It was 2004, and Return of the King had just won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Hobbit stars Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan grabbed the microphone. “Everybody, this is amazing, go down and celebrate, head down to Matterhorn, tell Jacob the drinks are on our tab!”

“Jacob” was Jacob Briars, the barman who had become a friend to the tight-knit group of actors, during their long stay in New Zealand to shoot Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Now 41, Briars recalls the moment with amusement. “Oscars speeches get pretty effusive these days, but as far as I know I’m the only bartender to be thanked in an Oscars speech!”

Getting name-checked at the Academy Awards, while brilliantly entertaining, probably wasn’t enough to reassure Briars’ parents about his decision to go full-time mixing cocktails. After all, hospitality was merely meant to help pay his way through his law and politics degree.

And there is still a stigma attached to jobs in tourism and hospitality: in part because the wages are low, they are seen as dead-end jobs. Not real careers. Like most student politicians, Briars dreamed of continuing in politics, making a difference, perhaps even becoming prime minister.

Briars’ parents were from Moutere, near Nelson. They were initially askance. “They still struggle to understand exactly why I get paid to do what I do,” he says. “I think the stigma is still attached to the service part of the job: waiting tables and serving drinks and bar-tending.”

What has certainly reassured them is that he has now made an international career out of hospitality and tourism. As global advocacy director of drinks giant Bacardi, he is based in Brooklyn, New York. Every other week, he’ll be travelling to another corner of the world to meet with some of his 350 staff. When he’s back in Brooklyn, he’ll start his day with a run along East River, and then grab a flat white from one of the local coffee shops staffed by Kiwis and Aussies.

He’s not saying, but he’s probably earning nearly as much as he would have as prime minister.

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