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Campaign for Wool defends Sam Neill appointment

Campaign for Wool defends Sam Neill appointment
Sir Sam Neill has been appointed Campaign for Wool New Zealand's ambassador despite negative comments about Canterbury farmers in his recent memoir. Photo Ross Coffey

Campaign for Wool New Zealand is defending its ambassador appointment of Kiwi movie legend  Sir Sam Neill despite his previous “generation of inbreeding’’ farmer-aimed comments.

Neil joins three other New Zealand wool ambassadors at the organisation alongside fashion and textile designer Liz Mitchell, architect Stephen McDougall and commercial interiors specialist Robert Mcfarlane.

But Neil’s appointment may be seen as controversial in some quarters after comments in his memoir published in March last year took aim at his former Christchurch high school, Christ’s College, where he ridiculed some boarding house students.

In the memoir Did I Ever Tell You This?, Neill wrote: “School House was pretty easy to remember and spell, and just as well, because many of the boys there were a product of product of generations of inbreeding.

“Canterbury farming families, for some reason, like to marry among their own.

“The gene pool is very small. You would think that a cursory examination of how they bred their corriedalesheep would’ve been helpful in this regard. Sadly no.”

When approached for comment, Campaign for Wool New Zealand (CFWNZ) general manager Kara Biggs said Neill was an “excellent choice” for the charity organisation, which was funded by wool growers through a voluntary per-kilo contribution and via several commercial partners.

“We are grateful to Sam for stepping up to promote New Zealand wool to his global audience,’’ Biggs said.

“We are hugely positive about it and we feel that the warm reaction from our board, supporters and, most importantly, the strong wool growing community, is testament to how well he is loved and admired.”

Neill, who has starred in over 150 movies and television shows in a celebrated career, was knighted in 2022.

In a press release announcing his appointment as an ambassador, Neill said:

“I spent a lot of time working in woolsheds as a young fellow, and they were some of the best days of my life.

“There are very few experiences you can have that are more New Zealand by nature.

“Today, I am a sheep owner, and my Suffolk sheep produce strong wool.

“Every time we shear, I am reminded about what a great product that is – durable, warm, sustainable, and biodegradable, but somehow undervalued. And it comes from happy sheep. There is nothing like it.”

by Claire Inkson