US showbiz reporter Nelson Aspen has the inside line on celebrity gossip. This week he joined the Good Morning team in Wellington. He talks to Nicola Russell.
HE WAS called on to train Princess Diana, he's tight with Hugh Jackman, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Julie Andrews. Meet Nelson Aspen, the slick Hollywood reporter loved by audiences and stars alike.
He's been crossing live from Los Angeles to New Zealand's Good Morning show for a year now and this week he joined the crew to present from Wellington.
In love with sauvignon blanc and enthralled by tales of New Zealand's beauty from Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen, Aspen could not wait to get to New Zealand.
"I live half time in New York City and on my way back I was in a little restaurant having a drink with my friend and I had a sauvignon blanc. I remarked `My God, this is good sauvignon blanc. What is it?' and there it was on the label, Nelson, New Zealand. I said `Give me that bottle! I can't believe I'm going to go there!' For me its fantasy island ... I've never met a Kiwi I don't like and I've never met a Kiwi sauvignon blanc I don't like."
Aspen loves how laid back Kiwis are but Sarah Bradley from Good Morning sung Aspen's praises this week.
"He's a slick operator, he's always organised, on time, he's such a professional. It must be so hysterical, from Hollywood to Avalon studios in Lower Hutt.
"What stood out for me the most is he so smooth and articulate. He knows the right thing to say and he's very amusing and funny."
Bradley says he is in no way a diva. "We've tried to wine and dine him, take him to the top restaurants but last night, off his own bat, he went to a quiz night with one of the girls at work and loved it. He's really willing to do everthing, just hang out like a Wellingtonian does."
Aspen has been in showbusiness for 40 years. The youngest of five, he says he was a precocious, overweight child and his break was playing Piglet in a professional production of Winnie the Pooh at the age of eight.
"I wanted to play Roo or Christoper Robin, and they offered me Piglet because I was fat. I was a tremendously fat child, even as a teenager. "
An acting career followed. He moved to soap operas as a teenager and then to daytime television production.
But a craving to be back on camera pulled him from his beloved hometown of New York to LA.
"I went, okay I'll bite the bullet, I'll go to LA and if I'm not working in front of the camera in a year and a half, I'll just do something else with my life, I'll go back to school and become a teacher."
On 1 November 1990 Aspen moved to LA and the journey began.
"I was an aerobics instructor to make money, some people wait tables. I was a fitness instructor and I became very popular.
Then came his big break: "I was hired to train Princess Diana in that hot new work-out step. So off I went to London to train Lady Di and while I was there I appeared on a British morning programme demonstrating step. I had a mullet, I was young, I was energetic and they hired me to become their celebrity fitness corespondent. I came back to LA and started doing reports like `fitness for pets with Betty White!'."
Ten years presenting to British morning TV followed. He has also worked for Australian morning television for seven years.
"As silly as my segments can be, I took my journalistic responsibilities very seriously. Celebrities trust me, they know I am not going to sabotage them."
He's the antithesis of Perez Hilton and that's why, says Aspen, celebrities tell all.
"Last week Russell Crowe sought me out an hour before I was supposed to interview him and said `mate I'm so excited to meet you I feel like I know you from watching you on TV all these years', and I was like, `Oh my God,' all I could say is `you have excellent taste in television'."
Being so serious about his work has meant sacrifices. The death of his beloved springer spaniel, Lois, made Aspen face some hard truths. "I realised I had let myself become this sick workaholic whose only companionship really was a dog. I had let 15 years go by where I really was either talking into a camera lens or talking to a dog – and things needed to change.
He is now based in New York and LA, and has just bought out a cook book coming here next year Dinner at Nelson's, a collection of cuisine and conversation.
"I got the last interview ever with screen legend Tony Curtis and he's in the book and Zsa Zsa Gabor contributed something, God bless her."
Aspen has an effective way of combating his love of fine food and wine.
"I am a multi-marathoner. I have run 16 marathons in 10 years. That was my only non-work activity. I'd go out and I run for hours. I think about anything other than showbiz."
He is hoping all stars stay healthy for the next week as he is taking a holiday. His last holiday, in Bermuda was cut short when Heath Ledger died. "I got on the phone and I broke the news to Australia.
"I'm very proud of the way I cover celebrity deaths, because I don't think it's salacious, and don't think it is titillating.
"Julie Andrews now picks me when she is doing interviews for Australia.
"The first thing I can remember at the age of three was my big sisters teaching me the soundtrack to The Sound of Music, so to fastforward nearly a half century lately and have Julie Andrews asking for me, c'mon that's as good as it gets."
Nelson Aspen will be with the Good Morning team on TV One from Monday, 29 November to Friday, 3 December.
- © Fairfax NZ News