Feilding's social star
Willie Cribb is the funny guy from Feilding who reaches over 1.5 million people a week on social media under the pseudonym of Willie Waiirua. Sam Kilmister finds out what’s so special about Willie.
As Willie Cribb and his manager Johnny Gbenda-Charles pull up to the Feilding Hotel in a taxi, we discuss if we should chat outside in Feilding’s picturesque Manchester Square, as opposed to the dimly-lit lounge of an 1870s pub.
‘‘You’ll get cars tooting and people shouting out,’’ GbendaCharles warns.
We go ahead and do it outside, because it’s Feilding.
Barely five minutes go by without a ‘‘there he is’’ from a nearby vehicle or pedestrian.
Cribb acknowledges each one with his signature Waiirua wave. ‘‘One of the boys there,’’ he says. ‘‘Don’t know who it is but all the breast to him,’’ pulling out one of the catchphrases.
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you Cribb has always been a joker.
When he left school and joined the meatworks he found himself the subject of several stitch-ups.
The old guys would often rub his knife along the concrete as payback before placing it back in his satchel. He learnt a lot there, especially how to sharpen knives.
‘‘I’d struggle. They threw me under the bus, but it was fair game because I gave them heaps.’’
School teachers, sport coaches, friends and family say he’s always been cheeky, mischievous and entertaining.
As a child, Cribb was the heart and soul of his rugby league team, former coach David Lomax says. He believes Cribb has always mastered the art of being funny without causing offence.
Lomax recalls a player in his 2007 Central Falcons team with a lazy eye and, during an arduous bus trip, hearing Cribb belting out Dr. Hook’s 1980s hit Sexy Eyes.
‘‘He’d take the piss out of them, but he knew how to without being offensive.’’
Ten years later he’s in the latest Police recruitment video, led a charge to get Ma¯ ori voters to the polling booths, has a line of eyewear and, most recently, his own music video.
His whimsical charisma has led him on a journey he hopes will never end.
Cribb, from Feilding, is a New Zealand internet sensation, inspiring the masses with his catchy phrases, such as ‘there he is’, ‘do the mahi, get the treats’ and ‘give it your breast’.
His unique dance moves are also being imitated everywhere.
He doesn’t know where they came from. He’s used his popular ‘Waiirua wave’ to greet people since he was a child, but it was altered during his six years working with Child, Youth and Family to pay respect to a friend there who lost her finger in a ‘‘horrific’’ dog attack.
He began to tuck his index finger, which is when it really started to take off online.
It’s become a fulltime career for Cribb, who gave up his job as a youth worker to pursue the dream. Growing up in Northland in a small town called Kaikohe Cribb never thought as a 5-yearold at Tautoro School he would be
in a position to inspire young Ma¯ ori.
He moved to Feilding, aged 10, where he went to Feilding Intermediate and Palmerston North Boys’ High School. Cribb says he was always the class clown, which often earned a few telling offs from mum.
‘‘The generic school report said ‘good, great kid, but lacks a bit of attention span’, just too much talking. You’d get home and mum would say ‘oh what. Come on’.’’
It was in Manawatu¯ that Cribb met Aaron ‘Nuggie’ Smith, the man largely responsible for his rise to social media prominence. The two were about the only Ma¯ori boys to play twilight cricket in Feilding, Cribb says.
Before long, video clips of his eccentric dance moves and unique mannerisms were being mimicked by Smith and other Highlanders mates.
‘‘It found its way into the All Blacks and, from that point, it just blew up,’’ Cribb says. And so the movement grew. But it was his obsession to inspire youth while working for Child Youth and Family that set him on the path.
As he worked with vulnerable children for six years, his only job requirement was to put smiles on faces. He used humour to get reserved children to open up and he wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself to do it.
‘‘I went in there with some morale boosting if you will,’’ he says. ‘‘They come in with their guard up. There’s some pretty horrific stuff and you read about what they’ve been through, but you give them 100 per cent of your heart and they open up.’’
He returns for a few ‘‘verbal jabs’’ whenever his schedule allows, which keeps him grounded.
Lomax isn’t surprised his former protege ended up helping other people.
‘‘I knew him as Willie Cribb, not Waiirua. He’s a genuine person, he’s got a bit of integrity, and that’s why it didn’t surprise me.
‘‘He’s got a real good heart about him - to help young people. The social media thing was good because it gave him a bit of a platform and now he wants to do something with it.’’
That desire led Cribb to get young Ma¯ ori voters to the polling booths at September’s election. Ma¯ ori between the ages of 18 and 29 have the lowest voter turn-out in the country, and he admits being in that same boat. His parents still have to drag him there to get him to vote.
It made him the perfect face to front a playful campaign for the Electoral Commission.
‘‘I don’t know if it worked, but I think the numbers were slightly up, so that’s something,’’ Cribb says.
It never hurts to be nice and use manners, Cribb says.
He often comes across disheartened checkout operators scanning items at the supermarket. ‘‘She’ll say ‘hi’ and I’ll give them a ‘hey how are ya, how’s your day’ and they’ll stand up and think ‘wow’.
‘‘It doesn’t hurt to talk for a couple of seconds. I’ve been taught by my parents to acknowledge everyone.
‘‘A lot of people go ‘Oh, why do you act like that’. I was just hearing my mates yesterday and they were saying ‘Oh, you haven’t changed a bit. That’s how you’ve always been’.
‘‘Everyone I meet, I just give 100. That’s all there is to it.
‘‘That’s just how I am. Love a good joke. Love people laughing. You’ve just got to be yourself and some people are going to like it and some people aren’t, but the worst thing you can do is try too hard.’’
Willie Cribb’s playful charisma has led him on a journey he never wants to end.
Game of Thrones star Joe Naufahu and William ‘Waiirua’ Cribb, at Feilding’s Rural Day.