Former Shortland Streeter Karl Burnett been busy as during the post-Nick Harrison years

Stuff

Ever wondered what happened to Shorty St fan favourite Nick Harrison? Well, we tracked him down for you.

Motoring journalist, video game developer, boom operator, film producer, call centre operator, paperboy - Karl Burnett has had many jobs in his 41 years on this Earth.

But what he will always be known for, what New Zealand once clasped Burnett to its bosom for - and in some cases still does - is his role as Nick Harrison on Shortland Street.

A perennial favourite in 'Shortland Street character we'd like to see return' polls, Nick has also been the subject of petitions campaigning to get him back on the show, including one memorably endorsed by The Edge radio host Dom Harvey, who claimed not to have watched a single episode since Nick was taken off air.

Karl Burnett: "I left school to do Shortland Street, so all I knew was acting."
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Karl Burnett: "I left school to do Shortland Street, so all I knew was acting."

So when Nick's alter ego Karl Burnett popped up on screen again recently (as he tends to do every year or so, having also been seen in 2016's Terry Teo, 2015's AFK and 2014's Coverband) in a self-described "if you blink you'll miss me" cameo for Pork Pie, we thought it high time we tracked him down to talk about life post-Nick Harrison.

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True Shorty fans need no introduction to Nick, or Karl. Those under 20 may need a refresher however, given the character was axed in 2005.

Nick Harrison and family on Shortland Street.
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Nick Harrison and family on Shortland Street.

Appearing in Shortland Street's second episode on May 26, 1992, teenager Nick Harrison was originally envisioned as a rebellious 'bad boy', but soon evolved into a more comedic character, thanks in no small part to Burnett's approach to the role.

"A Buster Keaton who talks, crossed with Bart Simpson," was how fellow Shorty old boy Michael Galvin once described Burnett's performance.

After engaging in a number of different romantic relationships with varying degrees of success - as soap characters are naturally wont to do - Nick finally married his one true love, Waverley (played by Claire Chitham), in 2002.

Karl Burnett played Shortland Street's lovable geek Nick Harrison for 13 years, but now he's a motoring journalist.
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Karl Burnett played Shortland Street's lovable geek Nick Harrison for 13 years, but now he's a motoring journalist.

Later having a daughter named Tina-Anne in 2004, the couple eventually moved to Taranaki as a result of Nick's paranoia over a spate of home invasions in Ferndale, with the character making his last appearance on March 17, 2005.

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Nick's exit came as no surprise to Burnett, who says he "kind of had a feeling it was coming" at the time.

It wasn't long before he was back on set at Shortland Street though - albeit in a very different role, retraining to work as a boom operator for the sound department.

Not quite sure exactly what Karl's doing here, but it might just have something to do with his movie Captain Amazingly ...
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Not quite sure exactly what Karl's doing here, but it might just have something to do with his movie Captain Amazingly Incredible And The Space Vampires From The Evil Planet!!!

Up against a couple of other candidates for the job, Burnett remembers having "a bit of an advantage" over his competitors.

"I think it was because I was so used to being on that set and I didn't freak out - because it's a really stressful job," he recalls. "So I managed to survive the three-month training period and did 18 months there as a boom swinger before I went off to sound record on [Kiwi travel show] Getaway."

By this stage the longtime petrolhead had also been doing the odd bit of freelance writing for various motoring magazines - he is currently a fulltime journo for NZ Rodder and Petrolhead - as well as appearing on TV3 reality shows Sing Like A Superstar and Downsize Me.

He "lost a fair bit of weight" on the latter apparently, but couldn't keep it off, and now tips the scales at 126kg, down from a high of 135. ("I'm going in the right direction, slowly but surely.")

Having left school at the age of 16 to work on Shortland Street - he was 15 when cast - Burnett says acting was all he knew, and he eventually gave it another shot.

Like a lot of other Kiwi actors, he tried his hand in Australia, but admits he "probably didn't give it as long as I should have".

The only acting work he got there was a brief part on crime drama City Homicide. "I was the homicide," he laughs.

Since then the roles have been few and far between for Burnett, although he did deliver a memorable performance as Detective Jack Spartan in the self-written, self-directed, self-produced no-budget flick Captain Amazingly Incredible And The Space Vampires From The Evil Planet!!! Well, memorable for those who actually saw the film at least.

Distributed throughout New Zealand and Australia by Arkles Entertainment, it was apparently the worst-selling movie they'd ever distributed. It did get an encore screening at the Bootleg Film Festival in Canada though.

(For those interested in watching this gem, which also stars Craig Hall and Claire Chitham, the full version has been uploaded to IMDb, although you do have to register as being 17 or older to view it.)

These days, Burnett says he is happy with the job he's got, thank you very much. "You just meet really cool people and get to check out some really awesome cars."

He still gets recognised on the street occasionally - sort of. "Most people think they used to go to school with me or something like that."

And funnily enough, when people do actually recognise him as the man who was once Nick Harrison, Burnett says it's another Shorty character they always ask about.

"They say, 'Aw, what happened to Lionel? They should bring Lionel back'. I dunno, I think people just like the old characters."

So with Shortland Street's 25th anniversary coming up in May this year, what would he do if the producers did come a-knocking?

"It's not going to happen, but if that decision did come up it'd be a very tough one to make, just because I absolutely love doing what I'm doing at the moment, you know?

"I'm quite happy with the job I've got, and at my age you don't really want to be an unemployed actor."

 - Stuff

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