David Bain is yet to find true love. Since being acquitted of the murder of his family, he has enjoyed a couple of fleeting romances.
He dreams of sharing his life with a special someone, but admits it will take a lot to 'melt' the emotional walls he has built around him. And until they do, he knows the woman who he hopes will share his future may remain elusive.
'I don't go chasing romance, I don't go cruising the bars looking for somebody who is going to be a quick fling,' he tells New Idea in an exclusive interview.
'I am looking for the right person,' he continues. 'I believe in the magical aspect of the closeness of a relationship. That shared, agreed concept of life, an acceptance of each other, a belief and trust in each other.'
Although a free man, as one of New Zealand's most infamous figures, David knows he'll never enjoy the same anonymity most of us take for granted.
It's 19 months since he was acquitted of the 1994 slaying of his parents, Robin, 58, and Margaret, 50, sisters Arawa, 19, and Laniet, 18, and brother Stephen, 14. They were shot in their Every St, Dunedin home, and David spent 13 years behind bars for a crime in which he has always proclaimed his innocence.
And it is this past that makes a normal dating life difficult.
'Miss Right hasn't come along yet,' David says, adding that first dates are already daunting without establishing whether the woman knows his history.
'Any girl in New Zealand who wants to get to know me has to prove to me first it's not about that [my past and profile].
'I don't state that at the start of anything, as it would be like putting up a stop sign and nothing would ever happen. But I am aware of it, maybe to my own detriment.'
David's idea of love is old-fashioned. He believes in red roses and picnics at the beach. But, most of all, he dreams of finding someone who he can trust implicitly and grow old with.
Since David's retrial in autumn 2009 – a legal battle that gripped the nation and still polarises it today – the 38-year-old has enjoyed a couple of memorable romantic liaisons.
During his travels in mid-2009 and then again in February last year, David, who now works as an engineer after training in the prison workshop, began to experience what it was like to be just another Kiwi tourist enjoying the sights of Europe. It was then romance came unexpectedly into his life.
'An interesting thing for me was that feeling of relief when I walked down the street. My constant guard and awareness all just melted away.
'Walking around the streets of New Zealand, my guard is always up. It's a protective thing. It's something I've developed over the years of being in prison,' explains David, whose last serious relationship – with former girlfriend Heather Hall, who is now based in Australia – was conducted from behind bars.
'While overseas, I didn't have to prove myself anymore, it did melt down a lot of my walls. I was struck by that contrast the first time I returned to New Zealand [in November 2009] and it's partly why I left again.'
And it was when his emotional barriers dropped that David met the special women who momentarily swept him off his feet.
'One was Kiwi, and one American,' David reveals, preferring to keep their names anonymous. 'Meeting these ladies, I was able to be myself.'
Although the bubbly American girl captured David's attention, they both knew it was a holiday romance not destined to last.
'We had fun and really enjoyed that time together, but my heart wasn't broken. It was just a fun thing,' David says.
The liaison with the New Zealander was more serious.
'The American lady never did [know about my past], partly because she went home. [For] the other lady, who is a Kiwi, it did change things. But then after having found out about it, and delved into it and asked a few questions, she seemed to be OK and it didn't impact on our relationship. But through other circumstances, it didn't work out.'
Not only did his travels give David the chance to enjoy the companionship and affection of the opposite sex, it also gave him an insight into a life free of recognition, which has so far eluded him in New Zealand.
'Ninety per cent of the time I was in places where I was never going to be recognised. I was just another tourist. It was great. I didn't want to come back. For me, it wasn't so much, "Where was I going to live?" It was just somewhere that wasn't New Zealand,' David explains.
'I explored the opportunity to emigrate and leave for good. But 13 years in prison has taken away that opportunity for me. I'm too old for the work permits,' says David, who returned from his first European trip in November 2009, then left for the UK a month later.
'The second time I came back to New Zealand [in February 2010] I felt ready to return. But I was scared. I didn't know what I was going to do, or how I would progress. I knew I couldn't escape it [my past]. I knew I had to fight for a way to find a life, and carry on fighting. It was a different type of fight, but no less hard.'
Struggling to cope with life in prison, David started having counselling in jail from a top forensic psychologist – and he still seeks that help today.
'It's helped me deal with all the emotional trauma of the events, of living with life in prison, facing up to reality on a daily basis and how to handle future events and desires, wants and expectations,' he explains.
David reveals he knows no one who truly understands what it's like to live under constant scrutiny.
He keeps himself constantly busy, relishing his 10-hour days working at a marine engineering firm, an apprenticeship he landed after sending out his CV to Auckland businesses. On the factory floor, he's one of the boys.
'I go into the workshop, get stuck in, I walk out at the end of the day. There is no debate [about me] in the workplace, I'm just another one of the staff,' David says.
After work and at weekends, the horse enthusiast's life revolves around his local hunt club.
He leases two horses from a friend, as, sadly, his first gelding, Boysie, had to be put down last year after he broke his foot.
Now living in a one-bedroom flat, David ends his day with a glass of wine, listening to classical music and watching the sun go down over the Waitakere ranges. He doesn't own a television and doesn't plan to.
'Sometimes I get a takeaway or cook,' David says of his nightly routine. 'I bought myself a George Foreman slow cooker, and I'll do stews, tagine or bolognese. I was the first cook in the prison for a year and a half.'
He knows in the public domain, his innocence is still a contentious topic.
'To have this continuing debate [about my innocence] is an imposition on my freedom,' he says. 'I have the right to live my own life now, to make my own choices. I know people will always have an opinion of me, but it's not about what the public thinks anymore. I'm innocent, so it should be about what I choose to do.'
But David's realistic that people are curious about the man who has dominated dinner party conversations for many years.
'I don't go to those dinner parties,' he says with a laugh.
Going out to bars or a restaurant can also cause unwanted attention.
'I've had a couple of uncomfortable situations. But I've been able to give my friend a wink and head off to the other part of the bar. People ask me questions all the time. But these are people who obviously don't believe that I'm innocent. They have their own opinion, and they're perfectly entitled to believe that. It generally comes with the Dutch courage from a few wines,' he says.
Although he's getting back on his feet, David says money is tight.
He's continuing his legal battle for compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment, a claim that is reportedly estimated to be for more than $1 million. David says he feels resentful about having to start his life from scratch and is getting to grips with what it costs to be independent.
'I'm having to do everything from nothing. I've had to do a catch-up of 15 years. I've had no income. I've managed to put some money aside from my prison earnings, but that's next to nothing – $25 a week was the top wage when I was there, and you're working for it,' David says.
A trust set up by his supporters paid for his European travels, but the bulk 'has been eaten up by legal fees'.
'I've had to buy everything – clothes, furniture, everything – for this flat. I've had a bit of help from friends, some crockery, but it all mounts up. You have to work out what your priorities are.'
Despite his personal struggles, David remains philosophical about his future. He doesn't believe in chance or good luck, but deems every experience – good and bad – happens for a reason.
'I came from a very religious family, but I have my own sense of spirituality,' David says. 'I believe things happen when they're due to happen. I apply that on a daily basis. Whatever events I may encounter are there for me to learn from.'
By Caroline Botting
A world of discovery
The great Kiwi OE is an innate part of our culture for young adults. But after 13 years in prison and a two-year retrial for the murder of his family, David was 37 before he kicked off his overseas experience.
And even when he was free to explore the world he had studied during his days at Otago University, it was only through the encouragement of friends he decided to head overseas.
'I covered a lot of different options after the trial,' says David, who was 22 when he went to jail. 'Somebody said, "Just go. Get out of the country. Get away from it all."'
In August 2009, he bought his first return ticket to Europe. The trip gave him the chance to see the world and escape his past.
'I loved the classics from when I was a kid,' says David, whose schoolteacher father Robin got him interested in the subject.
'I was always fascinated by the Romans, Mayans and the Greeks. For pleasure I read Homer's Odyssey and the Iliad. When I went to university, and we had to study them, I thought, "I know all this stuff." It was a great start for me. Now here was my opportunity to go to these places.'
For three months, David travelled through London, Rome, Gibraltar, Egypt and Crete. During the trip he met up with Matthew Karam, who was part of David's legal team during his 2009 retrial and whose father, Joe Karam, was credited with getting David an acquittal.
Ironically, David had to be convinced to go travelling as he'd already seen a lot of the world with his family as a young boy.
'I was almost talked into my OE, as I was very fortunate with my family. We went through Indonesia, Australia, Japan. I've been all over New Zealand, especially after I got out of prison, visiting friends and touring. Travel, while I enjoy it, isn't one of the things I have to do,' he explains.
But after tasting what it was like to live in a world free from notoriety, he was desperate to stay away from New Zealand, but that would have meant surrendering his return ticket.
David says he came home to a flock of media attention three months later, and quickly decided he wanted to go back to the UK.
He stayed for a further three months, enjoying a white Christmas in London with old friends from Otago University. He visited the tourist traps and places significant to his bid for freedom, including the Privy Council chambers in London's Downing Street.
As his second three-month tourist visa ended in February 2010, David flew home from Europe. He admits there were times when he seriously thought about disappearing to some remote South American city rather than return to the public glare awaiting him in New Zealand.
Living in a country where he is anonymous, is, he admits, a pipe dream. And running away isn't an option.
'I'm too much of a realist,' David reveals. 'And I don't back down from fights.'