Honour for gossip star

JANIE SMITH
Last updated 10:32 08/06/2011
Hartnell
Jason Oxenham/Fairfax

HONOURED: Grey Lynn resident David Hartnell has been named in this year's Queen's Birthday honours.

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He's got a star on the Boulevard of Dreams in Orewa and there's a photograph of Joan Collins on the sideboard of his Auckland home.

Now David Hartnell – gossip columnist and makeup artist to the stars – can add the title Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit to his list of reasons to love showbiz.

It's an honour he almost missed when the letter from Government House was sent to his residential address instead of his PO box.

"I never have any mail come to the house so I never look in the letterbox, but there was some junk mail in there and I found the letter from Government House. I thought, `What's this'?"

The letter asked if he would be willing to accept an award and if so, to reply – by the next day.

"I ticked all the boxes and didn't tell anyone, not even my partner Somboon, and posted it off. I thought it would never get back to Wellington in time."

Luckily it did and Mr Hartnell says the honour is beyond his wildest dreams.

He's been told he is the only gossip columnist to be honoured by the Queen and intends to write to Buckingham Palace to see if it's true.

Mr Hartnell, 67, was born in Sandringham.

The former national roller skating champion was given the task of doing makeup for amateur roller skating shows which sparked his interest in being a makeup artist.

He left Avondale College aged 15 with no formal qualifications and moved to Australia where he got a job with Revlon as the first male makeup artist in Australasia.

While working in Sydney, he changed his surname from Ward in homage to British fashion designer Norman Hartnell.

His career took off as he worked with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and on international modelling shoots.

Early makeover coups included comedian Phyllis Diller, who became a longtime friend, and Coronation Street's Jean `Hilda Ogden' Alexander.

Eventually, he got bored. Interviewing celebrities would, he thought, be more interesting than applying their mascara.

"I was always asked what the stars were like. I got a bit bored with makeup and decided I would write a gossip column which I started in the UK."

In 1967, he became New Zealand's first fulltime freelance gossip columnist, building a persona based on big glasses, bow ties and the trademark kiss-off line "my lips are sealed".

His honour for services to entertainment follows last month's release of his memoirs.

"When I started gossip 40-odd years ago, they said, `Oh, you'll never last'. And here I am," Mr Hartnell says.

"I've had so many people who said, `You can't make a living out of writing a gossip column'. I don't believe in the words `you can't'.

"Those words shouldn't exist in the English language," he says.

"This just proves the point that if I can do it, anyone can do it. It's there, just go for it."

In 1996 he was one of three original presenters of Express Report, New Zealand's first gay news and lifestyle television show and in 1998, was awarded the Variety Artist Club of New Zealand scroll of honour.

Last year he was named as the club's patron.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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