Richard O'Brien, with his Riff Raff statue likeness
09 June 2010
By DAN SATHERLEY
New Zealand fans of The Rocky Horror Show are campaigning to allow its creator, Richard O'Brien, to retire to New Zealand.
O'Brien's family moved to Tauranga from Great Britain in 1952, when he was 10 years old, and it was while working at the Embassy Theatre in Hamilton that he came up with the idea for the hit cult show.
The theatre no longer exists, but in its place now stands a statue of O'Brien in the guise of Riff Raff, a character from the show he portrayed in the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Despite this infamy and adulation, the 68-year-old's application to retire in New Zealand has been denied.
Hamiltonian Mark Servian was the driving force behind the statue's creation and can't believe the city's most famous adopted son isn't welcome.
"I didn't know he wasn't a citizen, I had no idea," says Servian. "When I asked him, 'Can we put a statue of you on the main street?' I didn't ask him, 'Are you a citizen or not?' I thought he was, because his family was here."
O'Brien's parents lived in Tauranga for over 50 years. He also has siblings who live in New Zealand.
"His parents only died four years ago," says Servian. "They'd lived here for 50 years. He's got two siblings who have lived here for 50 years. That's at least four people who have been paying taxes, and the rules say that someone who's over 55 cannot be sponsored by a sibling.
"Now I personally think that's pretty damn inhumane, quite apart from the specific issues of Richard."
Servian believes a process-driven bureaucracy is to blame for O'Brien's rejection.
"I think that what's probably happened is that some bureaucrat sitting in an office has just got a name on a list – they may or may not know who he is, and they may or may not know what he's done – but they've simply processed him through the system as a 68-year-old gentleman looking for citizenship."
Still, he is optimistic about O'Brien's chances, given the publicity around the case.
"We can probably get Richard in because of who he is, but the more fundamental question is he shouldn't even have to go this far, because it's just absurd for a family that have been paying taxes for 50 years can't have their sibling join them.
"What's probably happened is that [Minister of Immigration] Jonathan Coleman hasn't actually looked at this yet… Now, any politician worth their salt, when it actually comes to a question like this, looks at the facts of the case, looks at the response around the place – and you know, politicians are in a popularity contest."
Prime Minister John Key seems to be in favour of the idea, making the unlikely claim yesterday that he used to attend late night screenings of the film, where audiences would dress up and interact with the characters on screen.
"He kind of fudges the question by saying the ministry will use its discretion," says Servian, "but even he clearly sees Richard O'Brien as a New Zealander."
Servian set up a Facebook group on the weekend, 'Let Richard O'Brien be a New Zealand citizen!', which in four days already has over 1500 members – many of them also Facebook fans of 'RiffRaff Statue'.
Members of the groups have been encouraged to show their support by writing to the minister – or getting creative.
"I put out the call via the group for people to go down to Riff Raff and stick messages and anything else they wanted on Riff Raff… I told people to put up a Post-It note saying, 'Richard O'Brien is a New Zealander'. The trouble was it was pouring with rain all weekend, which didn't help.
"But I tell you what, a New Zealand flag appeared on him."
O'Brien has never shied away from his New Zealand upbringing, describing it as a "calling card" that helped open doors for him on his return to Great Britain in 1964.
"I've been claimed as a New Zealander, and I've always claimed that I'm a New Zealander," he told TVNZ's Breakfast show this morning.
"I love the country, I love everything it ever gave me."
He still owns two-and-a-half acres of land in Katikati, which he visits on a regular basis. He says he understands the pressure the elderly put on the health system, and that immigration does need rules, yet says he is financially "solvent" and can pay for his own healthcare.
"I'm 68, but I've still got the body of a 67-year-old," O'Brien jokes. "I want to come home and settle down, and shuffle off the mortal coil – but not immediately."
Servian says rejecting O'Brien's wish would be "daft".
"How many living New Zealanders are there statues of? Not many."