Tony Veitch's fall from grace

Last updated 01:22 12/07/2008
FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES: Bernadine Oliver-Kirby was left to tell viewers of her friend Tony Veitch's confirmation that he had hit his partner.

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Monday should have been a good day for sports presenter Tony Veitch.

The All Blacks had thumped the Springboks with a 19-8 win, and Veitch had just returned refreshed from a luxury holiday at the Hilton in Fiji with wife Zoe Halford.

But as he started up his regular 6am slot on Radio Sport's breakfast show, Veitch suddenly became the news. The Dominion Post published a front page exclusive story that he had secretly paid his former partner more than $100,000 after seriously assaulting her at his house.

As Veitch remained on air, startled colleagues were soaking up the story and media outlets were racing to put calls in to the station. Over at TVNZ, where Veitch is One News sports presenter and presenter of the Game of Two Halves quiz show, copies of The Dominion Post were being removed. A staffer said you could not find a paper for love nor money.

Hours before he appeared on Sunday night's One News, this newspaper called Veitch seeking comments about the assault on former partner, business executive Kristin Dunne-Powell.

"I've got nothing to say," he said and then hung up.

Hours later he appeared on air wearing a suit and tie, which colleagues noted was a first, and "was not the usual Tony".

After his Monday morning radio spot, Veitch broke with his usual routine of going home, instead going straight to TVNZ with his radio boss Bill Francis in tow for a 45-minute meeting.

He came out alone, talking on his mobile phone and "looking like thunder" and then drove his silver Toyota Camry back to his $1.8 million villa on the exclusive northern slopes of Auckland's Herne Bay.

There he bunkered down with his wife, who arrived soon after in her black VW Golf. She left the house briefly to get groceries, dressed in a cap and duffle coat to avoid recognition, and stopped at a health store in Ponsonby Rd.

Veitch did not emerge till the afternoon when he was driven straight to TVNZ for his One News show. Colleagues said he "looked like road kill," when he turned up.

"Everyone was texting each other saying Tony had arrived in the building, it was unreal. No one knew what to say."

Within hours Veitch, the golden boy of TVNZ and the face of their Olympics coverage, was watching his career start slipping away.

He remained on air that night and fronted his radio show the next morning. But by Tuesday afternoon he had taken himself off television and on Wednesday held a press conference where he admitted the assault and apologised to the nation for his behaviour.

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It was left to reporter Bernadine Oliver-Kirby - Veitch is a godfather to her first child - to tell viewers on Wednesday night about Veitch's apology and confirmation that he had "lashed out" and assaulted Ms Dunne-Powell.

His public apology prompted police to launch an investigation into his assault.

On Thursday, he was suspended from his $180,000 a year job at Radio Sport and a Tui billboard had gone up in Auckland reading: "Here's 100 grand. Keep it quiet. Yeah Right."

By the end of the week he had also been removed from celebrity speaking websites - a job which he boasted to friends earned him $250,000 a year.

His plunge from grace was even swifter than his rise to fame.

Veitch was born in New Zealand, the son of veteran television producer Graham Veitch and his former wife Sue. When his parents divorced, he moved to Australia aged 15 and began his journalism career for Channel 9, earning a reputation for tenacity and a bouncy presentation style.

Hijinks extended into his personal life too, and he once married a girl he met on a holiday bus tour of the United States in the Elvis Presley chapel in Las Vegas - a marriage that was swiftly dissolved.

At 24, he moved to New Zealand to take up a job as a reporter on TVNZ's Holmes and his career continued to climb. By 2004, he landed his own breakfast radio slot on Radio Sport and life got busier as he fronted sports for One News and had a weekly slot as resident larrikin on celebrity sports show Game of Two Halves .

He lived the high-life in Auckland, living in a St Helier's townhouse and moving in celebrity circles and dating beautiful women.

In 2003, he announced he was in love with Kristin Dunne, a former marketing manager at TVNZ. The relationship lasted four years, but friends say it was rocky and they broke up several times.

"It was on and off over the four years they were together, Tony just wouldn't commit," one said.

"When he did have her, he didn't want her, when he didn't have her, he wanted her," another said.

The couple had broken up at the time of the assault. Ms Dunne-Powell, by this time marketing general manager at Vodafone, went to his house for dinner. They quarrelled and he kicked her repeatedly, breaking her back in four places.

The couple explained away her injuries, which left her temporarily in a wheelchair and off work for months, as resulting from a fall down the stairs. Even close friends were surprised to learn the true reason this week. It was all kept under wraps, though rumours had swirled. He has weathered previous controversies - including angering radio listeners in 2004 by telling American tennis player James Blake that he had been "the world's ultimate golliwog" till he cut off his dreadlocks - but these scandals had till now been mere blips in his career's smooth ascent.

BY 2008, aged 34, his life seemed charmed. He had just married the beautiful Ms Halford, daughter of millionaire property developer Paul Halford, in a lavish ceremony in Arrowtown.

He was understood to be earning about $180,000 for Radio Sport and about $200,000 at TVNZ and was feted as a major plank in TVNZ's Olympics coverage in August. He was also running a property investment company and television company of his own, and working the lucrative celebrity speaking circuit. But within a week, the dream was destroyed.

As joke e-mails offering Veitch chiropractic services choke in-boxes, speculation swirls about how, if at all, Veitch can rise again.

And as the week drew to an end, hard questions were being asked about how much his employers knew about the assault and when.

Both TVNZ and The Radio Network have refused to answer this.

Commentators say it will be difficult, if not impossible for Veitch to resurrect his career. His friends and colleagues are divided. Game of Two Halves co-star Matthew Ridge has called his assault "despicable" and said he would think twice about appearing on air with him again.

Radio Sport presenter Brendan Telfer said news of the assault came as a shock and it was hard to predict his future. "[Tony] is sincere with his remorse and regret. I wouldn't stand by him otherwise," he said. "He's got some way to come back from where he is."

Radio Sport co-host and former Australian netballer Kathryn Harby-Williams said Veitch had her full support. "I saw him on Monday and he's genuinely remorseful and deeply sorry. This is something he's had to live with for a long time."

Ms Dunne-Powell, who has since married business consultant Morgan Powell and is now chief operating officer at Woosh, has been unable to be contacted all week.

Veitch, too, is laying low, weathering the storm. And as his lawyers thrash out his employment future and detectives investigate a crime so serious it could have resulted in a jail term, it remains to be seen whether TV's plucky golden boy can withstand the typhoon of public condemnation.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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