Harper Whitley

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Harper Whitley
Harper Whitley Shortland Street.jpg
Shortland Street character
Portrayed by Ria Vandervis
Duration 2013–
First appearance 1 May 2013
Introduced by Simon Bennett
Classification Present; regular
Occupation Doctor
2IC of Shortland Street Hospital
Home The Apartment Block

Harper McCaskill (also Whitley) is a fictional character on the New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street portrayed by Ria Vandervis. She made her first screen appearance on the 1 May 2013. She was introduced as close friend to established character, Sarah Potts (Amanda Billing), who had returned after working in New York. Her storylines have focused on her relationships including her lesbian fling with Nicole Miller (Sally Martin) and the most notable being her love triangle with characters Boyd Rolleston (Sam Bunkall) and Drew McCaskill (Ben Barrington). Her most recent storylines have seen her marry Drew and have an abortion whilst dealing with the death of her cousin Ashley.

Creation and casting[edit]

To mark the show's 21st anniversary, 4 new young characters were introduced in an attempt to revamp the show, with the characters of Harper, Dayna Jenkins (Lucy Elliott), Dallas Adams (Cameron Jones) being created alongside the return of Henry Lee (Peter Huang) in a more prominent role.[1] Ria Vandervis was cast as new emergency department Doctor, Harper Whitley.[2] Vandervis was originally hired under a 6-month recurring contract that was later extended to a regular role.[3] Vandervis originally commuted between Dunedin and Auckland for filming.[4] She struggled with the extension due to personal relationship issues and considered quitting the show.[3] Like Vandervis herself, Harper is described as "straight talking", "ambiguous"[4] and "mysterious".[5] She was introduced as friend from medical school to existing character Sarah Potts (Amanda Billing).[5] The character had left New Zealand to pursue her career in Australia and then ended up in New York.[5] At first people are suspicious of why she had returned to New Zealand and is described to be "vague" on the subject.[5] Vandervis commented in an interview with the Otago Daily Times; ''She's an alpha female and uber confident and used to getting what she wants, which causes conflicts, ''She's also hiding a secret and doesn't want that to come up.''[5] When Vandervis first joined the cast she found it demanding commenting; ''It was terrifying. You get chucked in the deep end. We shoot an episode a day, so you've got 20 minutes to do a scene. You just try try get your words right and hit the mark. You're a little cog in a big machine.''[5]


Harper arrived to Shortland Street shortly after returning from a mysterious past in New York, supposedly to visit best friend Sarah (Amanda Billing). However the two were at odds when she took Sarah's job at the hospital and began to date her ex-husband TK Samuels (Benjamin Mitchell). It later turned out Harper had fled a high up criminal family in America that she was set to marry into. When her fiance arrived, she briefly considered running away with him but decided to stay in New Zealand. Harper soon discovered she was in love with TK despite his reconciliation with Sarah but shocked all when she began to date Nicole (Sally Martin). The relationship was short lived and Harper was devastated when Sarah died leading her to seek comfort with TK again, entering into a temporary relationship. However advances from sensitive doctor Boyd Rolleston (Sam Bunkall) lead to a new more measured romance. Strains became apparent in the steadyness of the relationship however and after investing in a motorbike, Harper met rugged new doctor Drew McCaskill (Ben Barrington) and despite being engaged to Boyd, Harper left him after Drew was shot.

Taking on more responsibility at the hospital through management positions, Harper moved in with Drew. Harper continues a unsteady relationship with Drew. Ashley, her cousin arrives in Ferndale after her mother dies and Harper becomes her legal guardian. She later marries Drew, but Ashley dies after hitting the back of her head on the back of a seat whilst in an argument with a tearaway named Olive.

Harper reveals to Drew that she terminated a pregnancy to him, much to Drew's dismay, he then goes and has sex with friend and colleague Kylie Warner (Kerry-Lee Dewing) after she learns that her husband is a bigamist.

Character development[edit]


Boyd Rolleston[edit]

Whilst in a relationship with Boyd, she goes on a motorcycle trip and stops at a pub only to meet Drew. Her attraction towards him "scares" her and she returns to Ferndale straight away.[6] Upon her return, she proposes to Boyd, but shortly after Drew turns up at Shortland Street only to find him as the new plastic surgeon.[6] Boyd is initially oblivious to the connection between the pair.[6] Vandervis commented on Harper and Boyd's relationship saying; "They're both great characters but at the end of the day I think Harper and Boyd are not suited to each other, she likes a little bit of adrenalin and she has a wild side. She's never going to get that from Boyd. Whether finding a guy that's similar to her in that way would ever work in a relationship sense, you never know."[6] It was reported that a 'red wedding' was set to air as the 2015 season finale cliffhanger.[7] Hospital Stalker, Gareth Hutchins (Jarrod Martin), held people hostage in the hospital cafeteria.[8] This interrupted the plans of her wedding to Boyd as he was caught in the crossfire of helping the injured with Harper finding about the situation occurring and also going to the hospital to assist.[8] The wedding is left abandoned with only couple, Dayna Jenkins (Lucy Elliot) and Geroge Kirkwood (Arlo Gibson), at the ceremony. They utilise the celebrant and singers, Sole Mio, and marry.[8]

Drew McCaskill and Abortion[edit]

After ending her engagement with Boyd, she starts a relationship with doctor, Drew McCaskill. After Drew is shot by gunman Gareth Hutchins[9][10], she admits her love for him and supports him, determined to get to the bottom of who made an attempt on his life. The pair start a relationship and decide to get married.[11] However, Drew begins to worry when he is left waiting at the altar due to Harper questioning the marriage, but she ends up arriving on a motorbike.[11] When commenting on whats holding her back on the characters second wedding to Drew, Vandervis commented; "It's not that marriage and children and those things aren't wonderful. I think she's just struggling to work out if that's what she really wants and I think lots of people can relate to that – being unsure," adding "She's a really modern woman and doesn't necessarily see the point in it. She doesn't see why you need to be defined by a piece of paper or by being connected to another person."[11] However, it is revealed after the pair wed that she aborted a pregnancy to Drew after Stuff.co.nz reported about the new 'controversial' set to air. It was said that this would "wreck the marriage" of the newlyweds.[12] It was also said, that Drew would react in a way different to Harper, with Barrington commenting; "Drew keeps going on to Harper, 'You killed our baby'. He says to other people, 'She killed my baby'. For her it's like, 'I had the pregnancy terminated' but Drew's like, 'It was a baby. You killed it. It's like a child murdered.' "[12] Vandervis describes the termination a 'tough' choice for Harper.[12] In amongst the pregnancy, the character also was grieving after the death of her cousin, Ashley Whitley (Ruby Lyon) of whom she had become a legal guardian for.[12] This abortion storyline has been the second of its kind to set to air since Jenny Harrison (Maggie Harper)'s in 1994 which saw the very controversial storyline of a middle-aged woman working a steady job, have an abortion.[13]


After only been on the show for 18 months, the character of Harper had been proven popular in such a short amount of time. The character especially won the attention of viewers when a storyline aired that saw her fall in love with, bisexual character, Nicole,[4] with Harper having had no previous lesbian relationships. This was followed with a 'saucy' photoshoot for a womens magazine and attracted attention with plenty of tweets from followers.[4] One fan reportedly named her daughter 'Harper Ria' in honour of Vandervis and her character and the new-to-acting Vandervis stating she gets stopped for autographs and photos.[4]


  1. ^ "Dallas hits Shortland Street: The New Dynasty begins". The Herald on Sunday. APN News & Media. 14 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "Get to know Ria Vandervis". tvnz.co.nz. Television New Zealand. May 2013. Archived from the original on 14 May 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Ria's Shorty Shock: I Nearly Gave It All Up For Love". Woman's Day. New Zealand Magazines. 10 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Ria Vandervis – Class of 2001". Otago Daily Times. Allied Press Limited. 9 August 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Baptism of fire". Otago Daily Times Online News. 2013-06-18. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Shortland Street's love triangle". Stuff. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  7. ^ Spy. "Shorty Street set for 'red wedding' cliffhanger". spy.nzherald.co.nz. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  8. ^ a b c "Shortland Street 'Red Wedding' cliffhanger ends in hospital bloodbath". Stuff. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  9. ^ "Recap: Shortland Street's 2015 cliffhanger finale". Stuff. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  10. ^ "Shortland Street recap: Who is the mystery killer?". Now To Love. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  11. ^ a b c "Shortland Street: Ben Barrington shares details of his character's wedding day". Stuff. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Shortland Street's controversial storyline". Stuff. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  13. ^ Dunleavy, Trisha (June 2005). "Ourselves in Primetime: A History of Television Drama in New Zealand". Auckland University Press.