Rachel Hunter’s on-screen career dates back to the late 80s, and crosses over between the fields of modelling, acting and presenting. Over the years she has been a successful international model, talent show judge, ballroom dancing contestant and travel presenter; she has also taken on dozens of acting roles, and hosted her own show about beauty.
Hunter made her screen debut in 1986 as an extra in a Vidal Sassoon commercial which featured Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon, helming his yacht Drum; the ad was filmed while he competed in the Whitbread Round The World Race. The same year she was one of the models on the Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards.
Thanks to ongoing fashion work, Hunter was soon spotted by the prestigious Ford modeling agency in New York. In 1987 she appeared on the covers of the German and American editions of Vogue. She was soon gracing the pages of Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated.
Hunter made her mark with New Zealand television audiences via a Tip Top Trumpet commercial, co-starring with a carload of happy young things in a VW convertible accompanied by a catchy Hammond Gamble jingle — 'you can’t beat a trumpet'.
Internationally her image was growing, and she headlined in a 1989 Sports Illustrated body sculpting video. At 21 Hunter, now one of an elite few tagged as a supermodel, married music legend Rod Stewart.
Our Rachel — or “our girl from Glenfield” — as she was known in NZ during her meteoric rise to supermodel status, began appearing on American television from 1989. In 1992 she cameoed as herself on Shortland Street. She appeared on a myriad of talk shows (David Letterman, Jay Leno, Graham Norton) and awards shows, including co-hosting Ford Supermodel of the World in 1993.
In the mid 90s Hunter began landing minor TV roles on Mad about You and The Drew Carey Show. After making her big screen debut with a cameo as a waitress in comedy Just A Little Harmless Sex, she co-starred in two movies the following year; she played the author of a steamy novel in Two Shades of Blue alongside Eric Roberts and Marlee Matlin (the first of a raft of thriller roles), and one of a trio of friends in indie relationship drama Winding Roads.
Art copied real life in 2001, when she had a small role as the wife of a musician in Mark Wahlberg movie Rock Star. In 2003 Hunter featured as the object of desire in the music video for Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Stacy’s Mom’ (“Stacy’s Mom has got it going on”.) She went on to cameo in the 2004 Christmas special of British hit The Vicar of Dibley, and host reality shows Make Me a Supermodel and Style Me with Rachel Hunter.
She was also the subject of documentaries Rachel Hunter Laid Bare, the Julie Christie-directed Facts of Life, and caught up with her old high school mates on the first episode of reality show Class Reunion. In 2005 Hunter competed in the first season of Dancing With The Stars (US), before crossing the Atlantic for the Christmas special of the show that spawned the Dancing empire, Strictly Come Dancing. 2004 saw British documentary Rachel Laid Bare.
In 2007 Hunter starred in and was associate producer of thriller Dead Write, playing Jade, a part-Kiwi author, investigating mysterious deaths in a small American town. Australian critic Andrew Urban argued that “Hunter makes a credible, fragile, nervy, delusional Jade, going easily from determination to confusion and back”. The same year Hunter was one of the leads in relationship drama La Cucina, which won awards at a trio of film festivals.
In 2010 she co-starred in Gravity, a short-lived black comedy about a group of suicide survivors on the US Starz cable network. The same year she completed further episodes as a guest judge on modelling reality show She’s Got the Look.
Back on New Zealand TV screens, Hunter proved herself a more than able presenter in 2012, when she visited Sumatra on the Indonesian archipelago for Intrepid Journeys. Out of her comfort zone, she climbed a volcano, was bitten by leeches, and searched for orangutans in the jungle. Along the way she made clear her strong feelings on animal cruelty (Hunter is a supporter of wildlife charity group the Born Free Organisation).
In 2012 and 13 Hunter was one of the judges in the revived New Zealand’s Got Talent, alongside Jason Kerrison from Opshop and UB40 vocalist Ali Campbell (Campbell was replaced the following year by choreographer Cris Judd).
2012 was also the year that Hunter reunited with frequent co-star Michael Madsen for Roger Corman-produced horror Piranhaconda. “It’s a cross between a piranha and an anaconda.” “You mean a Piranhaconda?” answered Hunter’s character. According to the TV movie’s advertising slogan, it was “a bad day in Paradise.”
Hunter has also appeared in a long-running series of commercials for Pantene hair products (“It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”) and was the face of Cover Girl cosmetics. In 2013 she revisited the Pantene brand, appearing with her daughter Renee Stewart in a new campaign.
Alongside continuing acting roles, in 2015 Hunter signed on to host the first of two seasons of Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty, where she travelled to exotic locations to reveal beauty secrets and regimes from different cultures around the world. In 2017 she was nominated for a NZ Television Award for Best Entertainment Presenter. The show’s international sales include American cable channel Ovation, which has 50 million plus subscribers.
Profile written by Steven Shaw
Published on 20 May 2016; updated on 18 April 2019
Jane Clifton, ‘World away from TV sleaze‘ (Review of Intrepid Journeys: Indonesia) – The Dominion Post, 23 May 2012, page B7
Nicola Pittam, 'A little harmless movie for Rachel’ – The Sunday Star-Times, 28 February 1999, page A3
Andrew Urban, ‘DEAD WRITE: DVD’ (Review) Urban Cinefile website. Loaded 26 March 2009. Accessed 18 April 2019
Diana Wichtel, 'Hunter’s Gold' - The Listener, 18 February 1991, page 24
Diana Wichtel, ’Intrepid Journeys: A model encounter‘ – The Listener, 9 June 2012
‘Rachel Hunter’ Internet Movie Database website. Accessed 18 April 2019
Unknown writer, ‘How Rachel Hunter got her big break’ – The Dominion Post, 23 January 2015
‘Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty on US screens' Stuff website. Loaded 8 October 2015. Accessed 18 April 2019