US Ambassador Scott Brown has plenty to say about his boss video

CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ.

USA Ambassador Scott Brown

Scott Brown remembers vividly what he was doing when US President Donald Trump made the call to be his ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.

He was on the basketball court, coaching a game. Someone on the other end of the phone was explaining it's the White House when the president bellowed down the line "call a time out Brown".

"So I called a time out and I said to the kids 'shhh it's the president' and they were like....", says Brown, making big eyes.

Brown at his first New Zealand press conference.
Cameron Burnell/ Fairfax NZ

Brown at his first New Zealand press conference.

"And he's like 'how am I doing, what am I doing right, what am I doing wrong'? And I've got one minute for a time out."

And then the pitch came.

"I want to send you some place it's beautiful and it's safe because I'm going to need you four years from now," Trump told him.

Scott Brown and Gail Huff
Cameron Burnell/ Fairfax NZ

Scott Brown and Gail Huff

Safe but not without controversy. Brown attracted headlines for his past life as a nude centrefold and for once being voted Americas sexiest man. There was also a vote on water boarding that got people going as well.

Brown shrugs it off as water off a ducks back. He's survived worse - like a savage beating at the hands of his drunken stepfather when he was just six years old. 

Before his arrival, Brown and wife Gail Huff made a home video where he talked about his rough start in life on the wrong side of the tracks.

They've both had to claw their way up from nothing - Huff is a former model turned broadcaster who has had to put her own successful career on hold for the move down under.

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So no regrets, says Brown.

"You know, I did something for Cosmo along with Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger and David Hasselhoff,  Jim Brown ….it was a way to just get through school. Had I not gotten into modelling I never would have met Gail ."

No regrets, maybe  but, he says, he was disappointed at his introduction to New Zealand.

"[No one] mentioned my 35 years in the military, our 33 years together, my 30 plus years of public service, my business background, our great kids, none of that."

Water off Brown's back but not so his daughters: younger daughter Arianna wrote to the editor of the Sunday Star Times to defend her father. He chose New Zealand because it was supposed to be the most beautiful country in the world and its people the friendliest, she wrote.

"Is he wrong? I'm telling him to go to Australia instead."

Which she did, apparently,  when she also told them about her letter to the Sunday Star Times, after it was already written.

Brown shrugged that off too.

'I said okay, you're a big girl."

But her parents chose New Zealand for a clean slate.They wanted  to go somewhere they had no preconceived ideas.

"And I thought it was exotic," says Huff. "New Zealand to Americans is a very exotic place. It's very different."

As for putting life on hold back in the States for four years - that's what you do when you are asked to serve your country, says Brown. 

"It's an honour."

It's been a long journey for the kid of many times divorced parents, and a domestic violence survivor.

That lent a lot of emotion to his accreditation at Government House this week.

"It was one of the most incredible, most beautiful days of our life. To be there with the Governor-General, the whole pomp and circumstance, it was really special ...something we'll never forget."

An honour maybe but not the easiest job in the world right now with a president who has proved to be deeply polarising. Polls have shown Donald Trump is hugely unpopular in New Zealand, in contrast to his predecessor Barack Obama, who was bit of a rock star.

But Brown has the sort of political cut through with both the Republican and Democratic camps to suggest if anyone can make it work, he can.  

Ahead of his arrival one opponent admitted Brown would be a good fit for New Zealand; "I think Kiwis will personally like him, even if they don't care for his boss," he said.

But Brown doesn't resile from his admiration for Trump: he made headlines his first day pleading with Kiwis to give Trump a chance.

"I know him, I like him, I trust him," says Brown.

"He can take a joke and crack a joke. I like that about him. And I've always appreciated his very direct approach to me. Now I don't know what it's like with other people….but I'm pretty direct.  I think that's one of the reasons he likes me and trusts me because I just tell him how it is."

Brown is widely reported to have Trump's ear  - he was one of the US president's earliest cheerleaders, even touted as a potential running mate and in one interview. Brown is said to have "counselled" Trump during his campaign and in one interview said he had "total access" to Trump when ever he needed it.

That directness apparently came into use on the campaign trail, when Brown advised Trump to pull back from some of his dicier comments, like his questioning of Hillary Clinton's faith.

He also played a key role in the Trump fundraising machine. So when Brown says he is hopeful of Trump visiting - or if not Trump them wife Melania or one of the Trump children - then it's worth listening.

 Brown admits politics in the US is more polarising than at any time he has seen.

"I wouldn't blame Donald Trump, there's plenty of blame to go round. I think you can blame everybody for trying to put their own petty personal interests ahead of the country's interests."

But Brown seems to have retained bipartisan support despite that; his nomination encountered no opposition, which is remarkable in itself.

Kiwis should read into that the significance of the relationship to Trump, Brown says.

"The fact that Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson was here, one of the first trips, the fact I'm the second ambassador out….I think says volumes about not only the relationship but hopefully the continued strengthening of the relationship"

 

 

 - Stuff

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