celebrating in October!”

But warm festive days aside, Liam does believe that being Down Under has changed him – and not just because he’s finally become a fan of red wine. The whole Kiwi attitude to life has really sunk in for him.

“Obviously you work hard here, but then you go round to someone’s house and have a glass of wine after work, whereas in LA it’s just constantly work, work, work,” he explains.

“I also like to really enjoy life and that’s what I’ve found with being here – it’s really changed my perspective about where I want to be based. Only time will tell, but this really is the best place ever.”

Related stories

Get Woman’s Day home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.