My first job: Jackie Clarke’s journey from cleaner to chanteuse

Suzanne Winterflood
My first job: Jackie Clarke’s journey from cleaner to chanteuse

Before she was singing for her supper, Jackie Clarke was washing up after other people’s dinner parties.

“Jackie Clarke gave up house cleaning when she discovered people would pay to hear her sing,” begins the introduction to the website. From those student days scrubbing the homes of well-to-do Wellingtonians, Jackie has become one of New Zealand’s most versatile entertainers.

Her current projects include voicing a monster called Poisandra in the new Power Ranger series, the 2015 Kids for Kids tour, hosting corporate events, and working on songs with Tina Cross and Suzanne Lynch for an upcoming concert series with The Lady Killers.

She explains how starting out as a cleaner made her entire career possible.


Cleaning houses paid my way through uni.

This was 1986 to 1988, when I was at Victoria University. Back then there were no big student course fees, so cleaning supported me financially while I studied and learnt my craft as a singer/performer.  


I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore when I grew up.

As a former state house kid from Gisborne, I never had any ambitions for a career in entertainment because I didn’t know such a possibility existed. Instead I had vague ambitions of being a TV journalist like Mary Tyler Moore: professional, independent, living in a big city, funny, and well dressed.

So it was amusing that I found myself cleaning for TV journalists instead. They were really good women and excellent employers. They were all devastated when I quit. Nobody dusted their skirting boards like me.


There’s a spooky pleasure being in someone’s private space.Jackie blackjpg

There’s also a lot of trust implicit in cleaning someone’s home, and I took that seriously. One house was very straightforward – organised couple, no kids – a piece of cake. In one house there was a child so it was a complete bombsite. And at one house they’d be very naughty and have big dinner parties and leave me with all the dishes!


I took great pride in being very thorough.

Weirdly enough, I’m a GREAT cleaner of other people’s houses but a total slob and very messy in my own home. I think it’s because I’m a perfectionist with my professional life but quite relaxed around my personal life. When I’ve got work to do, whatever it is, I like to do it to the very best of my ability.


Ironing business shirts is the hardest task in the world.

I don’t think I’ve ironed anything, ever, since. I have a stand up clothes steamer now – bliss.


It took me 4 years to get a B.A.

As well as my part-time cleaning, I was on student radio and always in at least 3 bands, including The Launderettes, Putty In Her Hands, and When The Cat’s Been Spayed. Basically, any Wellington band in the late 80s/early 90s with a dodgy name, I was in it.

Pull out quote jackie Clark

Most Kiwi entertainers can‘t give up the day job.

I stopped house cleaning because I began paying my way with session jingle singing and gigs, and fronting a TV show. I’ve been lucky to make a living in the entertainment industry ever since, which isn’t as common as you might think.  

The vast majority of musicians, actors, comedians, and performers in this country are also baristas, maître d’s, and selling stuff on the phone to make ends meet. They’re in the awkward position of having to keep themselves available if an audition comes up and also putting food in their mouths.


Whether you’re a house cleaner or a judge on NZ idol, approach each job the same way.

  • Develop a good relationship with the people you work with and for.

  • Don’t cut corners.

  • Deliver what you’re meant to.

  • Over-deliver if you can, just because you take pride in your work.

  • Do a good job and it will always lead to another one.



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