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Beckoned by a Time Warp

The Evening Post Wellington, New Zealand

Ask Rocky Horror Picture Show creator Richard O'Brien what he remembers most about growing up in Tauranga and he immediately starts talking about walnut trees.

Not the answer you'd expect, but then nothing about O'Brien is ever as it appears.

Life hasn't been the same for O'Brien since he sat down in his London flat one night in the early 1970s and penned The Rocky Horror Picture Show, one of the most influential rock operas in entertainment history.

The musical went on to become a cult classic, rocketing O'Brien from obscurity to hero status - a far cry from his humble beginnings in Tauranga.

O'Brien moved to New Zealand from England with his family as a boy soon after the Second World War, and after a stint in Hamilton settled in Tauranga.

After dropping out of school he worked as a barber for five years, then tried general labouring and dairy farming in Putaruru.

But he had always been interested in show business and in 1965 decided to try his luck in England, enrolling in night acting classes while working as a labourer.

O'Brien has gone on to write, direct and star in a multitude of musicals, plays and movies, but his fondness for Rocky Horror is unmistakable.

It hasn't made him a millionaire - but you'll never hear him complain about that. "Luckily Rocky Horror wasn't a huge blockbuster. I can honestly say I'm very pleased about that, because it allowed me to curtail my excesses. I'm not sure I'd still be here today if it had made a lot of quick money."

Despite having lived in England for more than 30 years, O'Brien still thinks of New Zealand as his spiritual home.

"(In Tauranga) we had this tennis court surrounded by walnut trees. I've often thought about those trees over the years. It's funny, but I've always thought of New Zealand as home - it's where my heart is."

Kiwis will get a chance to discover exactly what he thinks of Godzone in a documentary series being shot while he's in New Zealand on holiday.

Touchdown Productions is filming a series on expatriate New Zealanders, and has followed O'Brien from London. However, he has been given a few days to himself while in Tauranga, which he intends to spend relaxing with family and friends - no doubt reminiscing about those old walnut trees.

© Copyright, Wellington Newspapers Limited 1999, All rights reserved

The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996