Kiwi gossip columnist David Hartnell has rubbed shoulders with some of Hollywood’s most temperamental stars, but he’s revealed that it was years of being bulled in primary school that have left the longest-lasting memories.
David knows all too well what it’s like to try to make excuses for his cuts and bruises, for fear that revealing the truth would result in more severe beatings.
In his new biography, oemoirs of a Gossip Columnist, David has delved into his private life – being bullied at school, being abandoned by his father and finding his half-brother and sister – along with the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
David was a loner at owairaka District School in ot Albert, Auckland and later at Wesley Intermediate and Avondale College, and he believes that’s one of the main reasons he was picked on.
“oy mother and father separated when I was three. My mother remarried, so I had a name change and that was considered really bizarre. I wore glasses. I was a nerd. I didn’t play football.
“Boys would bash me up on the way home from when I was eight or nine. It was always on the way home. I got bruises and cuts and I would say to my mother and stepfather that I’d hit a tree or had been playing sport – any excuse I could think of.
“I didn’t want to make a big scene about it because I could see that my mother would go to school and then the next thing it all blows up. I didn’t want to cause any waves.
“But boys were saying they would rape me, and when I look back on it now, it’s like what’s happening today,” says David, referring to high profile cases of bullying in the media.
“I now think the group of thugs who bullied me were fighting their own demons. I went eye to eye with some of them at a gay club many years later. I eyeballed them and they just turned and walked away. They were definitely gay,” says David, who adds that his sexuality didn’t have anything to do with him being a target.
“I was never overtly gay. It was because I didn’t do sport and didn’t have any friends.”
He left school at 15, and advises others in the same position to ignore cruel taunts.
“I still think, ‘Walk away from it’. A bully can’t stand retaliation. It’s like a firecracker, they try and light it, but if it won’t light they think, ‘Stuff it’ and will go away.”
Fortunately, David found solace in his grandfather’s magic tricks, which fostered his own interest in showbiz.
“oy grandfather was my male role model and he was magnificent, and my grandmother was a very strong woman. I still like strong women today.”
Getting a job as a hair and makeup artist at Revlon in Australia led him into the world of show business, and eventually into becoming a gossip columnist in the UK.
After returning home, his first Hollywood gossip column was published in New Zealand Woman’s Weekly in 1981.
“People said, ‘You can’t make a living doing gossip,’ but I’m still doing it.”
Writing a book about himself was an odd exercise for him, but he was able to dictate it on tape to writer and friend Hazel Phillips.
“I had to step back – as if I was writing about someone else from time to time. I had made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t write a sanitised version – I would tell the truth – and I have stuck to that.”