Charles & Camilla’s great Kiwi tour

The charming royal couple delighted their New Zealand fans
Charles & Camilla

They’re the older generation and don’t quite spark the same frenzy as their younger family members. Last week’s tour of New Zealand by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was relatively low-key compared to the excitement generated on recent visits to our shores by Prince Harry, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

But while the crowds may have been smaller, they were extremely enthusiastic, and those who had encounters with the future king and his wife were impressed with the couple’s relaxed and friendly manner, and the fact that they seemed to take a genuine interest in the Kiwis they met and the sights they were shown.

“Camilla was very personable, and a very good absorber of the information we gave her,” says John Matthews, who escorted the duchess around the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth. “She was also very good with the children she met here and talked to them easily.”Audra Blackburn (30) and her baby son Corbin (3 months) met Camilla (68) at the Auckland event to promote the family charity Bellyful.

“She was lovely. She made faces with Corbin and really interacted,” says Audra. “She really took an interest in the charity and us – she was very genuine. Her eyes didn’t glaze over when she spoke to us.” Members of the public who got to shake hands or exchange a few words with the royal couple also remarked on how down-to-earth the pair seemed, and how easy it was to talk to them.

“Prince Charles seems like a very nice person,” says Alec Field, who had a brief conversation with him after Charles (67) visited the Spirit of New Zealand training boat in Auckland. “He’s obviously well- rehearsed when it comes to meeting people and knowing what to say.”

Alec, a Londoner who has lived in New Zealand for 15 years, told the prince that he might see him back in London one day. “He said to me, ‘You won’t like it, you know.’ I think he’s got quite a sense of humour.” In fact, Charles’ quick quips were a feature of the visit. He referred several times to the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup success, and after telling crowds outside Parliament in Wellington that he’d travelled more than 11,000 miles (17,700km) to congratulate the best rugby team in the world, he joked, “What the hell am I going to say to the Aussies next week?”

Camilla also endeared herself to people with her ability to poke fun at herself and the situations she found herself in. When she tried to shake hands with Aucklander Heather Goddard at Aotea Square, but couldn’t reach because Heather was standing in a raised area behind a barricade, Camilla said, “I don’t suppose I can start climbing the wall, can I?” “She was lovely – there was nothing uppity about her at all,” tells Heather. The duchess revealed quite a lot of information about herself during the visit, including describing herself as a “luddite” while talking to Dr Donald Kerr, the Special Collections Librarian at the University of Otago in Dunedin because she prefers the printed word to computers. She also admitted to Hairy Maclary author Lynley Dodd that she finds technology “infuriating”.

“She agreed that cell phones are useful at times, but they are also a pain in the neck,” says Lynley. At an event in Dunedin to celebrate literature, the duchess talked about her passion for books and how it came about. “I was so lucky to have a father, an ardent bibliophile, who read to us night after night throughout our childhood,” she said. “He opened the door to that whole new world full of adventure, excitement, joy and sadness. That world of books has remained a life-long pleasure.” She also revealed an appreciation for art when she toured the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth. She seemed quite taken by a work called Four Fountains, which features four large bundles of rotating steel rods. After British photographer Arthur Edwards, who has been photographing the royals for the Sun newspaper for nearly 40 years, asked her to pose in front of one of them, she happily smiled for the cameras. She then checked the image on the back of Arthur’s camera.

Another work by Len Lye that proved appealing was called Grass, which Camilla said would make a useful sleeping aid. “She said sitting in front of it for half an hour would help someone like her who

has trouble sleeping,” says Simon Rees, director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre. Several people commented that despite her smiles, Camilla looked quite tired, and she missed the state reception in Wellington, due to jetlag.

Charles and Camilla had a scheduled day off two days later, but ended up spending some time meeting All Blacks following the team’s victory parade in Wellington. Security was tight for the tour. As well as their own police bodyguards, who travelled with the royal couple from the UK, there was also a large local police presence. Yet it is surprisingly easier to get close to the royals here than in the UK, according to some of the ex-pats who were among the crowds. That’s partly because they do more walkabouts when they are overseas – many of them impromptu when they spot people waiting outside venues they’ve visited.

On this trip, both Charles and Camilla popped across the road in several locations to meet well-wishers. Amanda Knight, who recently moved to Wellington from England, got to shake Camilla’s hand and chat with Charles when they attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Wellington War Memorial. “All the time we lived in England, we weren’t able to get close, then we just popped in here and shook hands.” Amanda says her daughters, Emma (13) and Holly (10), were starstruck. “They both said, ‘I’m not washing my hand. The future king of England just shook it.’”

Meanwhile, in Nelson, Mayor Rachel Reese says the royals were very generous with their time. “It meant a lot to the people who talked to them.” People were also impressed by the couple’s willingness to tackle a variety of activities. In New Plymouth, Camilla tried weaving harakeke into panels and said it was “like plaiting”.

And Charles tried his hand at virtually sailing yachts using high-tech equipment at Animation Research in Dunedin. The fact they travelled so far to visit New Zealand, and tried to interact with as many people as possible while they were here, was appreciated. Emma Weller of Auckland, who got to meet both Charles and Camilla, says, “It’s a long way to come and it’s nice that they make the effort to do that. It gives us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet royalty.”

Charles and Camilla

Meeting author Lynley Dodd. Hairy Maclary is a particular favourite of book-loving Camilla.

Camilla learned to weave with tutor Kim Kahu (middle) at the Tea with Taranaki event at Brooklands Park.

Prince Charles is greeted with a hongi by local iwi at the Tea with Taranaki event.

The prince is tempted by a cheese platter at Mahana Winery in Nelson.

Camilla has a pat for rescue dog Jonah at the Wellington SPCA.

Charles and Camilla

Camilla strikes a pose in front of one of Len Lye’s steel fountains in New Plymouth.

Amanda (right) sees that the duchess is well informed as to where she is going and whom she is meeting, and does everything from finalising her diary, through to holding her handbag and scarves. She also ensures that there’s always a cup of tea ready when needed. For the record, Amanda says Camilla prefers mint tea, but from time to time will also enjoy an Earl Grey, with just a splash of milk

Prince Charles meets his New Plymouth pen pal Tibbeth Smith.

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