It was a dream Hilary Timmins was determined to not let die.
The former It’s in the Bag and Lotto star believed that a show focused on ex-pat New Zealanders achieving great things overseas would have great appeal back home.
“I first got introduced to the masses of Kiwis doing incredible things in the UK when I got involved doing fundraisers for the Christchurch earthquakes and it got me thinking, ‘why do we not hear about all of this back home?,” Timmins says from her home in London, citing acting coach Ken Rea (who has taught everyone from Damien Lewis to Michelle Dockery) and Virgin group CEO Josh Bayliss as prime examples.
“If we were Americans, we’d be able to cite all these people off by heart, but as New Zealanders, I don’t think we’ve really celebrated them as much as we should have.”
Despite Timmins’ obvious enthusiasm though, persuading anyone to finance or commission her idea proved initially rather tricky.
“The idea sat there simmering for ages and then I got talking to several other Kiwis here and thought, ‘let’s pitch something to the networks’. So in 2014, we put together a trailer to create some sort of awareness – but we just couldn’t get it commissioned.”
She admits that was “a bit of a blow”. “But I totally believed in the stories and what Kiwis were doing here. It was just a case of trying to find funding to create something that would showcase that.”
Convinced that these inspirational Kiwis could be beneficial to the latest generation of New Zealanders, “because there are loads of Kiwi traits these people share which make you realise anything is possible”, she eventually secured enough funding independently through individuals and networks like Kea, The NZ Society and NZ-UK Link, to enable her to shoot 60 profiles with the help of some Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated talent like Blair Jollands and Kant Pan.
Laughing when I suggest that the most we see of ex-New Zealanders exploits in the UK is on The Graham Norton Show’s red chair, Timmins says ideas for potential targets were sourced from everywhere.
“One Kiwi would lead to another, to another, to another. I would reach out to somebody and they would say, ‘oh, do you know about this person, this Kiwi?’ So we’ve got this huge cross-section of ages, ethnicities and occupations, who are originally from all over New Zealand. Some have been here for a long time, some only a few years.”
A story she particularly loves is that of former Tai Tapu resident Milly Olykan. “She went to a tiny little school of 30 students and is now the vice-president of AEG Presents, who look after all the events at [London’s] the O2 [Arena]. She’s about to move to Nashville to be their vice-president of international relations and development – and she started out as a stage manager at [Dunedin’s] the Fortune Theatre.”
Then there are award-winning Christchurch chefs Hamish and Melanie Brown. “Hamish was the head chef at The George and now he’s group executive chef at [Japanese restaurant group] Rocka with 140 chefs under him. Meanwhile, Melanie started The New Zealand Cellar online and now has a very cool area at the Brixton Markets.”
Hamish and Melanie Brown have established high-profile careers for themselves in the world of food and drink.
Creating a rough-cut of five hour-long episodes, Timmins then worked with TVNZ to create the eight-part Dream Catchers series which begins airing on TVNZ1 on Saturday. Each half-hour episode focuses on a particular area – food and wine, homes and gardens, film and fashion – and showcases four Kiwis.
Delighted with the finished product, especially the production values “given we worked on a very small budget”, she says New Zealand audiences will also be able to watch it on TVNZ OnDemand and there are plans to make the profiles available on educational sites.
“This has got the potential to become a really cool thing for young people to be able to access as a career motivational resource. To me, it’s not about leaving New Zealand, and I think it’s important to know that we’re all carrying New Zealand with us all over the world. We haven’t really left. The main message is that people can do whatever they want to, whether that’s in New Zealand or not. The most important thing is to have a go – you don’t know how far you’ll go.
“I really want New Zealanders to watch them because they are great stories,” Timmins adds.
She also says this is just a beginning. She hopes this might be the first of several series focused on Kiwis doing amazing things all over the globe.
“The UK was an obvious place to start because I was here and had these networks and there is of course that historic link between the two countries.”
Finally, when asked what are those Kiwi traits that make us so revered and punch-above-our-weight internationally, Timmins ponders for a moment, and then offers these thoughts.
“We’re generalists and we learn a lot of things across the spectrum. I also think we’re egalitarian, which I think is quite important, and we are also very tenacious and we are known as problem solvers.”