He’s won Mastermind, Sale of the Century and a Swedish national cricket title but he had never won an election until he was voted in as Whanganui’s mayor last month.
Who is Hamish McDouall? Zaryd Wilson finds out.
Asking a Mastermind champion questions as a test is probably a lame way to start an interview.
And it was a mistake too because Hamish McDouall has an incredible general knowledge and once he’s started on a subject he’s into, he just talks.
It was only in the last ten minutes of the interview that the Whanganui District Council and his mayoralty came up.
David Bowie’s son’s name?
“Oh, well it’s Duncan Jones but he was born Zowie Bowie. Zowie Duncan Hayward Bowie was his original name.”
David Bowie was McDouall’s specialised subject in the 1990 Mastermind final.
Chris Cairns’ test batting average?
“He might’ve got to 32? I’ll go for 33.”
It was 33.5. McDouall wrote the former Blackcap’s biography.
When did West Bromwich win their only English Football title?
“My secret shame. 1919/20 was their championship year.”
McDouall won the two television game shows on the back of this ability to retain facts.
“It’s something I’ve never managed to lose. I mean I don’t remember everything,” he says.
“If something doesn’t really interest me it doesn’t stick at all but overall if I’m enthusiastic about it I’ll take it in and I’ll have it forever.
“I could probably name 2000 test cricketers out of the 2800-whatever who have played. Just because I can see them on the pages.”
Cricket comes up a lot in McDouall’s life. He loves it.
“I’ve had some really cool moment in cricket,” he says.
“I’ve never been a star performer in any particular sport but I played senior cricket eventually. I made my senior debut when I was 31.”
Even so, any grade cricketer can pick up national title if they’re living in the right country.
“I hit the winning runs in the Swedish championship,” McDouall says.
“We were on our home ground and we won by nine wickets. That was really easy.
“It was probably the same standard as senior reserve cricket in Wellington. You had one or two good bowlers that you had to fend off.”
Whanganui-born, McDouall was a Wanganui Collegiate kid in the 1980s.
“I didn’t always enjoy it but it was a different school then,” McDouall says. “It was single sex and not as inclusive of everybody, and I was a day boy. I think the day boys were a bit marginalised at that stage.
“I was in the top stream I guess. I won a history prize one year but there were some pretty bright cookies in my year.
“One’s a surgeon now and he was always picking up a lot of the prizes. One’s a mathematician… I don’t think I was really extended in the areas I really loved which is a shame. I think part of that was my own choices.
McDouall wanted to be a writer but when he left Whanganui to study law at Otago University straight out of high school.
“Law seemed the only place for me. I didn’t want to do law but I think it was something I felt I should do.”
Had he taken a year off between high school and university he would have made a different decision.
“I should have been channelling myself towards journalism or research or something.
“Law was good. I wasn’t stellar but I got couple of a’s somewhere. I never loved the law – you see some of these people who love the law – they love it – and you think wow, ‘that person is made to be a judge’.
“That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed being a lawyer but it’s really been my secondary passion. My passion has always been writing.”
And McDouall has always found the time and a way to do it.
He was in his late twenties when he followed the New Zealand cricket team’s tour of the West Indies in 1996, writing articles for New Zealand newspapers.
“It was a really inspiring time actually. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever done. Cricket, writing and travel.”
Following that McDouall headed to England for two frustrating years trying to make it as a screenwriter.
“Inevitably I was driving trucks. I was almost the driver for Stanley Kubrick because his driver got sacked.”
It didn’t work out in London but McDouall had meet a Swedish woman who he followed to Sweden where he taught English for two and a half years.
“There’s a lot of good things about Sweden but in the end I was hankering for home.
“I was back here for the millennium and I just kind of realised that indoor/outdoor living is not a Swedish idea. I like being able to walk out, barefoot to my back garden. You can’t do that in Sweden.
Back in New Zealand McDouall finished off his law degree and wrote the Chris Cairns biography.
He then went to Wellington to start working in law with a firm dealing with Treaty of Waitangi claims.
“I mean, it was great work and I made a lot of really good connections through it but I didn’t like the boss. After 18 months, we’d had one too many disagreements and I decided it was time to move on.
He left to join the John Kerry campaign in 2004 USA presidential election as a volunteer not because he was a fan of Kerry but that he was against George Bush.
“I saw George Bush as leading us down a track… the invasion of Iraq I disagreed with,” McDouall says.
“There I was in a room with Barak Obama. He was just standing for the Senate at that time but everyone could see he was an absolute star. There was probably 100 people there to hear him talk and he was one of the most amazing orators I’ve ever seen.
“I actually wrote in the Chronicle in 2004 I said ‘the next president of the United States will be Barak Obama”.
Then he would never have predicted the state of American politics in the 2016 election.
“Trump’s just – I mean he’s a cartoon,” McDouall says.
“I think Trump is vile. The Tea Party is largely responsible… it is unravelling the core centrist Republicans. The Republican party is innately right wing already but you have a lot who are conservative economically but liberal in human rights terms; they’ve been completely marginalised.
“Going back consistently there’s been consistently honest Republicans – there might be one or two moral issues. But to shift your party to something that it morally, extraordinary conservative – you’re going to get someone like Trump who comes in as a demigod.”
McDouall grew up in a politically engaged household. His father was a keen National party man and there were a range of views around the house.
“I know one election four or five of us voted for different parties I believe.”
And while he’s a Labour Party member now his political ideas were counter to Labour Party politics of 1984 and the mid-90s National Government.
“I think there was some logical moves,” he says. “Removing subsidies from agriculture, that was logical. But that deregulation, selling Telecom for a song, closing the workshops here, you can just see the issues.”
The man who has stood for Labour in Whanganui seat for the past three elections didn’t join the party until 2006.
“Labour was still damaged goods as far as I was concerned, in the mid-90s,” he says.
“It shifted back under Helen Clark. I was pretty happy with how they were going in 2002. I think by 2005 some of their discipline started unravelling.”
McDouall joined the party in 2006, a few months after his wife Elinor.
“She went down to buy a bassinet from a family in Otahuhu and she came back and she was crying.
“She’d bought it off this family of four or five kids. The Dad worked at Progressive Enterprises – so supermarket. They were locked out because they were wanting a tiny fraction of a rise. This guy was trying to help his family of five to make money.”
It was this that drove him to join Labour which he believed, despite the fact they were in power at the time, best represented those people and his politics.
“For me it’s all about social justice and it will always be that. I think it’s locked in now. It’s equality of opportunity.
“You can’t have kids going to school and struggling. It’ll just beget that they will struggle once they leave school.”
It hasn’t been a successful time in politics with three straight defeats to National’s Chester Borrows – though he was closing the gap every three years – and three losses for the party overall.
“The last time was hard. You look a seven years’ worth of effort for nothing,” McDouall says.
He says there were moments in those nine years where the Labour Party lacked discipline and was up against a strong incumbent party.
“There’s four or five quality individuals (in the National Party). Chris Finlayson’s been a remarkable Minister for settlements and arts, heritage a culture. He’s been absolutely outstanding and I’ll say that till the end.”
So, when Annette Main announced she was standing down from the Whanganui mayoralty earlier this year, McDouall, who was her deputy, announced his candidacy.
Local body politics is a different game, he says.
“We are in some ways an infrastructure committee,” McDouall says. “In some ways there’s very little lead over. But as a facilitator I think the mayor and council has a real role.”
McDouall says the new council will focus on economic development.
“All 12 of us– every one of us mentioned economic development (in the campaign),” he says.
“The reality is we’ve got a mandate to put some money in to Whanganui and Partners and really get behind that. Some people might not like it. Some of the rural community have difficulty seeing the benefit of that spend but to me it’s a no brainer.
“Whanganui is a city built for 60,000 people. It’s got the facilities for that. What we’ve got here is so attractive. We just need people to be able to fill positions to live here.”
Easy said but McDouall says “it has to be done”.
“We are fighting a demographic movement right around the world to urbanise,” he says.
“There’s not a single country in the world that’s managed to stop it but there’s a couple of countries who have managed to retard that.
“Germany is one country that has really successfully retarded the growth of Berlin and Frankfurt and Hamburg. We should be looking at what they’re doing.
“I think Government jobs don’t go amiss. I think it’d be great to get that kind regional development but equally we’ve got to do our part and that is to put money into economic development and get to know what’s working out there.”