Clarke Gayford was raised on a farm outside Gisborne. With no television in the summer and a family bach in nearby Mahia, he developed a passion for surfing and fishing. By age 10, he knew the Latin, Māori and English names of many New Zealand fish. As he told TV Guide, "my first memory of fishing is when I was one or two."
Boarding school at Palmerston North Boys was an unhappy experience, which he later compared to Lord of the Flies. He began a Bachelor of Arts at Otago University, then changed to Christchurch’s New Zealand Broadcasting School. Then he successfully pitched student-life show Cow TV (1999) to Dunedin’s Channel 9.
A shift north to Auckland led to a gig as one of the original presenters on free-to-air music channel C4. Gayford fronted all things youth TV, from chart countdowns to the Big Day Out, to backpacking through South America. He was also helping Ben Boyce and Jamie Linehan get their comical sports show Pulp Sport onto TV screens. Gayford helped produce the first two and a half seasons, from a shed behind his flat.
By the end of 2010, Gayford’s CV had him as a 'broadcast personality'. His radio credits included The Edge, Channel Z, the drive shift on More FM, and the George FM breakfast slot. On-screen, he competed on reality show Treasure Island (1999). He was a host on United Travel Getaway in 2007, and the Kiwi version of Ultimate Guiness World Records in 2008. In 2010 he presented the third season of Extraordinary Kiwis, where among others he profiled All Black Dan Carter, motocross champ Josh Coppins, and Kiwis working in Antarctica.
He guested on TV's AA Torque Show and Joker Poker and was a social pages regular, alongside mate Helena McAlpine and then girlfriend Shavaughn Raukare. In 2009 he joined 34,684 entrants in a global contest. The 'Best Job in the World' tourism campaign involved caretaking an island in the Great Barrier Reef. Gayford made it to the final 16.
Fishing had gone on the backburner while Gayford spent his 20s "horsing around on TV". But he got hooked again after catching some snapper in Auckland Harbour. "In summer, you can catch dinner under the harbour bridge. The Hauraki Gulf is a permanent home to 40 whales. The abundance of life out there is remarkable."
Soon he was arranging his working life around his fishing life, telling TV Guide "I did radio in the morning so I could fish in the afternoon". In 2015 he turned his passion into his job, handing in his notice to George FM. With producer Mike Bhana he created fishing show Fish of the Day, for Choice TV. Gayford described it as "not hardcore, more a gateway fishing show that you can bring your non-fishing partner along to." The Herald put it like this: "travel the Pacific, bag the local catch, talk ocean ecology and promote island tourism. Peter Pan with a speargun and a political conscience."
Fish of the Day won Best Lifestyle Show at the 2016 Houston International Film Festival. Purchased by the National Geographic Channel, the series has screened in more than 35 countries.
Soon after, Gayford became the target of news cameras, when his partner Jacinda Ardern was announced as leader of the Labour Party weeks before the 2017 election. At the time, Gayford was filming a fishing story off Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Gayford had originally met Ardern to express his concerns about security legislation. When Ardern became Prime Minister, Gayford added 'New Zealand’s first bloke' to his CV. In January 2018 an image of a whānau of fish hooks on social media heralded that Ardern was pregnant.
When not spearfishing, Gayford has filled in as a host on Seven Sharp and been an occasional guest on Radio New Zealand's The Panel. In 2021 he began presenting property relocation show Moving Houses on TVNZ 1, as part of team who shift homes to different spots around New Zealand. Said Gayford: "I think we went as far as Ruatangata, sort of inland from Whangārei, all the way down to Tuatapere which is right down by Cosy Nook and Nightcaps, in the deep South."
He has MCed at events from the Sustainable Coastlines Auction Ball to the Rhythm and Vines music festival.
Updated on 22 October 2021
'Clarke Gayford' Johnson and Laird website. Accessed 24 February 2021
Fish of the Day website. Accessed 16 February 2018
Peter Eley, 'Clarke Gayford introduces partner Jacinda Ardern to the joys of fishing' (Interview) - TV Guide, 17 July 2016
Kim Knight, 'Clarke Gayford: Jacinda Ardern is the best thing that's ever happened to me' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 18 July 2016
Writer unknown, 'Who is Jacinda Ardern's TV presenter partner Clarke Gayford?' Stuff website. Loaded 2 August 2017. Accessed 16 February 2018
Unknown AAP and Stuff writer, 'TV host a 'best job in the world finalist' Stuff website. Loaded 21 April 2009. Accessed 16 February 2018