Star back to roots

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One of New Zealand’s most successful kids’ musicians and authors has returned to where he was raised – Queenstown. 

Craig Smith, 40, has enjoyed stellar success with his music since making a career of it six years ago – in particular making his name with his Wonky Donkey song about a three-legged, one-eyed donkey. 

The catchy number from his album Not Just For Kids won NZ children’s song of the year in 2008 and made the top 25 in an international song competition. 

The Wonky Donkey book, illustrated by Katz Cowley, later won NZ children’s book of the year in 2010. 

Smith says his bestselling book has sold more than 350,000 copies worldwide, as far afield as the United States and India, and has been No.1 picture book in NZ and Australia for two and a half years. 

Only one other author, Wanaka’s supercook Anna­­­bel Langbein, had a better-selling book in NZ in 2011, he says. 

Smith has also enjoyed many other successes – a book based on his Willbee The Bumblee song has sold more than 100,000 copies, he says, and an Anzac Day song and a Hokitika Wild Foods Festival theme song have also been popular. 

The born-again Queens­towner, who reveals he’s recorded in Los Angeles with Stevie Wonder’s backing band, credits Wakatipu High caretaker Garry Kernahan for teaching him guitar when he was 12. 

Before high school, Smith also attended Queenstown Primary, where he returned last week for a concert. 

After his school days, Smith worked as a ski instructor at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables ahead of a successful 10-year sales and marketing career in Australia and South East Asia. 

The latter turned sour when a Vietnamese business partner ripped him off, he says, and Smith based himself in Christchurch in recent years. 

However, the quakes mean he can’t get insurance to build on a section he has there so he’s shifted to Queenstown and bought a house here. 

Smith also reveals his music has been influenced by veteran local performers such as Noel Coutts, Charlie Gibson and Ned Webster. 

He describes his own style as “kind of alternative folk but I do stray into blues and poppy stuff”. 

And the success of Wonky Donkey? 

“The song’s just got this real rhythm to it, it’s funny and it’s a bit twisty/twirly – the kids like to try and see if they can 
memorise it.”