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Dame Kiri Te Kanawa shares her special memories of the Queen

Our beloved opera star is a favourite of the royals

With her long and affectionate relationship with the royal family, it was only appropriate that Kiwi opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was present to farewell the Queen as part of the small official Kiwi contingent at Her Majesty’s funeral in London last month.

And the 78-year-old soprano has now shared some personal insights into her relationship with the royals, while reinforcing her hope that New Zealand remains a monarchy.

While her memorable performance at Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 put her – and New Zealand – firmly on the international map with a global audience of more than 600 million, she also enjoyed many other treasured times with the royals, away from the public eye. This included trips to the much-loved country retreat in Sandringham with the Queen.

Dame Kiri singing at Princess Diana’s wedding to then-Prince Charles.

“They are certainly standout memories for me because it was very, very private,” says Dame Kiri. “We did normal, everyday things. Her Majesty would come down for lunch and we’d meet and then go off, and come back and change for drinks and dinner. And sometimes we would have high tea as well.”

They also attended a service at St Mary Magdalene Church together.

Riding with Her Majesty in Sandringham.

While some have used the death of the Queen and accession of King Charles to question whether New Zealand should become a republic, Dame Kiri is staunch in her views that this shouldn’t happen.

“I hope we keep the royal family forever,” declares Dame Kiri, now back home in New Zealand. “They’re wonderful and why would we change? What other leader would I look up to? With all the good and bad things in this world, the monarchy has always been stable. Yes, it has had its ups and downs, but it has been stable. I can’t think of anything else which could take its place.”

Dame Kiri’s special relationship with the royal family means she understands more than most the impact the Queen’s death has had on them.

“Just knowing a little more about how this is affecting them and how they are adjusting,” she muses. “There is a beautiful heart in there, a deep pounding heart of great sadness. You can only imagine anyone losing their parents and grandparents within 18 months of each other. The depth of sadness that’s there.”

The King and I! Kiri believes Charles will be a great leader. “He has his own will, which is great.”

She was thrilled that the Queen was able to see the deep affection the public held for her during her Platinum Jubilee earlier this year.

“She rallied amazingly,” she says.

Dame Kiri’s close association with the royals was again reinforced in the days following Her Majesty’s death, when Camilla, Queen Consort, sent a special message.

“I was at New Zealand House in London for the welcome with the Prime Minister when our Governor- General, Dame Cindy Kiro, told everyone, ‘I have just spoken to the Queen Consort, and she sends Dame Kiri her very best wishes and looks forward to seeing her.’ So our connection is well-known – it’s not just a private thing.”

With Camilla – “Our connection is well known.”

Dame Kiri was asked to make the journey to England a week before the September 19 funeral. And despite the prospect of the long-haul flight and short stay, she didn’t question for a moment the decision to attend.

“It was a great, great honour,” she tells. “When the call came through, asking if I would go, I said, ‘Of course, I would be honoured.'”

Hand-picked to be at her friend’s funeral.

While she had planned to be in Wellington to work with one of her students at the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation – which is committed to assisting outstanding young New Zealand singers – she deferred her plans immediately.

“We had to work out when I was going and coming back, which ended up being at five o’clock the morning after the funeral.”

Long before she famously sang Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim at the 1981 royal wedding, Dame Kiri was already well connected with Her Majesty and King Charles.

“Before I left New Zealand all those years ago, I met the Queen here when I had lunch on board the royal yacht,” she says of the 1970 royal tour. “They introduced me to Her Majesty and told her I was going to Covent Garden. She said, ‘I think you should be there!’ which was really lovely.”

She moved to England soon after and won hearts around the world, with many performances at the Royal Opera House at

Covent Garden.

Meeting Princess Diana.

“King Charles was there all the time because he was the patron,” she explains. “I suppose he will continue to be so, although I’m not completely sure as he’ll have an even busier life from now on. But I met him on so many occasions, whether at Buckingham Palace or at Covent Garden, or many different venues, as well as invitations to see the royal family.”

She also sang Happy Birthday to Her Majesty at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, then nine years later performed God Save the Queen to open the Coronation Festival Gala Concert at Buckingham Palace. In 2018, she was awarded the elite Order of the Companions of Honour for her services to music by then-Prince Charles.

Being honoured for her services to music. “I hope we keep the royal family forever.”

When asked what sort of King and Queen Consort we will see in the years to come, Dame Kiri says we already have an indication.

“He’s working so hard already, with the Queen Consort at his side. I can’t imagine things are going to change much, except I think he will take more authority.

“He seems a bit more stern, doesn’t he? He has his own will, which is great. His mother was wonderful politically – she was able to be a diplomat through everything – and the King has certain opinions, which I hope he will be allowed to show.”

And when it comes to the young royals, Dame Kiri suggests Lady Louise Windsor is one to watch. The daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, the 18-year-old is a passionate and accomplished carriage driver, a hobby her late grandfather Prince Philip also enjoyed.

“I think she’s a gorgeous girl and, luckily, she is well in the background at the moment and not in the spotlight,” says Dame Kiri. “I think with the strengths of her mother and father, she’ll be nice and down to earth. Her mother Sophie is also lovely and I know the Queen was very close to her.”

Dame Kiri’s royal insights come after spending 56 years based in England. As she told the Weekly last year, she has now returned to Aotearoa for good, moving to a sprawling property in the Bay of Islands with her husband, who is private and remains out of the public eye.

It is certainly much closer to Auckland, where her adorable four-year-old grandson Luther lives with his parents, Kiri’s son Tom Park and his partner Zeera. Now she has had time to settle in, she has also realised how much she’s missed being away from our shores for so long.

“Sadly, it means I don’t know very much about New Zealand and its ins and outs,” she tells. “I know much more about life in England and although I would hear what was happening here, I missed seeing how it developed.”

Coming home required not so much a readjustment, but a need to recognise very quickly what was going on.

“Māori is being spoken everywhere, which it wasn’t before I left,” says Dame Kiri. “And now it’s in the school curriculum and my little grandson will be learning Māori. It’s very interesting.

“I will never catch up, but at least I can recognise that and must make sure he speaks Māori. Many years ago, it wasn’t allowed and Māori were disadvantaged because they were taught in English, so now we are playing catch up.”

Back home after the Queen’s funeral, Dame Kiri is looking as glamorous as ever, but feeling understandably exhausted. But, of course, that hasn’t stood in the way of spending time with Luther.

“He caught three squid yesterday!” she says, eyes dancing with joy. “He came screaming off the boat and so I cleaned them. There was ink everywhere and it got all through my nails. I cooked them for him last night and he ate them – it’s the first time ever he’s had squid.”

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