Meet Invercargill's most famous media star.
The Mayor With a Thousand Faces
He’s had cameo roles in The World’s Fastest Indian alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins, as well as in homegrown classics like Utu and Pork Pie - not to mention his countless TV appearances.
But his most well-known role is as New Zealand’s longest standing mayor, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Tim Shadbolt has singlehandedly turned the perception of the grey, conservative, southern city of Invercargill on its head.
Shadbolt’s frequent (and often hilarious) media appearances have been used to great effect in order to bolster the fortunes of a city whose population has been dwindling since 1975 – a problem that Shadbolt saw early in his mayoralty: “We were the fastest declining city in New Zealand or Australia, and we thought wow, how are we going to turn that around - from being a dying rural backwater to being a really exciting, neat place to visit? We thought films would be a great way to promote our region and attract people to it.”
Perhaps a turning point for the city also had something to do with an iconic New Zealand film called Goodbye Pork Pie (1981). As Shadbolt says “the whole point of that film, which is where we were lucky, was a trip to Invercargill. ‘We’re going to get this car to Invercargill’ was repeated three or four times - and that subliminal advertising for attracting tourists is probably far superior than any advert we could run.”
With the recent Pork Pie (2017) re-make hitting cinemas earlier this year, the exposure has ensured that ‘Invers’ – as it is affectionately known by locals – has a place in the national psyche. And of course, Shadbolt appears in the film.
Shadbolt laughs when he remarks “there’s an ugly rumour being spread that it’s illegal to make a film in Invercargill unless I’m in it – but that is not the truth! I was delighted to have a role but funnily enough the Director [Matt Murphy] said, ‘no Tim, you’re not saying a thing alright’, so I thought oh I’d better just eat humble pie and have a non-speaking part, and yet it was of course a lot more than that. It ended up being a sort of comic highlight of the film. When they did test audiences everyone would be laughing and hooting when I came on and removed my mask of me, which was a great place to hide.”
Shadbolt hopes the success of Pork Pie will lead to more films being attracted to the region. “Sometimes councils can be a bit conservative. But this film will help us with the next feature film that approaches us, and I think we will be approached because we’ve had so many success stories.”
The city has leveraged its film publicity to attract a niche market. The World’s Fastest Indian (2005), a successful sporting drama, became the inspiration for a weekend motorcycle event known as the Burt Munro Challenge that attracts thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the region every year. Of course, Shadbolt also had a small role in that film. “I played the President of the Southland Motorcycle Club, so I organised a fundraising dance in the Tisbury Hall and auctioned off a pig, then I started the race at Oreti beach - I was waving the flag. I sort of popped up at several points in the film.”
In fact, popping up all over the place seems to be Shadbolt’s speciality. “One of my greatest contributions to the city has been through the media really – film and television. I was in Dancing with the Stars and I went to Borneo and lived in the jungle for Intrepid Locations.” But has it helped boost the image of the city? Well, actually yes. “We’ve been doing perception surveys since 2000 – and I should be more modest – but I’m number one. So if the word Invercargill is said people think of me.”
Shadbolt’s most recent appearance was entirely unscripted when he became a You Tube sensation in December 2016, despite the fact that the internet is a medium he confesses he just doesn’t get. “It’s not so much that I dislike it, it’s that I can’t understand it.” The Mayor was probably more surprised than anyone to discover that this too could be a medium for national publicity. “I was scooting home from the dairy after buying a bottle of milk and a guy had filmed me out of his lounge window going past and I got 750,000 views.”
Shadbolt sighs, then grins his broad, squint-eyed grin. “I’m the longest serving Mayor in the history of New Zealand and what do I get recognition for? A concrete mixer and then a scooter!”