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Living life to the max

He’s broken his back in three places and suffered a serious heart attack, but Jason Gunn isn’t letting life get him down.



Jason laid it all on the table for a packed audience at Alpine View Lifestyle Village, courtesy of their TRILife Talks Wellness Programme last month; the ups, the downs and everything in between.

Living life in the limelight since he was 18 years old, he recounts his high profile career; the best part he says, was children’s television, something which also enabled him to bring joy to sick children in hospital.

The first was a young girl he’d been asked to sit with for 20 minutes to cheer her up. Those 20 minutes became four hours, pushing her around in a wheelchair and drawing her funny cartoon pictures.

About 10 years later, when he was making another show in Wellington, a young girl races up to him and says, ‘Hi Jason Gunn, I don’t know if you remember me, but you came to see me when I was young and my mum said you gave me the will to live!’

Two years ago, Jason’s daughter Faith moved to Dunedin to do a degree in photography. A young woman had come over to check out the flat and Faith agreed she could have the remaining room. Just as she was leaving, she pointed to some drawings and said ‘what’s that?’ Faith said, ‘I was just doing some drawings that my dad taught me to do and the young lady said, ‘is your dad Jason Gunn?’

“So for the last two years, that little girl I went and saw in hospital has been looking after my little girl in Dunedin. Sometimes when you do a little bit of something for someone else it comes around again.”

Jason went from children’s television to prime-time television, which is when Dancing with the Stars came in. He got to meet some interesting people, including Tim Shadbolt, Rodney Hyde and Paul Holmes.

Jason describes Sir Tim as a genius and says you could ask him anything and he would manage to turn it around to Invercargill. He describes meeting Sir Paul Holmes as “an honour”.

Some time later, there was a new show in town, New Zealand’s Got Talent, hosted by Tamati Coffey. A newspaper review said, ‘finally we’ve got the Jason Gunn we always wanted’. Jason received two messages on his phone that night. The first one said, ‘don’t ever forget son, there will only ever be one Jason Gunn’. The next new message was one minute later, ‘oh s**t sorry, I forgot to say, it’s Paul’. It was just two weeks before Paul passed away.

Jason also recounts the infamous Rodney Hyde drop. “They got the lowest score in the history of Dancing with the Stars which included a one and a one and a one, which Rodney pointed out to me was the number for St John – their chosen charity!”

It’s not just Rodney that has been accident-prone. When staying in Queenstown in 2016, helping a neighbour out by squishing rubbish into the wheelie bin turned ugly when he broke his back in three places. ACC actually contacted him to say thank you.
“They said ‘last year, Jason, there were over 717 injuries due to wheelie bins, but after your accident that’s down to 600’, so I made a difference!”

About two years ago, his next hospital stay was a bit more serious. The gym attendant was convinced Jase had been pushing it too hard, so he drove himself back to work where his wife convinced him to see a doctor, who called an ambulance immediately. It was a heart attack and required an operation to get a stent put in.

It was an experience that would teach him what was important in life. “It isn’t about what you think about but what you don’t think about. I didn’t think about work, didn’t worry about money, didn’t worry about stresses; all I thought about was my four gorgeous children.”

Along with photographer Faith, there is Grace, an actress who appeared on Shortland Street for two years playing nurse Lucy; Eve, who was previously one half of the long running TVNZ youth programme The Adam & Eve Show and is currently working with Jason in his new speaking business, until she heads off next year to do a psychology degree; there’s Louis who loves his cricket and rugby; then there’s his wife Janine who runs everything – the house and the business.

A doctor in hospital after his heart attack told him that he now had permission to change anything in his life – change house, change wife… and while he has had no desire to change either of those things, there have been some changes.

He’s been spending more time with his family, he’s doing less radio and television and he’s started his own speaking business so he can work on his own terms.

Now he’s getting to meet all sorts of people to help them with their speaking and his biggest dream is to get into schools and teach children. And you just know that with an attitude like Jason’s, he’s going to get there.




Appetite for life

After being dished up a serving of the real Jax Hamilton, you come away with an appetite for life.



The fun-loving queen of food first caught the public’s eye as MasterChef New Zealand’s runner-up in season two. Then for the next six years her Cheshire Cat smile and cockney banter brightened up the ad breaks as food ambassador for Countdown. Jax is now fabulously freestyle with plenty of bite-sized projects filling her crazy life to the max.

Originally from London, she arrived in Timaru in 2001 with her then Kiwi husband, before migrating North to her forever home of Christchurch. London life was exciting working for WEA Records as a Press Officer for some notable celebs. “However, Christchurch embraced with more warmth than London ever did,” she says. And she’s here to stay.

The marriage ended in 2009, however she warmly describes her long-term partner, a Property Manager, as a stunningly gentle and gorgeous guy. “He balances my chaos, we’re like ying and yang.”

Her tucked-away abode, which she shares with Pumpkin the cat, is where Jax’s real personality is showcased – all over the walls. Her projects and plans are scribbled in liquid chalk on her office window, illuminated by sunlight. “I just haven’t got enough room,” she laughs.

Inspirational musings are pinned to the bedroom door – so they are top of mind every morning.

Purposeful quirky slices of life are everywhere. Even her toilet has a chalk wall for quotes on one side, photos of her now grown-up sons on the other, and the Queen on her shower curtain, with plenty of other nods to old blighty. This all makes the British-born 53-year-old with Jamaican heritage feel right at home.

The Colour Purple is her favourite novel – its pages line an art-deco cabinet she artfully transformed. Boxes inside boxes, she organises her cosy, jam-packed creative pad to function with her full schedule.

Engaging rituals to de-stress include quiet moments on the swing in the park next door. “I cope by living life fully, and in harmony, in 10-minute increments – then it’s easy.”

“I like to eat dinner when the sun is going down, or sometimes have a relaxing bath in middle of the day, infused with camomile or lemon verbena.”

She makes her own Jamaican chilli sauce, has designed ‘Jax’ tea towels, written two cookbooks and formulated a range of hair products to tame her head-turning dreads.

“My hair and glasses are my brand, so I make extra effort to keep them sharp.”

Her days are spent on causes that really resonate with her heart. They say charity should begin at home – and Jax’s focus lies with her Christchurch community. “Our job as humans is to nourish each other.”

Jax is a recruit with Nora’s Army, helping a little girl with a rare cancer who needs lifesaving treatment in Texas, fundraising when and how she can.

She helped collate the recipe book Eats for the charity One Mother to Another which supports mothers and caregivers with children in the Christchurch neonatal units. Jax has also joined the team presenting Christchurch’s new garden festival Grow Ōtautahi as a food ambassador. And as a mentor to the next generation of cooks, Jax has taken seven-year-old Maiyah Martin of ‘Girl with Cake Project’ under her wing – with all funds going to the Christchurch City Mission. If you’d like your own slice of Jax, she is available as a MC and for keynote speaking and cooking demonstrations.

“This is what I love to do. You’ll get the real, authentic me and I’m always honest – and this is where I really get to turn the volume up!”

She adds, “when I discuss business, it’s about planting a seed of integrity and authenticity, where we grow together. I like to chase the passion and not the purse. I call my job ‘giggles and nibbles’.

“I naturally give who I’m with my full attention and presence. If I’m having dinner in a restaurant, for example, I’ll engage with the waiter – because I’m really having dinner with him too!”

Her tip for Christmas feasting: “Prep beforehand as much as possible. It’s the time to be together, and you can’t do that if you’re busy in the kitchen. There’s not much prep in crayfish and champagne!”

She will no doubt have some divine delectables of her own ready in her freezer and SMEG Union-Jack fridge.

Surprisingly, Jax says she would choose music over food any day. “Melody fulfils me, and then I cook! And love goes in first – it’s all a dance.”

With her love of cooking, and a warm personality and heart, Jax has certainly got her own recipe just right. “I have never been happier,” she says.

See more of Jax on and also for foodie tips and tricks.




A Culinary Queen

Annabel Langbein has personally penned more than 10,000 recipes.



I could almost tell you them all too; it’s like this huge computer in my head that would drive anyone else mad, but I love it,” she laughs.

It was her dad that was the engineer by trade and, although Annabel had always thought the “clever engineer gene” had missed her, the penny dropped when she was asked recently ‘how do you engineer a recipe?’

Cooking wasn’t a fashionable thing to do when Annabel first started dipping her fingers in the baking bowl, but she discovered an incredible sense of achievement being able to give others pleasure through her baking. “I would feel useful and successful and have a lot of fun,” she says. “And as I went through life subconsciously, without realising it, I was always cooking.”

It was ironically food poisoning rather than the food itself that paved the first step in her career path. During her OE, she got food poisoning in South America and ended up staying in a village in Brazil, renting a room with an Argentinian couple. “All I wanted to do was cook!” she says. “It made me feel anchored and good.”

When that couple asked if she could make croissants, she wasn’t going to let the fact that she had never made them before in her life hold her back. Soon, she had her own croissant business! When she eventually found her way back home she started a catering business and writing for The Listener. Not knowing where to go next, she did what all good fan girls do and she wrote to Julia Child, who invited her to America to introduce her to the world of cuisine. She spent the late 80s and early 90s learning everything she possibly could about cuisine.

“I found while travelling that food is the bridge between us all. It can help you discover cultures, ingredients, nature, community, and also this wonderful idea of creativity,” Annabel says.

“The idea of a recipe being written down is a reasonably recent invention; in places like India and China, the language of cooking is handed down. People can have nothing and yet make these amazing foods; feeling part of this world is very nourishing.”

It’s this travel that formed the basis for her understanding of ‘food families’ and ‘flavour profiles’. “Food is like music; you learn a few chords and before long you can riff. When you understand the different flavour profiles and how they go together, it opens up your world.”

What this means is that the core ingredients of a salad may be the same, but it’s the understanding of flavours that enable you to transform those vegetables into a South East Asian salad or a Middle Eastern salad.

A lot of what Annabel turns her award-winning hand to these days is driven by ingredients and what’s available – particularly in her own Wanaka garden. It’s 12 minutes from her place to the shop, so if she doesn’t have to go, she won’t, learning instead to be resourceful with what she has. Her Essential cookbooks were written on this basis – the idea of giving people a basic toolkit of basics that can form the basis of just about anything.

“I’ve always been interested in helping people to feel empowered and confident with cooking. This isn’t MasterChef; it’s home. Most people are tired at the end of the day, so dinner doesn’t need to be an enormous amount of work and palaver; it’s about taking something fresh and knowing the easiest way to make it yummy.”

She’s an “old hippy at heart”, or, more formally, a founding member of the Sustainability Council, so sustainability is pretty close to her heart.

While a key aspect of this role is keeping GMOs out of the food in New Zealand, even the basics of ‘reuse and recycle’ are important.

“I’m a big believer in getting things when they’re in season, like tomatoes, and freezing them so I’ve always got it.” She’ll cook spinach in olive oil and freeze handfuls of it so it’s always available as a meal addition.

Another top tip is when you get to the end of the week and your salad greens have gone limp, or your rocket has wilted in the hot sun before you’ve made it back to the house, put them in a big bowl of water and ice cubes, and the water will pump the cells up again, bringing them back to life.

Treat protein as a treat and have a meatless meal each week, she says. Although most New Zealand meat is freefarmed, so it’s not as bad for the planet, cutting back can certainly make a difference.

“I’m a big composter and worm farmer, in the same way we understand our gut microbes are important to keep healthy, the soil is as well, so having compost and creating worm farms is a fantastic thing.”

And trying to avoid plastic is a biggie. So why not put a plate over food in the fridge instead? After all, as Annabel says, “If we all just do one little thing…”




Captain of his own vessel

The official date is 31 December. That’s when the CE of Lyttelton Port Company, one of Canterbury’s largest employers, will step down and become captain of his own vessel.



After his 16-year tenure, Peter Davie will set sail in May around the South Pacific in a 47ft Dutch-designed Van der Stadt. Yachts are complex, but he’s ready for the challenges of a maritime adventure on a more intimate scale.

“Our three kids have left home and there’s no grandchildren on the horizon, so we’re off for a year, or more, depending what the Admiral says!” referring to his wife Wendy, who works as an emergency nurse.

Hailing from Tai Tapu, he joined Lyttelton Port as a marketing junior with a commerce degree. Then Australian waters beckoned and Peter became Victoria’s Port of Portland’s youngest CEO at age 35.

Reeled back to home waters in 2003 for his current role, the now 58-year-old has weathered a bigger storm than most port chiefs.

The picturesque port which operates 24/7 servicing South Island imports and exports, was remarkably only closed for three days, after being at the epicentre of the 22 February earthquake. The development of the Lyttleton Port Recovery Plan was completed to budget and to time – and the Port has since doubled its container volumes.

“My role certainly changed quickly and I did what was needed to be done. We could now design a Port for the future. I’m immensely proud of everything and everyone. It took real expertise to do such a complex job. It was that huge pressure – a multi-pronged, constant adrenalin rush.”

Peter says that now everything is smooth sailing again, it would almost feel like going backwards, career-wise, to stay.

He refers to the Port as a fish bowl, connected by road and rail, as the lifeblood to Lyttelton and South Island communities for many daily essentials, such as coffee and mega-tonnes of bananas – of which Kiwis are the largest consumers globally. And 55 percent of the world’s carrot seeds leave from New Zealand’s third largest Port.

He says the toughest part is juggling the multi facets of the Port, from the hills to the seabed – with many integrating factors to consider, such as planting that mitigates erosion, to improve water quality. “But underneath it’s all our people – they are what makes the Lyttelton Port Company what it is.”

Evans Pass Road is now open and Canterbury’s only floating walk-on marina, with retail and hospitality, is being designed, with a cruise ship berth on track for late 2020. Lyttelton Port is the only port in New Zealand with the ability to expand their land area.

With consent for a total of 34 hectares, the first ten hectares of east-side reclamation used the city’s earthquake rubble – a monumental feat in upcycling. Currently, a further six hectares are being reclaimed using quarry fill from Gollans Bay.
“It’s been a privilege to work with real toys and such big machines. When I see a cargo ship, I see the sum of someone’s hard work, ready for export.”

Peter says he’ll miss the crew and working from the rebuilt headquarters “with the best view in Christchurch”.

His successor will be appointed this month. On the possibility of returning someday, he says “never say never”.

“I might pop up somewhere, but it’s time for someone fresh and to pass the baton. My parting wish is to see this Port flourish.”