Meet Clarke Gayford, stay-at-home dad and New Zealand's 'First Bloke'

Clarke Gayford, partner of Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, is scrolling through his smartphone, eager to show a photo that made the cover of every New Zealand newspaper.

"Here it is!" he exclaims, showing me the snap of him in a dinner jacket on one knee, in front of a bevy of smiling women in glamorous evening dresses, spouses of the Commonwealth leaders attending the recent London Heads of Government Meeting. It looks like a promotional shot for television dating show The Bachelor. "Hilarious!" Gayford grins. "My sister sent it to me, saying 'You needed to be wearing more silk!' The fact that I'm wearing a suit is amazing enough," continues New Zealand's "First Bloke", gesturing at his current outfit of chinos and a flowery shirt.

"Before Jacinda got the upgrade, I didn't own one. I had to rush out and buy one. Now I have four on rotation."

A whirl wind time

Gayford and Ardern made world headlines in January when, just a couple of months after she'd been sworn in as prime minister, she announced that she was pregnant. The baby's due in June (they know but won't reveal its gender), when Ardern, 37, the second prime minister in history to give birth in office after Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, will take six weeks off work. When she returns to running the country, baby duties will be assigned to Gayford, 40, a former radio host who now presents television fishing programme Fish of the Day.

"We've just moved into a new house, which is rapidly filling up with stuff. I can't believe something so small requires so much equipment," says Gayford.

When you're in a relationship, you're a when it comes to one of you going for a pretty unique opportunity...why wouldn't you support them?

In the meantime, Gayford has been accompanying Ardern (the couple are tight-lipped on marriage plans though he's previously said he's "no doubt it will happen at some stage") on his first official foreign visit and her last before the baby is born, packing in Paris and Berlin, before three days in London, during which she and fellow leaders discussed global warming, trade and Prince Charles's appointment as Commonwealth head.

At dinner at Buckingham Palace the week before last, Ardern sat next to Prince William. "She said they had some good chats. I was next to Princess Anne, she was really good fun. Still, I was nervous. New Zealanders are so relaxed by nature and suddenly you're told the protocol and you're like 'Right, do I shake hands first? How do I address them?' You don't want to embarrass yourself."

Splitting time

Ardern now spends the weeks in Wellington, returning to the couple's suburban home over 600 kilometres away in Auckland on Fridays. It was there she took her first call from Donald Trump, on speakerphone to the background noise of their cat's miaows. "It was so funny," he smiles.

The couple's easy-going style and small-town backgrounds (her father was a police officer, his a farmer) sparked nationwide "Jacindamania" but inevitably she has her critics.


Does Gayford feel defensive of her? "Oh yes, it's really hard when you see your partner having a hard time," he says. "I know in the long run she'll be on the right side of history, but I also know in the short term things aren't going to be easy - she has to make some unpopular decisions but they're decisions that need to be made."

The couple met four years ago when Gayford contacted her as an "enraged voter" concerned about changes to privacy laws. They discovered a shared love of drum-and-bass music; to woo her he took her fishing.

"It was one of those ridiculous days when the sea was flat, a pod of dolphins showed up around the boat, then a whale and every time she put a line over she caught a 12lb snapper, a huge John Dory..." He sighs. "That's the kind of thing we can't do now, we went fishing in the summer but the security boys had to be in a boat behind us and that killed the buzz."

The personal side

He's clearly far more bothered about this loss of privacy than the impending challenges of fatherhood. Though he accepts the childcare buck stops with him, he also intends to continue working, filming the third series of his show, which combines fishing lore with travels around the most beautiful corners of the South Pacific and New Zealand. 

He's equally proud of his country's record on gender equality: Ardern is New Zealand's third female prime minister and reactions to his stay-at-home dad news have been "overwhelmingly supportive. So many dads have said to me: 'It's the best thing you'll ever do, you'll have such a good relationship with your kid'".

He's excited to spend time with his baby but it's not, he says, as if there was a choice. "When you're in a relationship, you're a team. Whether you're buying a house, or getting a cat or a dog, you're constantly making decisions to exist together, so when it comes to one of you going for a pretty unique opportunity and to achieve some incredible things that will stand the test of time, why wouldn't you support them? It would be selfish of me to do anything else."

The Telegraph, London