In this case the criminal Hilary Swank, intending to holiday in New Zealand, busted at the border for illegally importing an apple and an orange. A crime that went all the way to court, where Ms Swank had to cough up NZ$200 for her sins.
However before her day in court, Ms Swank managed several days in the media. Well, not Ms Swank as such. She was remarkably silent publicly on the whole matter. Bless.
But local and international media were had their antennae spinning feverishly. New Zealand media because a Big Star had come here and sinned. International media because they had never heard of New Zealand or biosecurity risk and the whole idea of facing criminal charges for moving an apple and an orange across international borders was completely novel to them and, thanks to Hilary’s lead role, a bit sexy.
So what was my role in all of this?
For my sins, in 2005 I was Director of Communications for New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF). MAF had many roles, one of which was being the agency responsible for the Thin Beige Line at New Zealand’s borders, intended to keep unwanted biological matter – dead or alive – out of the country. It had a fleet of x-ray machines, highly trained detector dogs, diligent staff, connections to Interpol, and posters attached to airport terminal walls warning travellers of the consequences of doing the wrong thing.
When the media rang, they got to talk to me.
Fortunately I had advance warning from the troops at the border that Hilary had been apprehended. I expected interest, but not the extent of the international enquiry. Never before had I dealt with media channels such as E!, Entertainment Tonight, Vanity Fair or The New York Times. These enquirers were also no respecters of New Zealand office hours. They also asked some really odd questions. It was all go at my ranch for several days.
Ms Swank, probably jet lagged and unfamiliar with biosecurity, would have made a common mistake of inbound business and first class passengers, by bringing with her for a later snack, the fresh fruit provided by the airline. Regrettably she didn’t see the error of her ways at the time and pay the instant fine to the Nice Man, which is why this ended up in court.
I have never met Hilary Swank. The closest I got was a handwritten note from her apologising for all of the fuss.