Clarke Gayford talks fishing, fatherhood and hypnobirths

Clarke and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern still love to go out fishing, an activity they did on their first date. They just have to have the diplomatic protection squad follow them these days!

It seemed like a great idea. The brief was to interview Clarke Gayford, the host of the Fish of the Day television show, pick up a few fishing tips and find out how he’s coping with being thrust into the international spotlight as partner to the new prime minister, with a baby on the way.

At Clarke’s suggestion, we would head out on his boat, throw a couple of lines over, chat for a few hours and hopefully come home with snapper for dinner. Only the morning of the interview dawned cloudy and windy, and Clarke made the call that we’d stay on land. Probably all for the best. Imagine the headlines if we’d had to be rescued.

It was a little disappointing as I had been looking forward to a day at sea, but Clarke told me the invitation to go out fishing on a fine day was open. And that’s why Clarke is the perfect man for the job of juggling his own career, a new baby and supporting our prime minister, who will surely have one of the biggest jobs any new mum can have.

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Nothing much fazes him, he’s personable and friendly, and he can see the positive in any situation – even my feeble attempts at getting our rods ready. Within seconds of being passed one of Clarke’s casting rods, I had tangled the line.

He took it from me, did something with the reel and just like that, the nylon was threaded through the holes and ready to go.

“Fishing’s so complicated!” I sighed. “There’s so much to learn!”

“It’s not difficult,” said Clarke reassuringly, “but it is a lifetime pursuit. I don’t think you ever learn everything. Then once you think you’ve got it all sorted, something will come along and reset what you know.

“After a while, you become attuned to things out on the water, a type of bird might fly past and hover, and you’ll know what type of fish that bird hovers over. You’ll read a bay and one bay will have a rocky headland with a nice sand shelf that comes off it and you’ll know that attracts a certain type of fish. You’ll know what type of lines to throw at what types of fish – all of these are things that you just slowly accumulate over the years.”

Crikey. I’d settle for being able to thread my rod and tie the hooks on without making a bollocks of it!

Clarke has been known as the First Man of Fishing since his partner Jacinda Ardern became the prime minister and while he may not know everything about fishing, he knows an awful lot. (Like, New Zealand has more coastline than China. And that there are 109,000 overseas tourists who come to New Zealand every year just to fish. And that New Zealand holds 23 of the 24 world records for yellow tail kingfish.)

He is the master of the fishing factoid, which makes him perfect to host a show like Fish of the Day on Prime.

It has proved enormously successful, having been sold in 38 countries, many in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

“I always say it’s a travel show that uses fishing to learn more about the destination,” explains Clarke.

“Every area’s renowned for a certain type of fish. We always try to find a local chef who knows about the fish and we say, ‘Right. What are you going to do with it?’ My role is to go there and catch one, get in the water and spear one, but we have side stories running through it. When we were in Niue, for example, we followed the whale migration and got in the water – it was amazing.”

The second series is already in the can and the broadcasters are keen for a third. Clarke is pleased but not all that surprised by the show’s success.

“We’ve got something really exotic to offer here. We film half the year here and half the year in the Pacific. You know how it is. You often need a foreigner to tell you how great you’ve got it at home, so it’s finding those things that make people overseas go, ‘Wow! That’s amazing!'”

With a baby on the way in June, it’s going to be a bit more challenging to find the time for filming, but Clarke is sure he’ll be able to make it work.

“We might try to film another couple of episodes now and at the end of the year, I’ll try to carve out one week blocks to go and film the rest of it.”

I asked if he’d thought about taking the baby along with him. After all, when I was a new mum nearly 30 years ago, Kate came along with me on film shoots for the first couple of years of her life and somehow it all worked out.

Clarke is sensibly taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“I did meet a gentleman the other day who told me that he had his child on the boat within three months of its birth, and I thought ‘Hmmm, challenge accepted.'”

It’s almost certain the new baby will be a fisherperson given Clarke’s passion and the prime minister’s natural talent. Clarke took Jacinda out fishing on their first date and it was almost too perfect.

“It was a Champagne day. It was a day you don’t want to have first off…”

“Because it’s only going to go downhill…?” I laughed.

“Yes!” Clarke replied.

“The sea was glass flat and we had a huge pod of dolphins join us. It was literally Jacinda’s first cast and she was like, ‘Oooh! Something’s pulling!’ She pulled in a 5.4kg snapper. And she said, ‘Is that good?’ And I was like, ‘That’s real good!’ And after that, she caught a huge John Dory – and then a whale showed up!”

“Whaaat?” I said, incredulously.

“You must have known she was the one then!”

“Yup,” Clarke agreed.

“The signs couldn’t have been clearer.”

“But does she really like fishing?” I asked. “Because after all, when people get together, they try to accommodate one another’s interests…”

Clarke is adamant Jacinda is the real deal.

“After that day out, I got her into really technical fishing, like speed jigging, which is a Japanese-style of fishing that is quite involved. It’s deadly on kingfish.

“Last summer, she wanted to learn the technique and I gave her a lesson on the balcony. And then we went out. It was a bit rough and she got a bit white, but on her second drop, she caught a 15kg kingfish! She really does want to keep learning.”

Fishing helps to keep the high-profile couple’s relationship normal, which Clarke says is his main job as her partner. They go out on the water whenever time permits and it’s a perfect opportunity to get away from it all. Well, away from everyone but the Diplomatic Protection Squad, the police officers who are assigned to protect the prime minister.

“It was quite funny. They hired a boat and followed us and then tried to be inconspicuous in the background,” Clarke smiles ruefully.

“They’re lovely guys but that’s been an adjustment…”

Jacinda and Clarke attend last year’s Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

“Stay-at-home dads aren’t that unusual any more and there’s a great network out there. It probably means I’ll get to see more of my musician friends during the day. Jacinda and I are trying to work out how to get the balance right between living in Auckland and Wellington. But we’re really lucky that Jacinda’s got a lovely big office on the ninth floor with its own bathroom. And we’re both quite privileged that we’ve got a couple of mums who are keen to help out.”

Clarke says that while he doesn’t think anyone can ever be ready for their first baby, he’s looking forward to being a stay-at-home dad.

I asked how members of the public have reacted to the news.

“They’ve been great,” he said.

“I’ve been given six books to read and we’ve had all sorts of invitations. In fact, a lady got in touch the other day and extended an invitation to learn more about hypnobirths …” Clarke laughs.

“I don’t mind people giving advice. I had one lady come up to me the other day, and she said, ‘The one thing you need to know is that bananas stain. They stain!’ And I was like, ‘Fantastic. Good to know.'”

The gifts for the baby have already started to arrive and although there are rules about accepting gifts if you’re a Parliamentarian, homemade gifts are fine.

“When we were up at Waitangi, a master weaver up there has woven us a whole lot of wahakura – bassinets out of flax in different sizes – and a load of flax toys. They’re beautiful. People are very kind.”

I said that at least people weren’t coming up wanting to talk about gruesome birth details or cracked nipples.

Clarke was unfazed. “Well, I learnt all about cracked nipples at my uncle’s place at the beach. I was there one summer and I used to get terrible wetsuit rash around my neck. And I was ratting through his cupboards, looking for some cream, and I found this jar of nipple cream and it was awesome!”

On the telly show, Clarke Gayford is friendly, unassuming, interested in people and very capable. In real life, he’s just the same. He’s having fun and living the dream. I have absolutely no doubt he’s going to excel in his two new roles – First Man of Fishing and First Time Dad.

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