As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent / You asked for the latest party

I’m writ­ing a lot at the moment. I’m writ­ing stuff that prob­a­bly won’t appear for a long time. Hell it might not even appear at all. But I’m writ­ing, and get­ting things off my chest which sat­is­fy me and scratch an itch, if you will.

But I think I need diver­sion, so I’ll tell a sto­ry. It’s a sto­ry I’ve long want­ed to tell but to be hon­est it was only after a bit of prod­ding from Brigid that I decid­ed to put pen to screen. I guess its been long enough now.

It was a wed­ding. A huge wed­ding and real­ly, to toss an overused turn of phrase in the air, not just any wed­ding. A celebri­ty wed­ding. And not just any celebri­ty wed­ding but a wed­ding between an All Black (for any­one not liv­ing in New Zealand, France, sev­er­al small Pacif­ic nations, the honky bits of South Africa, small parts of New South Wales and small­er parts of sev­er­al oth­er Euro­pean nations, that’s a male who plays a game a lit­tle like a bas­tardised mutant fus­ing of Amer­i­can and non-Amer­i­can foot­ball — you won’t have heard of it but it’s huge in New Zealand in the way that Basque Pelota is huge in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca) and a mem­ber of a man­u­fac­tured pop quin­tet who, for a very brief moment were big­ger than Bar­bie with ado­les­cent females and house­wives across New Zealand (and who’s exis­tence direct­ly paved the way for the glob­al Pop Stars and Idol fran­chis­es).

They were called True­B­liss and I some­how found myself in the mid­dle of the whole thing.

I’ll try to explain although the whole thing, the pop thing, not the wed­ding which I’ll get to, was an incred­i­ble haze and would take more than a few para­graphs in a blog to cov­er.

I man­aged Antho­ny Ioasa, song­writer extra­or­di­naire, music pro­duc­er and a man who now, for his own rea­sons, calls him­self Antho­ny Gold.

Ant was approached by Jonathan Dowl­ing, a film­mak­er, to work on a con­cept he had. He want­ed to cre­ate a pop group, five girls, and film the process from audi­tion to group to record­ing stu­dio to record label to video shoots to gigs and their lives in between. It was a new con­cept, called real­i­ty TV.

Jonathan didn’t invent the for­mat or invent man­u­fac­tured bands. What he did do first was to meld the two things togeth­er and it was a stroke of bril­liance that should, when one con­sid­ers how far the con­cept has been tak­en, have made him rich beyond his dreams. But some­where along the way he lost con­trol of the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty in the con­cept and, for want of a bet­ter word, was screwed.

And yes, that’s anoth­er sto­ry.

Yep, True­b­liss (the art­work spelled it tRue­B­liss but this far out I’ll pass) were mas­sive. Jonathan and his part­ners took it from a rough con­cept through to a TV series that dom­i­nat­ed the nation’s TV screens for two and a half months in 1999, then filled New Zealand’s town halls and the­atres for the next two months with sell-out dates.

The album, quick­ly pro­duced, writ­ten and most­ly record­ed by Antho­ny, with a select bunch of musi­cians, includ­ing Joost Langveld, did rather well sell­ing some 40,000 copies in just over a month, with a num­ber one sin­gle that went plat­inum two times over.

And then it all fell to bits. Inevitably. The con­cept was the TV show and the band was always going to have a brief life.

I real­ly liked all five girls and got on with them all pret­ty well, most espe­cial­ly Jo and Car­ly but the end loomed, even if it wasn’t obvi­ous to the five at the cen­tre of it.

After the num­ber ones and the sell-out tour it stopped like a maglev train hit­ting a brick wall. Sin­gle three didn’t even chart and the mon­ey, which was always tight, ran out.

And the recrim­i­na­tions began.

There were sorts of media reports that these poor girls had been screwed by the TV show’s pro­duc­ers, one of whom, Jonathan – not Peter Urlich who was script­ed into the show as man­ag­er but nev­er had the role out­side that – was also the band’s man­ag­er.

In Novem­ber 1999 they fired Jonathan as man­ag­er, although he still con­trolled just about every­thing, and I was asked by the girls to act as man­ag­er, which all par­ties agreed to.

Time went by and in the nicest pos­si­ble way we tried to ease them into a qui­et under­stand­ing that it was, unless a mir­a­cle hap­pened, over. We tried to engi­neer that mir­a­cle via their Sony deal and indeed we worked towards that with a new album full of Car­ly Bind­ing authored songs, and an Amer­i­can pro­duc­er. Then Sony pulled out and Car­ly decid­ed to leave the band, for her brief solo career.

We sat in their lawyer’s office one after­noon and tried to tell them, the audits had been done, Jonathan was squeaky clean and it was over. One, Jo Cot­ton, looked at us and asked “Can’t we just do it again?” (Iron­i­cal­ly some years lat­er Jo got her wish when she won some TVNZ tal­ent con­test, now for­got­ten).

But in ear­ly 2000 one of the five decid­ed to get mar­ried.

Megan Cassie decid­ed to mar­ry her long-time boyfriend and father to her daugh­ter, Pita Ala­ti­ni, who was, I’m reli­ably informed, an All Black (not that I would know one if, as seems to be the case as often as not, one ran­dom­ly punched out some­one in the street in front of me).

The invites – for Brigid, our daugh­ter and myself – arrived in Jan­u­ary for a wed­ding in Feb­ru­ary with a ser­vice in Otara and a recep­tion at the For­mosa Coun­try Club out on the east­ern perime­ter of Auck­land and a place I’d nev­er heard of.

Car­ly wasn’t invit­ed.

1

We were offered an option to rent a chalet at the club for the night and duly did exact­ly that. It was, I guessed, going to be the celeb wed­ding to end all celeb wed­dings in that nether-land par­tial­ly occu­pied these days by tru­ly bizarre sites like this grue­some odd­i­ty (why would you want to be any­where near it…) but in 2000 was the exclu­sive domain of the week­ly gos­sip rags.

And so, we suit­ed up and packed our­selves into the car, and head­ed off to the church.

Some­body, I’m unsure whether it was Pita’s agents, or Megan’s fam­i­ly, had done an exclu­sive deal with The Woman’s Day for pics, for – and this may be an incor­rect mem­o­ry this far out, but it was a big wad – $40k cash plus a fair slice of the cost of the wed­ding, and there they were there snap­ping away at famous guests as they arrived (famous peo­ple like to hang with oth­er famous peo­ple I dis­cov­ered and you only have to be famous for a Woman’s mag cov­er or two to be one of them).

And they were, I guess, bemused and increas­ing­ly pissed off at the oth­er lot, from the Woman’s Week­ly, doing exact­ly the same thing.

Whichev­er par­ty had sold the rights to WD hadn’t told the oth­er par­ty (and no-one at all had both­ered to tell me) who had then sold the same rights, both exclu­sive of course, to the oth­er mag­a­zine.

It was frac­tious but the bride arrived and looked duly fab, The groom looked sharp and anoth­er of those All Blacks (don’t ask me which, but he seemed to have an aura of desir­abil­i­ty about him, giv­en the looks and drools from both sex­es that fol­lowed him) was best man.

The wed­ding went off with­out a hitch, all tears and that, it was quite love­ly – and the best man looked bemused by it all.

Out­side there were hun­dreds. A smat­ter­ing of True­b­liss fans and lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of most­ly Ton­gan (the groom was Ton­gan) folks who, in what I was told was a very Ton­gan way, were open­ly invit­ed to the cer­e­mo­ny.

Cool. The folks out­side seemed to be lov­ing it and proved to be pret­ty colour­ful sub­jects for the com­pet­ing cam­era crews.

After the wed­ding we jumped in the car. I had Jonathan and Antho­ny in mine and we head­ed east. And east and east. Even­tu­al­ly we found the venue, after ask­ing at a shop or two, and found our­selves dri­ving up the long wind­ing approach to the grand be-pil­lared recep­tion.

And it was odd. Very.

I’ve not been to Palm Springs but I’m guess­ing that it’s full of these sorts of mutant pri­vate clubs where the riff raff are kept out and the rich old folk go to drink far too many cock­tails, and even­tu­al­ly die. Except this one was tar­get­ed at the rich old Chi­nese folks – as the name sug­gest­ed – and looked like it came in a kit­set: build your own coun­try club box com­plete with dozens of ful­ly mature palms, twee lit­tle bridges over twee man-made ponds, and a beau­ti­ful­ly preened golf course for the stink­ing rich to wan­der around on the plen­ti­ful golf carts whilst the less priv­i­leged watched from out­side.

Hey, it’s their mon­ey, but it did feel a lit­tle like we were sit­ting in some tacky priv­i­leged zone on the edge of the out­er­worlds.

Not the real wedding

I was, I have to say, well impressed by the chalet. Not real­ly the chalet as such, but the mas­sive bath­room which was about the size of our whole house back in South Herne. And we were giv­en our very own own golf cart.

It was, when we checked in, ear­ly after­noon, about 1 I think, and we took a cou­ple of pic­tures of the pri­vate golf cart (I don’t play so it was a nov­el­ty) then, leav­ing it parked out­side, wan­dered over to the gath­er­ing storm.

Peo­ple had begun arrive, the sun was beat­ing down and the kids were all ush­ered away to a sep­a­rate zone where they would be enter­tained by clowns and fed vast amounts of coca cola and McDon­alds. As a respon­si­ble par­ent I wan­dered off to get a drink myself.

A beer. There were a range but I took a Stel­la. And the sun beat down. We wan­dered around look­ing for shel­ter but there was lit­tle so we had anoth­er drink and the sun beat down so I moved on to the Pinot Gris.

An organ­is­er of sorts told us that the main event would begin around five in the big mar­quee, a huge mar­quee actu­al­ly, and we all con­ve­nient­ly had names on tables. Handy, since it was get­ting blur­ry.

Inside the tent was a huge table run­ning down the west side (I think) set up for the offi­cial par­ty, who now, I was told, includ­ed big parts of the All Black squad, par­ents, and guests from South Africa (Megan’s fam­i­ly is Zulu).

And there were lots of fab and famous peo­ple wan­der­ing around. TV folks, the odd Short­land Street bod and All Blacks.

So we all had anoth­er drink and the sun got stronger.

I looked around for food. There was none. Just aggres­sive wine wait­ers offer­ing top ups. The few pack­ets of crisps that were out when we arrived were long gone, so I went into the kids room and stole two cheese­burg­ers from the dis­trib­ut­ing Ronald, hand­ing one to Brigid. It was some­thing.

It’s incred­i­ble what hunger, mixed with Pinot Gris and Stel­la will push you to do.

Around 4, we were stag­ger­ing a bit under the weight of all this and I watched the kitchen folks putting out the suck­ing pigs. Along the front of the offi­cial table they were laid out, with one per two peo­ple. Lit­tle fat ones (this far out I can’t recall if they had an apple per mouth or not) that sat in the heat and starred blankly out en-mass. So we had anoth­er drink and the musos puffed on some green stuff (I don’t do that, and haven’t for many years: I start think­ing my friends are policemen/women so it’s best to pass).

It was start­ing to fill up. The guest list was offi­cial­ly about 300 peo­ple, but many of those who’d arrived unin­vit­ed at the church had made their first for­ay out to the For­mosa Coun­try Club and had parked their vans and cars in a large, pret­ty, grassed area behind the tent where they were pulling out the pub pets.

Their num­bers had grown to about 400 I guess.

The secu­ri­ty guards looked itchy but they were unsure what to do.

Around five, as the sun still pum­melled us and we were almost crawl­ing, the announce­ment came to enter the tent.

And we did. Brigid and I found our­selves seat­ed with Jonathan, Mal­colm Black from Sony, and three Ton­gan fa’afafine from Syd­ney. A prime table right in front of the hap­py cou­ple. We start­ed to chat to the trio from New South Wales. You’re with the Ala­ti­ni fam­i­ly? Oh, no dear. Oh, you must be with Megan then? No, we’ve nev­er met either of them. So who invit­ed you? No-one. We just thought we had to be here so we booked a flight and here we are. But you’re seat­ed on one of the best tables in the house. Oh god.. we just wait­ed until every­one sat down and were point­ed by an ush­er to these seats.

We actu­al­ly hit it off rather well with these three –  as we dis­cov­ered, dress­mak­ers from Syd­ney who had no con­nec­tion to the wed­ding but had the best seats in the house.

Okay, we were seat­ed but the speech­es began..and we had a new batch of wines..red this time for me, deliv­ered to the tables.

The talk­ing car­ried on, and in a very Island – and I found out short­ly – Zulu way, every speech demand­ed sev­er­al extend­ed respons­es.

There was no food. There was no ven­ti­la­tion and the tem­per­a­ture was ris­ing.

Three hun­dred com­plete­ly ine­bri­at­ed and leg­less guests, at least a dozen now froth­ing dead pigs that had been in the Feb­ru­ary heat for about 3 hours and ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and noise were head­ing to a cli­max.

I went for a wan­der to check on daugh­ter and found the many, many unin­vit­ed guests behind the tent had start­ed dig­ging up one of the gor­geous golf greens for umus to cook the bas­ket loads of food that were now being unloaded from vans. Pub pets (they’re the plas­tic beer con­tain­ers that brew­eries sell their cheap­er brands in, in bulk) were being tossed around the course and all over the beau­ti­ful­ly man­i­cured gar­dens where they were now stick­ing out like mutant gnomes from the New Zealand hin­ter­land.

Isabel­la was fine and it was head­ing towards 8pm. The whole place was com­plete­ly shit­faced. The two sets of pho­tog­ra­phers were glar­ing at each oth­er across a divide of angry, hun­gry, loud peo­ple. The odd scrap was break­ing out and nobody was pay­ing the slight­est bit of atten­tion to the bride, groom or whichev­er offi­cial guest was mak­ing the umpteenth response to what­ev­er response. All Blacks were chat­ting with girls who lined up to be chat­ted to, and every now and then one or two of these infor­mal cou­ples would wan­der out­side – for a breath of fresh air of course.

And then they announced the din­ner would be served table by table as they were called.

Imme­di­ate­ly there was, from every table, a dement­ed rush to towards the food tres­tles. The cater­ing man­ag­er leapt at the claw­ing mass of com­plete­ly oblit­er­at­ed guests, abus­ing them and phys­i­cal­ly push­ing them back.

And then the pow­er went off and a table full of food col­lapsed as a sol­id mass of starv­ing drunk peo­ple launched them­selves towards it in the pitch black.

After about 20 min­utes of claw­ing and scrap­ing, the pow­er came on and peo­ple forced them­selves back up and found their way through the mess and con­fu­sion to their tables.

The tent slow­ly wound down as food calmed the mass­es and the tap on the free-flow booze was, smart­ly, turned off by some­one. And of course a few peo­ple sim­ply passed out, drunk in the over­pow­er­ing heat.

I went out­side to see how the umus were going and the secu­ri­ty guards were doing their very best to get the old Corti­nas and the rest off the golf course before they set­tled in. As I watched two golf carts, with peo­ple hang­ing off the roof and sides, wheeled past and onto the next green where, as much as you can with over­laden carts, they tried to do wheel­ies and drifts.

It was time to leave and we crawled back to our wee chalet and prompt­ly passed out.

The next morn­ing I wan­dered down to the recep­tion past the tent. There were bod­ies every­where, most­ly the unin­vit­ed mass­es who pitched their own pup tents or sim­ply slept where they fell. A golf cart was in the gar­den.

We paid and left as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. I’ve not been back, although Isabel­la was keen.

The next day Woman’s Day tried to demand their mon­ey back, but, caveat emp­tor, it was done and gone.

Both mags ran sto­ries about the gor­geous celebri­ty filled wed­ding and print­ed end­less shots of famous peo­ple and Peter Urlich.

I read some­where that they, in 2009, renewed their vows. Love­ly peo­ple and the mar­riage seems to have worked out well. Not much more you can ask I guess.

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