Dougie the pizza boy is really Diarmid the elevator man and has been for 26 years. He’s a full-time father, onetime prisoner and sometime philosopher as well.
He once shared a cell with a rapist and had another inmate pull a knife on him but had been taught to fight by a professional boxer so he could hold his own in jail.
Before that he was a television star who was paid $1,000 an hour to get drunk with fans in night clubs and pubs until his out-of-control world collapsed around him.
Diarmid Heidenreich – ‘D’ to his friends – was a 17-year-old student and part-time Pizza Hut worker when he was asked to audition for an acting job that would change his life forever.
Soon his cheeky grin would light up lounge rooms around the nation as he played Dougie the delivery boy in a series of hugely successful television commercials.
At age 19 Heidenreich made another fateful decision: to drive his girlfriend home after a late night out when he should never have been behind the wheel.
Heidenreich began playing Dougie the pizza boy in 1993. Soon his cheeky grin would light up lounge rooms around the nation in a series of wildly successful television commercials. He is pictured this week helping to promote Pizza Hut’s 50th anniversary in Australia
Pizza Hut ambassador Dougie the pizza boy is played by Diarmid Heidenreich, who is an elevator repairman by trade. Heidenreich was a 17-year-old student and part-time Pizza Hut worker when he was asked to audition for an acting job that would change the course of his life
Heidenreich’s main priority is his family. He married journalist Genevieve Quigley in 2003 and the couple has two children, Ivory, 15, and Jasper, 12. The family is pictured
The resultant crash left his girlfriend with three broken limbs and needing cosmetic surgery. Heidenreich was not as seriously injured but did not escape unscathed.
He was arrested, put before the courts and eventually jailed for 18 months of periodic detention, initially served behind the stone walls of Parramatta Gaol.
From wild teenager to settled father-of-two, Heidenreich’s story is a powerful insight into accepting the consequences of youthful mistakes and he embraces it all.
The now 44-year-old has been brought back by Pizza Hut to help promote the chain’s celebrations of its 50th anniversary in Australia.
When Daily Mail Australia sat down with Heidenreich for an exclusive interview this week he was in a reflective mood and nothing in his past was off limits.
He spoke about his conflicted childhood, that first big break in acting, the challenging time in prison and how he went about rebuilding his life and career.
‘There’s a lot that I’m sorry for and there’s a lot that I regret from that time,’ Heidenreich says. ‘I regret it every day. I was 19 years of age when I had my accident and at 44 I’m still accountable.
‘The idea of getting punished is that people move on from it. But that’s not the way that it works. It sticks with you. It sticks with you forever.
‘The one thing I can do with it now is teach my kids to not make those same mistakes, because I’ve never hidden it from them.’
Heidenreich starred as Dougie the pizza boy in a series of television commercials which began when he was just 17. By his estimate he has shot 37 commercials in the past 27 years
When Daily Mail Australia sat down with Heidenreich for an exclusive interview this week he was in a reflective mood and nothing in his past was off limits. Heidenreich spoke about his conflicted childhood, his first big break in acting and the challenging time in prison
Young Diarmid (pronounced DEER-mid) was a reckless teen, pushing himself to various limits and surfing the notoriously dangerous reef break off Cronulla known as Shark Island.
He helped his father build cars down the side of the family home and played Second XV rugby at an all-boys Catholic college. He also had to dance on stage with girls.
‘I’ve got four sisters and a brother,’ Heidenreich says. ‘My dad was a fitter and turner by trade and my mum’s a nurse. They worked and they needed us not to be idle.
‘Having four sisters, they went to dancing and with two brothers we were outnumbered by four sisters and we had to go to dancing too.’
Dancing on stage was not something many private school boys did in the early 1990s and Heidenreich felt he had to continually strut his masculinity.
‘I played rugby, it brought out the worst in me,’ he says. ‘I surfed in very dangerous surfing spots. It was always like I had to prove myself.
‘I had to be more than just a bloke, I had to be the bravest, the stupidest, all of that.’
Heidenreich was in his final year of school when he followed some of his surfing mates into a job at Caringbah Pizza Hut in Sydney’s south.
He began as a ‘dish pig’ – the lowest job in the store – and on busy nights helped fill the bain-marie for the all-you-can-eat buffets known as ‘The Works’.
Diarmid, pictured with three of his four sisters, was on of six siblings. His father was a fitter and turner and his mother a nurse. All the children were encouraged to perform
‘Having four sisters, they went to dancing and with two brothers we were outnumbered by four sisters and we had to go to dancing too,’ Heidenreich says. He is pictured with other dancers
‘I played rugby, it brought out the worst in me,’ Heidenreich says. ‘I surfed in very dangerous surfing spots. It was always like I had to prove myself.’ As a child Heidenreich’s interest in the arts was not understood. He is pictured in a production of Oliver Twist
‘Apparently I was very good at washing dishes so no one was in a rush to get me out of washing dishes,’ he says.
Heidenreich was asked to audition for a television commercial for Pizza Hut on a day he was working a shift, so he went in his uniform. He got the gig and began filming in late 1993.
Dougie the pizza boy was an immensely likeable character, who was immediately popular with Australian families.
‘He was just a cheeky smarty-pants who was making a bit of money on the side and would always have the last say,’ Heidenreich says. ‘But he did it with a smile on his face.
‘I learnt that you could do anything with a smile on your face. But as soon as you dropped the smile you were in trouble.
‘That’s what it taught me about the character – a little glint in the eye, a wink and a smile, and it was OK.’
Heidenreich attended an all-boys Catholic school and began working at Pizza Hut before he completed Year 12. After school he began building elevators, an industry he still works in
Heidenreich (pictured) was a reckless teenager, pushing himself to the limit and surfing the notoriously dangerous reef break off Cronulla known as Shark Island
Dougie became a hit while Heidenreich was still working at Pizza Hut. Diners were soon recognising him on the restaurant floor and he decided ‘it was too close to my reality’.
‘One night I just went to my boss and I said I can’t come in again, it’s too much.’
But Heidenreich kept shooting TV commercials for Pizza Hut and has appeared in what he estimates to be 37 advertisements in the past 27 years.
He had been performing since he was a child but didn’t always enjoy the public attention.
Heidenreich’s parents insisted he got a real job when he left school, rather than just act
‘From an early age I had to fight for my masculinity – physically and mentally – and I think once I started doing these ads and getting the notoriety I didn’t like it,’ he says.
‘I liked being in the arts but also being able to retreat into myself and I couldn’t do that anymore.
‘I was getting recognised for it and there was no escape from it and I didn’t have any mechanism to cope with it.’
The Dougie ads featured during big football games and other prime-time viewing. Heidenreich made regular appearances on the Footy Show.
‘I never really understood the phenomenon and I don’t think I ever really dealt with it,’ he says.
‘I think when I was doing it I was probably more embarrassed because I guess I wasn’t the character and people, when they’d run into me, they’d think I was.’
While Heidenreich was earning good money from the Pizza Hut commercials, acting was only something he did on the side. His main job was building elevators, an industry he still works in today.
Heidenreich is happy to be back with Pizza Hut reprising his old character. ‘If I can make one person smile right now in the middle of all this I’m stoked,’ he says
‘Going to work on elevators and building something for a living made sense,’ Heidenreich says. ‘I did it from the get-go and I still do it now.’ He is pictured on his way to work this week
‘As soon as I finished school my parents both made it very clear that if I was going to live under their roof I was going to work in a real-world job,’ he says.
‘Going to work on elevators and building something for a living made sense. I did it from the get-go and I still do it now.’
‘Dougie’ was making Heidenreich a national celebrity but his young life was spiralling out of control. ‘I’m very lucky we didn’t have Facebook,’ he says. ‘I was a wild kid.
‘I was doing nightclub appearances at $1,000 an hour. I was getting paid to go to a pub and get drunk and I’d do three or four of them a night.
‘I was flying around Australia every weekend getting paid to get drunk with people.’
After a long, late session in March 1996, Heidenreich’s world came apart when he slammed a Nissan Patrol into a tree in the affluent eastern Sydney suburb of Vaucluse.
He had been at a media function then gone to the Goodbar club at Paddington before visiting friends and calling it a night in the early hours of the morning.
The four-wheel drive clipped another vehicle, hit a dumpster bin and went over a gutter before coming to a rest when it hit the tree.
‘He was just a cheeky smarty-pants who was making a bit of money on the side and would always have the last say,’ Heidenreich says of Dougie. ‘But he did it with a smile on his face’
‘I learnt that you could do anything with a smile on your face,’ Heidenreich told Daily Mail Australia ‘But as soon as you dropped the smile you were in trouble’
Heidenreich’s bottom lip was torn off and he bit through his tongue when his head hit the steering wheel. His girlfriend ended up under the dashboard and suffered two broken arms and a fractured leg. Neither had been wearing a seat belt.
His memory of the accident is hazy but Heidenreich thinks he might have wandered into a church cemetery where he was found by a priest.
The 19-year-old was charged with a string of offences, including driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. For a while he was called Druggie the pizza boy.
‘I made a lot of stupid mistakes when I was young,’ Heidenreich says. ‘That was probably the stupidest mistake I ever made, driving.
‘It hurt a lot of people, especially family and obviously my girlfriend at the time’s family, and I’ve been judged because of it every day since.
‘It’s affected everything and it put me into a lot of negative places as a young bloke which a lot of young guys shouldn’t have to visit but I didn’t shy away from it.’
Heidenreich knew he was facing a prison sentence and began preparing himself for life behind bars.
‘At that time a mate of mine, Johnny Clayton, grabbed hold of me and said, “You know, you’re going to be tested like you’ve never been tested before”.’
Clayton sent Heidenreich off to a boxer who had fought for an Australian light heavyweight title. He taught Heidenreich how to handle himself.
Two years after the crash Heidenreich was found guilty of dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm while unlicensed and uninsured. Sentenced to 18 months’ periodic detention, he was still just 21.
Heidenreich was 19 when he crashed a car after a night out. ‘I made a lot of stupid mistakes when I was young,’ he says. ‘That was probably the stupidest mistake I ever made, driving’
Police originally alleged Heidenreich had a ‘cocktail’ of substances including cocaine and amphetamines in his system at the time of the crash but the drug-related charges were dropped.
‘I wasn’t found guilty of everything that I was charged with but I’m not really fussed by that,’ Heidenreich says. ‘People can think whatever they like.
‘In no way, shape or form should I have been behind the wheel of anything that night regardless of what state I was or wasn’t in. I didn’t have a licence.’
Asked if he would dispute he had taken drugs on the night of the crash he says: ‘Would I dispute it? Would I tell you that I was an angel? No.
‘Would I p***s in your pocket and tell you it was raining? No. I was wild. I was a 19-year-old kid with the world at my fingertips and I didn’t realise it.’
Heidenreich does not complain about his sentence but plenty of young offenders, before and since, have committed worse crimes and not been punished as severely.
According to Heidenreich, his physical and mental preparation for prison was ‘100 per cent’ worth it when he landed in Parramatta Gaol’s 19th Century 4 Wing.
‘I was put in a cell with a guy who was a rapist,’ he says. ‘That was interesting.
‘But I made it very clear from the start that I had absolutely no patience for him whatsoever and if he upset me then I wasn’t going to tolerate it.
‘I had a knife pulled out on me in another prison and that didn’t bother me either.’
The car crash had not ended Heidenreich’s relationship with his girlfriend – they stayed together for a couple of years – but he quickly made other changes to his life.
‘Dougie’ made Heidenreich a national celebrity but his young life spiralled out of control. ‘I’m very lucky we didn’t have Facebook,’ he says. ‘I was a wild kid.’ He is pictured in 2000
‘Once I started doing time I walked away from my whole group of friends,’ he says. ‘I started from scratch. I just wiped the blackboard clean.’
While Heidenreich was completing his sentence photographers were constantly trying to get pictures of him out on work detail and he was moved to another facility near Wollongong.
Heidenreich got through his jail time but the experience forever changed him.
‘It is what you’d expect,’ he says of prison. ‘I think what society doesn’t realise is if you put someone in prison, whether it be for one night, two nights, years, they’re never that same person again.
‘It unlocks things in human instinct which cannot be buried once they’ve been opened.
‘I think a lot of people were hoping I’d just fall back into my happy-go-lucky personality that I was prior to that.’
Throughout his troubles Heidenreich’s family was staunchly by his side, along with friends including Dunstan De Souza. His parents mortgaged their home to fund a $200,000 legal bill, which he repaid in two years once he was out.
‘My family stood by me,’ Heidenreich says. ‘All of them. They were ferociously protective of me.’
Before, during and after his jail stint, Heidenreich had two other strong sources of support: Pizza Hut and the lift industry.
‘The lift industry continued to employ me and Pizza Hut continued to give me work. I was very, very, very, very lucky to have those people around me.
‘They did the Aussie thing and stuck by their mate. They grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and dragged me out of the mud.
‘I don’t think I was in a position at that time to be making choices for myself. I’d made all the choices for myself and it had ended in turd and now people were going to make decisions for me.
‘The only choice I had was that I could go in the direction I was being steered or end up in a very, very, very dark place.’
Heidenreich continued acting after prison, although he missed out on work he would otherwise have been offered.
From 2000 to 2001 he starred on television series Water Rats, playing Senior Constable Matthew Quinn. He also kept working on elevators, a trade in which he is highly skilled.
Hedienreich met journalist Genevieve Quigley in 2002 and they married the following year after he proposed on a road trip from Darwin to Sydney. The couple is pictured on their wedding day
‘If it wasn’t for Pizza Hut having me to continue to work for them I don’t think I’d have had any sort of acting career post 1996,’ says Heidenreich, pictured with Pizza Hut CEO Phil Reed
Pizza Hut had kept faith with him too, offering him commercials after he was charged when other major companies would not.
‘If it wasn’t for Pizza Hut having me to continue to work for them I don’t think I’d have had any sort of acting career post 1996.’
Heidenreich managed to enjoy the rest of his twenties, although in a less destructive way.
‘Don’t get me wrong, I still had fun after the 90s,’ he says. ‘The 90s didn’t ruin me, didn’t destroy me. They made me who I am.
‘It took me a long time to work out who I was as a person and what I was going to identify as.’
Heidenreich met journalist Genevieve Quigley in 2002. He proposed in the desert on a road trip from Darwin to Sydney and they married the next year.
‘I think my head space until I got married was very driven,’ he says. ‘I was on the front foot. It may have been intimidating for some. It was very intense.’
The couple moved to the United States and came home when Genevieve was pregnant with their first child, daughter Ivory.
‘My wife was the major breadwinner,’ Heidenreich says. ‘Once she had our first child I needed to step up.’ He returned to working on lifts.
‘The one thing I can do with it now is teach my kids to not make those same mistakes, because I’ve never hidden it from them,’ Heidenreich says. He is pictured with wife Genevieve and firstborn child Ivory
From 1999 to 2001 Heidenreich starred on television series Water Rats, playing Senior Constable Matthew Quinn. He is pictured sitting next to cast member Dee Smart
After son Jasper was born, Heidenreich stayed home for five years while his wife returned to work and he resumed his acting career.
When Jasper began kindergarten Heidenreich got back full-time on the tools.
‘Having kids has softened me up and I needed to soften up,’ he says.
Heidenreich is happy with his stop-start acting career. He has appeared in TV series including Packed To The Rafters, Home and Away, Janet King and Underbelly: The Golden Mile as well as several films.
‘I feel like I’ve had a great career in Australia,’ he says. ‘There’s not much more I could do here other than press rewind and hit play.’
‘Could I have gone overseas? Yeah, I was living in America with my wife and I was coming very close to stuff.
‘I’ve done an American film here and I’ve gone over there on the back of that.’
Acting can be satisfying but repairing lifts and escalators pays the bills.
‘My family needs me to work to pay the mortgage,’ Heidenreich says of choosing working with elevators over acting. ‘That’s what they need and that’s what I do. The rest of it either happens or it doesn’t.’ He is pictured with wife Genevieve, daughter Ivory and son Jasper in 2011
‘My family needs me to work to pay the mortgage,’ Heidenreich says. ‘That’s what they need and that’s what I do. The rest of it either happens or it doesn’t.
‘I don’t chase it. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’
Heidenreich has not doubt he will continue with the side-project that has kept him in the public eye for more than a quarter of a century.
‘I’ll always act,’ he says. ‘I won’t stop acting. Do I need to act to survive? Nope. Do I need to act to identify with myself? No.
‘I’ve never identified with myself as an actor. I think it’s very dangerous territory to go into.
‘I think it’s very easy to lose yourself in something that is very selfish and self-centred which you need to be to be in order to be good at it.’
Heidenreich, who still boxes and has taught Jasper and his friends how to fight, is recognised as Dougie the pizza boy every day at work and out in the street.
Heidenreich’s daughter Ivory turns 16 in January and in November son Jasper will be 13. They learnt about their father’s past from what parents had told other children at school
‘I work in an industry where I’m in buildings for my job and I get rubber-necked every day,’ he says.
Most of the comments are light-hearted, unlike the 1990s when they were more aggressive. The attention generally no longer bothers him.
‘Maybe 15 years ago, 20 years ago, when I was taking myself a bit more seriously,’ he says. ‘I had to grow out of that. That was just BS.’
Ivory turns 16 in January and in November son Jasper will be 13. They learnt about their father’s past from what parents had told other children at school.
‘They get it,’ Heidenreich says. ‘They’ve gone online and they’ve looked at all of it, in all it’s wonderful glory.’
‘In fact, my kids came home from school and told me, “You’ve been in this place when you were this age for these reasons”.
‘So I didn’t get that choice to tell them. Someone else made that choice for me. That’s fine.’
The old surfer is happy with his acting career achievements and enjoys his job repairing escalators and lifts. He was off to work after Daily Mail Australia spoke to him this week
‘I’ve never fought what people said about me and I’ve never tried to change people’s opinions of what’s been said about me,’ Heidenreich says. He is pictured with wife Genevieve
Heidenreich is no longer in contact with the girlfriend who was in the car with him in the 1996 crash but is still remorseful for what happened to her.
‘When I talk about being sorry I am very, very sorry for the distress I caused her and her family. I take full responsibility.’
He has not tried to run from his past and never will.
‘I’ve never fought what people said about me and I’ve never tried to change people’s opinions of what’s been said about me,’ he says.
‘If people want to think something about me I’ve always figured it’s none of my business and I’m not going to meet it with a force.
‘Do things still hurt? Yeah, Of course they do. People say things about you, it still hurts.
‘But you live by the sword, you die by the sword, right? I’m responsible for my actions. I won’t shy away from them.’
Dougie happy to be remembered
Diarmid Heidenreich is back promoting Pizza Hut Australia for its 50th anniversary
Diarmid Heidenreich is happy to be back once more with Pizza Hut reprising his old character of the delivery boy.
‘If I can make one person smile right now in the middle of all this I’m stoked,’ he says. ‘I’m happy if I can make someone’s day better, awesome, what a fantastic opportunity.
‘I’m going to grab it with both hands. I’m more than happy to be a part of whatever they want me to be. And I’m very lucky for them to recognise me to be a part of that history.
‘Let’s face it, the average person flogs themselves out for their entire career and when they retire they retire and that is it.
‘There might be a couple of people that remember them for something. That’s life. That’s real life.
‘So to be asked to comeback 20-something years later and talk about it with more than just a bunch of work colleagues in the pub having a drink is a very fortunate position for me to be in.
‘If I’ve made an impact with something in my life which is positive, I’m really happy with that. I really am. I’m satisfied.’