Local Folk – Stuart Dwight

When Stuart Dwight says he is “ a man of many hats” it is not only because he owns more than 200 hats. He is actually referring to the wide variety of work he takes on – from organising major sporting and other events and live production at speedway and tennis champs to quizzmaster at the local pub. The 57-year-old Gulf Harbour resident has made hundreds of weddings, fashion shows, festivals and major sport and concerts happen. And, as he told Terry Moore, it all began in Gisborne…

I started out when I was 15 doing a DJ job. I had a huge music collection and so a friend asked me to DJ for a 21st. I hired some gear and at the end of the night had three more bookings. My musical taste is really broad – from my parents’ rock ‘n’ roll records, to being a teenager in the 70s and into disco, new wave, punk, Aussie rock and Kiwi music. But then I might put on Beethoven in my office if I’m in the mood, and I love Blues.

Those DJ jobs were the start of it. I left school, and home, when I was 16 and worked for solicitors in an office, but at night and weekends I was DJ-ing and that grew into starting my own events company. By then I’d invested in a whole lot of sound gear, and what could I do with all that equipment from Monday to Friday? I was 16 when I started my company, which I called Just for the Record. I researched ‘cause related marketing’ – like Dean Lonergan who did Yellow Ribbon and Fight for Life – it’s about using events to make money for good causes. I came up with a list of things I could do that I took to schools, charities and sports clubs, supporting charities like Women’s Refuge, Cancer charities – across the board. I have put on more than 150 fashion shows, Halloween parties, fun runs, triathlons, cycle events, school dances, themed parties, concerts, wine and food festivals, all while I was still living in Gisborne. During my OE, in England, I did just about everything apart from the traditional ‘work in a pub’. I was a chef, canteen manager, shipping and export manager for Sheaffer Pens, sold life insurance, was a bricklayer’s labourer. That’s where I met my wife, Jackie, who is English, and dragged her back to Gisborne after living in the UK for four years.

My father came out to New Zealand in the 60s as a ‘10 pound Pom’. He was 21 and mum was 19 when they came out on the ship – Mum was heavily pregnant with me. Dad was a builder, but also a thespian, always acting in the local theatre, building the sets or directing – so I guess the stage is in my blood. My brother lives in the UK and he played the lead role in Starlight Express for four years. We all grew up singing.

Back in Gisborne I worked for a concrete company but picked up where I had left off, running an entertainment company at nights and weekends, still with a charitable focus. In a small town it was a way of engaging the community and the charitable groups or school would sell the tickets, I would organise the event and we’d split the profits. Then one day the local radio station saw me promoting and doing the stage announcements at a Teddy Bear’s picnic and asked me if I was interested in radio announcing in the weekends. It appealed to me and I was a sponge; I discovered that I love radio and I learned as much as I could. I then applied to be a copywriter, which gave me a full time job in radio – I was on air from 4pm-7pm, which is drivetime, and during the day I was writing and voicing ads. For seven years in Gisborne I did the Town Clock Party for New Year’s Eve and we turned that into quite a big party. Of course 1999 was the biggest ever, but I was living in Auckland then, so I had to go back and forwards to organise it. It was one of the biggest events I’ve ever organised with an estimated 40,000 people filling the main streets and side streets. It was huge and went on from 6pm-2am, then everyone went to the beach to watch the sun rise on the new millennium.

We moved to Auckland in 1999 so I could take up a job as promotions manager at i98FM with Kerry Smith as our Breakfast host. Radio was in its heyday and it was humming. We had a very good team and a leader by the name of Grant Lee, who was outstanding. It was great fun – the survey parties were huge. Every six months there were listener surveys for the ratings and when the ratings were out, we had a party, whatever the ratings showed. After two years my role changed to special projects manager for The Radio Network. This was about finding ways to bring in non-traditional revenue, and much of this involved partnering with events, sponsors and advertisers. It meant working closely with groups like the V8 supercars in their early days. I’ve also worked on two America’s Cup promotions and a whole raft of sports and concerts. I vividly remember the Elton John/Billy Joel Piano Man tour at Mt Smart. Billy played first, then Elton and then they played together with two grand pianos back to back. I wasn’t hanging out with the stars but I am very fortunate to have seen a lot of shows and events for free. Best of all, I got to work with a lot of very cool people, who are now lifelong friends.

I love my music, but I’m also I’m a total sports junkie – I would watch snails racing. I played a lot of sports in my time – football, tennis, squash, cycling, triathlon and golf, which is the only one I still do now. I was a football referee and coach as well. We had to play rugby at our little country school, but our Scottish dad had us playing rugby on Saturday, and football on Sunday until we were old enough to make our own choice. I was into surfing too. Growing up in Gisborne you had two choices – you surfed or became a surf lifesaver, so it was board shorts or budgie smugglers. I love watching live sport and am very fortunate to work on some of the biggest sporting events, including the ASB tennis classic. I sit at the back of the grandstand and do the live production and I have also been the MC. It’s a fantastic thing to be part of, but it does mean spending two weeks squashed into a tiny hot box, with the challenge umpire, technical crew and others – about 8-10 of us. The tiny room is full of electronics to check line calls and so on and it gets extremely hot. Recently I was stadium announcer for the Chatham Cup Final, which is like the NZ version of the FA Cup, as well as for the U20 FIFA World Cup games in Whangarei and New Plymouth. It’s my job to welcome the crowd and give details of the team lineups and so on. I worked with NZ Football on the All White’s last World Cup campaign as event manager, which was pretty exciting. We had the largest football crowd ever in Wellington at the Cake Tin when the All Whites played Peru and drew.

When we moved to Auckland we were living in Rothesay Bay and were renting but when we wanted to buy a place we went further north. Coming from Gisborne, I need to be by the sea and we found value for money in Gulf Harbour, where we’ve lived for 18 years. Jackie and I have always loved animals and our house is always full of dogs.

One of my jobs at the moment is playing the music between races and doing technical production for Western Springs speedway, so I get to see some fantastic racing and also play music. It’s actually a family audience, so we play a wide range of music rather than what you’d think of as stereotypical hardcore rock. You have to read the audience which I learned very young from DJ work at weddings and 21sts. I’ve done hundreds of weddings and seen more white dresses than you can imagine! At family events like those you start with stuff for the older ones, and then the music changes as the night goes on. I’m also a quizzmaster for Believe it or Not’s pub and corporate quizzes, including at The Good Home and recently The Wade in Silverdale. Believe it or Not provides the quiz content but there’s a knack to running a good quiz and I have developed a bit of a following. It can make a difference to how much fun it is. I learned about showmanship from people like Bruce Forsyth. It’s about making people remember you. So about 20 years ago I started wearing hats. I have a huge collection –193 trilbys, 12 cowboy hats and a bunch of random hats. I still keep an eye out for good hats and came home with 12 from our last trip to England. I have a big hat stand in my office at home, like the ones you see outside a pharmacy. Quite often people don’t recognise me without a hat.