Marc Ellis intrigued by hippies

02:58, Jun 06 2009
A BUSY LAD: TV host is among Marc Ellis' several jobs.

Karma. You could say it's just bitten Marc Ellis on the bum. He's been in a Charlie's juice company board meeting all morning, and he can tell it's going to go way over time.

Mate, he says, give me till 12. At 12, they've just broken for coffee and we're looking at maybe another hour. Give me till one, the former All Black-cum-lad about town suggests.

I ring again at 1.10pm. The phone switches to voice mail. At 1.22pm, he calls back all apologetic. And there I was thinking he'd done a runner.

Ellis via phone is a charmer. Full of beans despite the overly long meeting, he's in town on business, and to promote his latest television show, How The Other Half Lives.

The eight-part documentary series has the well-known larrikin poking his hooter into, well, the lives of others - from Auckland's Muslim and Hare Krishna communities to a bunch of peaceniks who run a hemp-growing business in Upper Moutere and the Chatham Islanders. Communities living outside the mainstream.

Tuned in, dropped out. It's sort of an analogy for Ellis's own life at the moment. He's living part- time in Buenos Aires with Argentinian-born wife Augustina Mon, ostensibly to have a cup of tea and a lie-down, and to try to learn Spanish or Portuguese.


Trouble is too much lying down means time to think, and for Ellis, whose brain never seems to sleep, snoozing isn't really an option.

As well as hosting many telly shows, being busted with ecstasy, doing hands-on at the juice company, acting as poster boy for his newly created World Nude Day and all manner of charities, he's finally gearing up to open a Piha cafe and looking at several other, so far hush-hush, projects.

Right now, though, he's still a little blissed out from his time with Panmure's Hare Krishnas. In fact, Ellis reckons he'd happily chuck in everything for a few months touring India with the orange-robed happy-clappers.

OK, so he doesn't call them that, but from all accounts they are: "They don't drink coffee, or anything, and they don't have sex unless it's for procreation, but they are all, bar none, really, really happy. It just amazed me how people could be so happy and fulfilled without any of the vices most of us consider normal," he burbles.

"I'm not a religious person but I do believe in karma. It just seems to me that if you can go around with a smile on your face and a positive attitude, then life tends to unfold in quite a good way, and that's what they believe in. They live a very pious life, but they have a whale of a time.

"It's not that dour, fearful thing Western religion tends to be. It's very light and breezy and there's room for individuals and characters. Their take on it is that you don't really miss what you're denying yourself, because you're enjoying so many other things."

Those other things include group chanting and dancing. Before dawn.

"I'm a white guy. I can't sing and the only time I'll dance is after I've had a few, but there I was getting up at 4.30 or five in the morning chanting and carrying on."

To fit in, Ellis even shaved his head. Then he found out that was optional. "Yeah, mate, they took the piss."

In the first episode, Ellis left the handbrake off in his car. The car ended up in a ditch.

He'd been niggling away at members of Nelson's Riverside community. You're hippies, he remonstrates. Beards, sex, more sex ... a paddock of (commercial) hemp. As determined as he was to pigeonhole them, so they were determined not to be labelled. If we're hippies, then you're a fascist, the lifestylers retaliated.

Karma, a sheepish Ellis grins.

The series, originally shot to screen in a family-friendly 7.30pm slot but relegated to the more "grown-up" time of 9.30pm, sees Ellis occasionally voicing his frustrations to camera - at the way nothing is done at Riverside unless everyone agrees to it, at the pointless waste of time moving native snails.

The subject comes up when I query our continued reliance on fossil fuels. Ellis spent several days with a group of miners on the West Coast, blowing up rock and generally having a ball, albeit two kilometres underground.

"There's so much of that stuff (fossil fuel) in the area from what I understand, they're not even making a dent. You get these people who sit around worrying about that giant weta or that giant snail. . . Those are the sort of people who go to their graves being remembered for what they stopped rather than what they did."

He can see the appeal of mining. It is, he reckons, pretty much like playing rugby. "That is a profession I can understand. In much the same way a sports team has that spirit and camaraderie, these guys have got that same bond underground. I'll tell you what, mate, I would prefer to do that than work behind a desk if I lived down there."

* How the Other Half Lives, TV One, Monday, 9.30pm

Fairfax Media