Of all the glamorous, jet-setting places you could imagine; I doubt Auckland places highly on that list.
Nevertheless, the powers that be decided that the City of Sails shall receive its own Real Housewives franchise – a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective.
The Real Housewives phenomenon seems unstoppable. After a few years of a creative lull and a dip in ratings in their US home market, the past two years has yielded five extensions of the franchise (Melbourne, Cheshire, Potomac, Dallas and Auckland) with a further two to launch in 2017 (Sydney and Toronto).
But today we’re talking about Auckland. New Zealand seems like a strange place to cast a show about conspicuous consumption – given the entire population of their country is less than half of the New York metropolitan area.
Regardless, we launch into the obligatory first episode prologue about how <insert name of city/suburb> is the glitziest, most glamorous city in <insert larger statistical area>.
Louise Wallace is our friendly narrator, being a familiar voice to Kiwis as the long-time host of current affairs programs, The Weakest Link as well as some dabbling in acting roles such as Shortland Street.
Louise tells us that Auckland is the city where ‘new money meets old’ and to buy a home there ‘you have to have cash’; unlike in other cities, where we trade goats for shelter.
Anyway, after a brief cut of the most dramatic moments we can expect we get our opening taglines for Aotearoa’s first Housewives.
- Julia Sloane: “If people are talking behind your back; then you’re the one in front.”
This one’s quite clever, and sort of Housewives 101.
- Michelle Blanchard: “I used to strut my stuff on the catwalk; now, I’m a model housewife!”
There’s always a “I used to be an X, now I’m a Y” in the bunch.
- Louise Wallace: “I made my money the old-fashioned way – I inherited it!”
Without context this is pretty naff, but what those outside of New Zealand may not know is that Louise and her family were sued by some cousins a few years ago, who wanted access to a share of the Wallace family trust which has millions in it, not the best look if you’re trying to present as relatable to the public.
- Angela Stone: “My name may be Stone; but everything I touch turns to gold.”
This is kind of dumb. Stones have nothing to do with precious metals to begin with. What she should have gone with is a pun about being soft or sensitive. The choices we make, I suppose.
- Gilda Kirkpatrick: “I never start a fight I can’t win.”
Gilda doesn’t smile much, so this, combined with her Iranian accent, comes off as more sinister than it sounds.
- Anne Batley-Burton: “I’m like a fine champagne: I bubble, I fizz and I’m the life of the party.”
This will not be the last time you hear Anne “The Champagne Lady” Burton talking about champagne. #onbrand
Anyway, we open on sweeping shots of Auckland harbour and a Rolls Royce rolling along the seaside roads. Gilda takes a call from Louise, who’s also driving in her electric BMW. I’m sure the producers wanted to make this scene look natural, but it just looks like they’re circling the block.
The point of this bizarre in media res car phone call is to show that Gilda and Louise are neighbours on Auckland’s most glamorous street, Paritai Drive (couldn’t they have just walked next door?) and that Louise is inviting Gilda to a fashion show to kick this whole episode off.
Then we get an introduction to Louise proper. Louise knows what her public image is: kind of a bitch from hosting the Weakest Link and being the serious face of current affairs in New Zealand. She also owns a theatre company, which is her bit of promotion for this series, I guess. She’s got a husband and two adult children, but other than that she’s not particularly exciting – certainly nothing to suggest she’s the complete bitch of the cast, as many may be expecting.
Cut to the fashion show, and Louise is there ready to introduce Gilda with a brief spiel on how she first came to know her. According to her sources, Gilda arrived in New Zealand years ago from Iran, married a wealthy, older man (James Kirkpatrick, net workth ~$175 Million) and has been a staple on the social scene ever since.
Gilda in her own words is a party girl who is also a trained architect but owns and works at her own digital marketing firm. She has two young kids, and grew up in the Middle East during the Iranian Revolution as well as the Iran-Iraq War before moving to New Zealand – so her outlook on life is shaped by harsher realities than some housewives.
Louise then introduces us to Julia Sloane, who ‘lives in Parnell, and likes looking good.’ Okay.
Julia takes us through her history, which includes being a finalist in Miss Universe New Zealand, Face of the 80s as well as some classically cheesy commercials. A bit like a discount Yolanda Foster.
Julia was famously (in New Zealand, at least) married to Dunbar Sloane, an arts and antiques dealer who’s sort of the Kiwi Christie’s, before divorcing him and marrying winemaker Michael Lorimer. She seems to be another social set mainstay in Auckland, and the quintessential Housewife material: rich and obsessed with looking young.
Back at the fashion show, Louise is just waiting on Angela Stone – who she describes as ‘a big unit’, which is possibly the most Kiwi thing this show has done so far.
Angela finally arrives and, after all the air kissing, gives the other ladies her book on fashion styling. In any other situation, this would be a nothing gift – a ‘thanks for inviting me, here’s something I had lying around’ thing. But, of course, this is the Housewives – so Gilda is kind of offended, like she’s being told that her dress sense is inherently bad. More on this later.
Anyway, we get introduced to the horrific offender Angela. She’s a transplant from Christchurch who’s looking to take her styling and advice business nationwide. She’s very spiritual (eye roll) and there’s some weird yoga that she does in a park where it’s just tossing leaves up in the air. Oh, and she also has five kids (three of her own and two stepchildren.)
The fashion show rolls on, and Angela seems to be offering a running commentary, which quickly grates on Julia and Gilda. Afterwards, Angela offers that she wants to be the Oprah of New Zealand. Gilda, bluntly, tells Angela that Oprah doesn’t talk as much, and let’s other people say something once in a while.
The next morning, Gilda is meeting Michelle – just so we, the audience, can meet her as well. Michelle lives in Coatesville, which is in the rural north of Auckland on a sprawling estate with husband, David, and two teenage kids.
Michelle is obsessed with fashion, although her house seems like it’s trapped in the 90s: it’s all gold accents and oriental marble. Anyway, because she looooves fashion, guys – she’s surprised to hear that Angela has described herself to Gilda as a ‘fashion designer.’ Michelle and Gilda are clearly the bosom buddies of this series, and will no doubt form a strong power base against whomever challenges the status quo.
Julia, meanwhile, is heading out to wine country to visit Anne – the last piece in our Housewives puzzle.
Anne is apparently the ‘Dame of Champagne’ and is colloquially known as ‘The Champagne Lady’ throughout the lands. In her piece to camera, Anne casually counts her seven fiancés and ex-husbands, liberally sipping champagne. She’s already my favourite. Plus, she’s married to a man called Richard Burton and they have a scene where they’re just dancing by themselves after coming home from dinner – I mean, that’s living the dream.
Anne also runs cat shelters and charities and makes a lot of double entendres about pussies. She’s a bit like the miniature Lisa Vanderpump of New Zealand.
Anyway, Julia is there to invite Anne to her birthday party and dish about the fashion show. Julia tosses out that Angela committed the immortal sin of giving out a fashion advice book, before moving on to what Anne thinks of Gilda.
Julia probes Anne on whether she thinks Gilda was a gold-digger for marrying a man forty years her senior. Anne is pretty diplomatic, she doesn’t really want to put herself in it, but Julia puts it out there and baits Anne into buying into the discussion. It’s clearly a play for drama later on, and Julia comes off as a bit desperate.
So, after some fluff about Julia walking through her vineyard with her husband who wants to attend her birthday, we get to the meat of the episode – where everyone will come together at once.
Julia, Anne, Louise and Angela are all in one limo, but Gilda decides to hire a chaffeur for her own Rolls Royce and brings Michelle along.
As Gilda and Michelle walk up, Angela has already played out a million scenarios in her head. She thought Gilda was rude for not standing up to greet her at the fashion show, and I’m sure her dismissal of her becoming Oprah still smarts.
Angela starts to get to know Michelle, asking her what she did back in her home country of England. Michelle sniffs that she used to be a model, and Julia offers up that Angela is still a model!
“What? Plus-size?” Michelle asks, floored.
There’s a collective moment of teeth sucking as the words fall out of her mouth, as Angela smiles through the humiliation.
Gilda silently smirks, while Anne is highly offended. Julia, a former model herself, thinks that Michelle didn’t mean it in an offensive way, but admits it did sound quite harsh.
Gilda asks what Angela models for, and when Angela says ‘Tourism New Zealand’, she’s kind of shocked – possibly because we’ve never seen her on a poster for the ‘100% Pure’ campaigns all over the place.
Julia pipes up that she used to model, wanting the focus to be on her – but Anne chimes in that she used to model as well. Louise and Gilda just chill out in the corner, the only two to not have walked down a catwalk in Auckland, apparently.
Gilda explains that she’s never had to worry about her appearance for her professional life, which is a pretty succinct explanation – but all of a sudden, Angela is crying!
The lunch kind of stops dead, while everyone tries to ask what’s wrong, but Angela has to leave and go outside to compose herself. Julia and Louise follow her out.
Angela is upset about the plus-size model comment, and wonders whether Gilda and Michelle are ganging up on her. Louise explains that it was probably just a slip of the tongue; Michelle didn’t mean it to come across as so harsh. Julia kind of just stands there.
After the pep talk, they all head back inside, and Michelle quickly asks what set Angela off. Angela is not emotional any more, she’s just pissed off and let’s Michelle know that the plus-size model comment was out of line.
Michelle, however, will not suffer this gladly.
“Sweetie, with tits like that, you’re not a normal sized model – get over it.”
She’s already heard about Angela from Gilda, and those tears seem to have dried pretty quickly. Michelle thinks that the drama was all a performance, and that she can’t possibly be offended because she’s clearly not the stereotype of the ‘average size model’.
Angela then starts on Gilda, thinking that she’s masterminded this plan to gang up with Michelle. She brings up that she thought that not standing to greet her at the fashion show was ‘disgusting’.
Gilda sort of just sits there, stunned, while Michelle tries to defend it as Gilda just being herself – she’s not as effusive and bouncy as Angela.
There’s a back and forth about Gilda shutting down Angela’s ambitions to become Oprah, which Gilda corrects her and says that she just said to ‘listen more, talk less’ – much like Hamilton.
Louise backs her up, saying that Oprah doesn’t do interviews to promote herself and that she doesn’t think that Gilda was being bitchy by telling her that.
Angela points out she would never be as rude as Gilda, which is the final straw for her.
“You are not that rude? You are rude enough to sit here and call me disgusting!”
“Are you delusional?”
Anyway, they all stop fighting for long enough for Angela to bring in Julia’s birthday cake. Just like the Golden Girls.
And that’s it – first episode done. New Zealand now has an official Real Housewives franchise, and next week Angela and Gilda are still going at it – only this time it’s at Michelle’s house.
Lives in Brisbane, works in marketing, watcher of TV shows where women yell at each other at cocktail parties.