Rachel Hunter's on-screen career dates back to the late 1980s, and crosses over between 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 in different cultures.
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 a model at the Benson & 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 fame was growing, and in 1989 she headlined in a 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 Aotearoa during her meteoric rise to supermodel status, began appearing on American television from 1989. 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. The previous year, she cameoed as herself on Shortland Street.
In the mid 90s Hunter began landing small TV roles on Mad about You and The Drew Carey Show. After making her movie debut with a cameo as a waitress in comedy Just A Little Harmless Sex, she co-starred in two films the following year; she was the author of a steamy novel in Two Shades of Blue (the first of many 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 1980s musician in Mark Wahlberg movie Rock Star. The film, she said, reflected "what was going on then, with great humour and style". In 2003 Hunter featured as the out-of-reach crush of a schoolboy in the video for Fountains of Wayne song 'Stacy’s Mom' ("Stacy’s Mom has got it going on".) Hunter went on to cameo in the 2004 Christmas special of British hit The Vicar of Dibley, and hosted reality shows Make Me a Supermodel and Style Me with Rachel Hunter.
She was also the subject of documentaries Rachel Hunter Laid Bare and the Julie Christie-directed Facts of Life, and caught up with her old high schoolmates on the first episode of Kiwi reality show Class Reunion (2002). In 2005 Hunter competed in the first (American) season of Dancing With The Stars, before crossing the Atlantic for the Christmas special of the show that spawned the Dancing empire, Strictly Come Dancing.
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, which screened 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 the same period, 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 slogan for this TV movie, 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 Covergirl cosmetics. In 2013 she revisited the Pantene brand, joining 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 globe. In 2017 she was nominated for an NZ Television Award for Best Entertainment Presenter. The show's international sales include American cable channel Ovation, which has 50 million plus subscribers. Following on from Tour of Beauty, Hunter released a book of the same title in 2019. It went behind the scenes of the show and touched on recent changes in her life.
Profile written by Steven Shaw; updated on 11 November 2022
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 (broken link). Loaded 26 March 2009.
Diana Wichtel, 'Hunter’s Gold' - The Listener, 18 February 1991, page 24
Diana Wichtel, 'Intrepid Journeys: A model encounter'(broken link) – The Listener, 9 June 2012 (broken link)
'Rachel Hunter' Internet Movie Database website. Accessed 11 November 2022
Unknown writer, 'How Rachel Hunter got her big break'– The Dominion Post, 23 January 2015
Unknown writer, 'Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty on US screens' Stuff website. Loaded 8 October 2015. Accessed 18 April 2019
Rock Star press kit