It was a harmless Facebook post about a Shortland Street storyline, but suddenly Shavaughn Ruakere knew her throwaway comment had been taken the wrong way, as she was flooded with messages of congratulation.
No, the actress had to explain patiently, she and her partner, More FM DJ Clarke Gayford, were not engaged and the party she’d already been planning for weeks was not an opportunity to make an announcement. “Talk about people getting carried away,” she smiles, rolling her eyes.
When Shavaughn wrote “Got him! And on Waitangi Day!”, she was referring to the storyline in which Zac Smith, who had raped her character Roimata Ngatai, was caught on the hit TV2 show.
Most people knew what she was on about, but one friend commented: “Got him? Proposal?” Two other cheeky friends then decided it was too good an opportunity to miss and stirred things up by posting messages of congratulations to the happy couple.
“Next thing I knew, I had all these messages and texts saying, ‘That’s wonderful news, why didn’t you tell us?’”
It’s no wonder people believed Shavaughn and Clarke were taking that next step in their two-year relationship. When you see them together, it’s clear this is a couple who adore each other and share an easy rapport.
They start telling the same anecdotes at the same time, finish each other’s sentences and laugh at each other’s funny stories long before there’s any sign of the punchline. Yes, things are serious between them, but “there’s no announcement” says Shavaughn. “We’re happy the way we are.”
Still, she realised the party she was throwing could add to speculation there was something major to celebrate and she wasn’t simply marking her 35th birthday after all.
“People seemed to think there would be more to it, but it was just a birthday party.” But as celebrations went, it was pretty special. Much of it was held in the grounds of a school behind the Auckland house she shares with Clarke, and Shavaughn chose a “school days” theme.
Guests dressed up in uniforms and other related costumes, ate food such as mince pies, sausage rolls and tuck-shop goodies and played games on the school fields. Afterwards there was a blue-light disco at the couple’s house.
Most people don’t go to that much trouble for a 35th, but Shavaughn just felt the time was right to have a big, fun-filled event.
“I’ve never thrown a party for myself before. I’ve had ones given for me, but I’ve always been too scared to organise one in case nobody showed up, and all that jazz.”
“Or they’d show up and want to listen to jazz,” adds Clarke.
“The latter is more terrifying,” laughs Shavaughn. “But I decided I did want a party and didn’t want to wait until 40, I wanted to do it now.
“I’m really happy in my life. I’ve got this great fella, we’ve got a dog and are living in a wonderful home and we’re very happy together – and I’ve got an awesome job, so it was the right time.”
Clarke, who just can’t resist stirring things up, adds, “It was either a party or a baby.”
Despite the constant references to marriage and parenthood – at one point Clarke reveals he put a book about pregnancy and childbirth written by former C4 colleague Jaquie Brown under Shavaughn’s pillow to “freak her out” – there are no plans to head down either of those paths at the moment.
“I know when you get to this age people start to think you should be getting married and having babies. When I was at school, I always assumed I’d be married with kids by the time I was 26,” says Shavaughn.
“But I’m not too fussed about age now – I feel much younger than I am. I am aware my biological clock is ticking and I know 35 is the age when it starts to get harder to have kids, so I won’t put it off forever. “But there are other things I want to do, like going overseas to explore other acting opportunities.”
Seeing more of the world is also something that appeals to Clarke (35), who was a presenter on C4 and appeared on reality TV show Treasure Island before landing his current radio job. “I’ve certainly travelled a lot, but have never lived overseas so that is possibly on the cards sometime in the future.”
He admits he’s had some not-so-subtle pressure about formalising his relationship. “My sister just got married and my 90-year-old grandma said to me at the wedding, ‘It would be nice to go to another one of these before I die.’ Both my sisters are now married, there’s only me left.”
But Shavaughn says her family doesn’t give her too much grief about marriage and babies. “Mum will say the odd thing every now and then, but they’re pretty good. There are five grandkids in my family already so I don’t get Mum and Dad saying, ‘We need babies.’”
Shavaughn adores her nieces and nephews, and seeing her with them gives a good indication of what she’ll be like as a mum one day. “She’s great with kids,” says Clarke. “We stay at her family marae in Taranaki for Christmas. She is the entertainment for them the whole time. She relates so well to them.”
Meanwhile, Shavaughn reckons Clarke is even keener to have children of their own – albeit for a slightly more dubious reason. “He wants kids because he can’t wait to embarrass them. He just wants to tease them and do things like drop them off at school all dressed up in silly stuff.”
“No, no,” counters Clarke, trying to look serious. “I just want to give them a good, robust start to life – to teach them proper life skills. “They might hate it for, oh, the first 15 or 30 years of their lives, but later on they will look back with fondness.”
The fact that they both enjoy being around kids is the main reason Shavaughn wanted to have a birthday party her family and friends could bring their children to, rather than a function at a bar. She had a fantastic time and the occasion was made even better thanks to her unusual gift from Clarke.
“He’s making me a gate,” she explains. “I wanted one in the fence so it’s easier to take the dog for walks in the school grounds. At the moment there is still just a hole, but my gate is coming. I know it isn’t very romantic, but it’s what I really wanted .”
Perfect present, perfect party, perfect partner. “I’m very lucky,” smiles Shavaughn. “It’s been the best birthday ever.”