While baby Princess Charlotte has been grabbing headlines around the world, it seems New Zealanders only have eyes for one royal – Harry, the flame-haired prince who has well and truly won the country’s heart. Barely a day into his trip, the world’s most eligible bachelor declared he felt “at home” here, commenting that he was enjoying the friendly, laid-back nature of our country. And it seems the things he loves about us, are the values we most admire in him.
His “just call me Harry” attitude and desire to do away with pomp and ceremony have impressed all who meet him. On his first visit to New Zealand, the down-to-earth prince was here for an adventure, but also to meet an array of Kiwis from different backgrounds, to get amongst nature and – above all – to be treated just like any regular 30-year-old guy on holiday.
It was a picture-perfect day as Harry touched down in Wellington, taking in the drive around Oriental Bay, before his official welcoming at Government House. He confidently leaned in for his first hongi on our home soil, enjoying the traditional powhiri, before meeting local school children.
Rewa Gebbie (12) from St Mark’s School said the prince was very kind and encouraging, after joking with them about how unfair it was that they were in their school uniforms on a Saturday. “He asked if any of us were leaving school this year – which we all are in my year – and he gave us advice about starting at a new school and being at the bottom again. He said it happens to everyone, so to keep going and you’ll get back to the top. He was really nice.”
He later took his time meeting members of the public after laying a wreath at the National War Memorial. There, much of the talk turned to that evening’s hometown Super 15 match. Blair Possenniskie asked Harry if he would be supporting Wellington’s Hurricanes. “He said, ‘Of course! But your PM here is supporting the Sharks!” And sure enough, after sitting amongst the crowd at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium – decked out in a Hurricanes supporter scarf – Harry cheered as the hometown team defeated their rivals.
He later paid a visit to the locker rooms. Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith (33) says his side was a little taken aback when the prince first walked in to offer his congratulations. “The boys certainly went quiet, as you do when someone famous walks into the room.”
But Harry quickly had the team at ease, sharing a few laughs and some easy banter without any airs or graces. “We were sent an email a few days earlier, telling us to call him ‘Your Royal Highness’,” says first five James Marshall (26). “But a couple of the guys called him that, and he was like, ‘Ah, c’mon, what’s that all about? It’s Harry.’ So we all just called him Harry from then on.”
Hurricanes prop Ben May (32), who’d been benched with an injury, said Harry – who dressed casually in jeans and a black hoodie – gave him stick for being dressed up in a suit and tie during the game. “Then he gave Cory Jane plenty of grief about his grey hairs. He thinks he’s a bit of a comedian, I think! He’s a well-mannered guy, though, and he loves the banter. We were all surprised by how tall he is in person.”
Before leaving the changing room, Conrad and the team presented Harry with a special team jersey, as well as a tiny Hurricanes onesie to give to his new niece Princess Charlotte. “He chuckled at that,” says Conrad. “He said he thought it was brilliant and he’d make sure to give it to her.”
Harry told the team that while he was certainly enjoying his time in the capital, it was Stewart Island he was most looking forward to visiting. And by the following day, it was quickly evident why he had held such high hopes for his visit to the remote south. The prince was completely in his element there, as he did away with many of the formalities that typically surround his visits. Dressed in tramping boots, it was by foot that Harry did most of his exploring, choosing to forego with his usual convoy of police escorts. He relished every opportunity, visiting community projects, the local school and trying his hand at oyster shucking – although he wasn’t game enough to sample the seafood delicacy.
Conservation projects are high on Harry’s list of priorities, and Stewart Island provided many for him to check out, including meeting his namesake “Henry” the tuatara in Invercargill, before travelling to Ulva Island, a Department of Conservation sanctuary. While there, the prince helped the rangers set a few pest traps. “He seemed to be quite taken with the little robins – they’d come right up and land beside his feet,” says conservation services manager Brent Beaven.
Come nightfall, he quietly walked down the street with his bodyguards and slipped into the South Sea Hotel for a few beers and to partake in their famed Sunday pub quiz, where he entered a team called The Ginger Ninjas. Quiz mistress Vicki Coats (39) says that although they were happy to see him, it was very much a normal night at the pub, and the prince was offered no special treatment or bother. “Quiz is quiz,” she says bluntly. “They were all just concentrating on trying to win.”
She said that although some of the girls looked quite excited to see him at their local pub, nobody had “put their best gumboots on” for him. Competition was fierce amongst the 20 teams vying for the $40 bar-tab prize, but the cheeky quiz mistress – who has been known to pull out a roll of masking tape to silence the mouths of patrons who misbehave during the quiz – says Harry was well behaved. Although the same couldn’t be said for one of his bodyguards who appeared to be cheating.
“Harry said, ‘Tape him! Tape him!’ So I taped his eyes closed.” It didn’t stop the bodyguards’ team, though, who edged out The Ginger Ninjas to win the bar tab.
A day off the official circuit allowed Harry to take some private time in Wanaka, later driving to the Cardrona Hotel, where he ordered bangers and mash for dinner.
But back on the public trail in Christchurch on Tuesday, the talk of the town was Harry’s candid interview on Stewart Island. Confessing he would “love to have kids right now, but there’s a process that one has to go through”, Harry said he hoped he was doing alright by himself. “It would be great to have someone else next to me to share the pressure, but you know, the time will come, and whatever happens, happens.”
There were plenty of young women willing to be his princess, waiting amongst the crowds in the heart of Christchurch’s CBD, in Cashel Street’s Re:Start mall. Claire McAuley (21) and Emma Stiven (20) made signs to catch Harry’s attention, and Emma’s “I have hectares!” banner caught his eye. “He pointed at it and said, ‘What do you mean by this?’ and I told him, ‘I have a farm, you can live on it, you’d love it!’”
But it was evident romance was not his number-one priority on this visit, as Harry honed in on the young Kiwis in the crowd – particularly any little redheads. Young Riley Harris (6) was left speechless after his sign, “Keep calm, ginger is the spice of life”, prompted the prince to shake his hand and tell him, “Gingers rule. Don’t let anyone hassle you about it at school.”
And despite his handler’s attempt to move him quickly along, Harry made a beeline for brothers Thomas (9) and James (7) Hilliam, to whom he said, “With your beautiful red hair, I’ll definitely have to have a photo with you two!” While many children in the crowd skipped school to meet the prince, one enthusiastic principal brought his entire school to Harry.
St Michael’s Church School principal Marshall Diggs walked his 65 charges down the road for a class trip. “You remember days like this as a kid, so I wanted them to experience it,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of families affected by the quake and a lot of them with homes in the red zone. Our heart beats with the city, and as it grows again, we want to be a part of it, every step of the way. We love this place, and what Harry’s done today has given a real boost to the CBD.”
It was an emotional day for all as Harry listened to locals’ stories and learnt about the devastating earthquakes – asking many questions as he visited Quake City, an interactive exhibition. Outside, Cantabrian Vicki McBratney (42) was waiting nervously in the crowd, wondering if the prince would remember her after last seeing him 18 years earlier when she was one of his boarding school matrons at Ludgrove School. She needn’t have worried – Harry recognised her instantly, giving her a hug and a kiss on each cheek, clearly delighted to meet her husband and three children.
Vicki says she was “happy he recognised me and I’m so glad the kids met him” – but also felt nostalgic, remembering her first day at the school, which just happened to be the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. The day of Diana’s passing forever tied another face in the Christchurch crowd, Andrew Robertson (46), to the prince. Hailing from Scotland, the royal enthusiast lost his mother – a huge fan of Diana – to cancer on the very same day.
“I thought about Harry and William an enormous amount during that time, knowing they were sharing a same grief,” he tells. “It’s a hard anniversary – her death – every year, and I think of them that day too.”
Andrew wrote a poem about his grief, which he handed to Harry along with a letter. The prince shook his hand as Andrew explained his connection, and was genuinely moved by the gesture. Genuine, down-to-earth, kind and “just so nice” were all much-used phrases by those members of the public who got to meet the prince over the course of his visit. Despite a tight schedule, Harry gave every fan his full attention.
As he arrived at the University of Canterbury amongst a hailstorm – prompting a group of students to start chanting “all hail Harry”– he braved the rain to chat with students and learn about the efforts of the Student Volunteer Army (SVA). Megan Gerrard from the SVA dug vegetable planter boxes alongside Harry as he asked her an array of questions about the organisation and earthquakes – as well as some personal ones. “He was very interested in what we were doing and he also had a good yarn with us about vegetable soup!”
Harry concluded his evening with a workout, training alongside members of the Crusaders, before preparing for another early start. Wednesday morning provided school students further opportunity to line the streets in the hope of a glimpse of the prince, as Harry visited rehabilitation centre Odyssey House before departing for Linton Military Camp. After helping haul up a hangi, Harry climbed into a light-armoured military vehicle, remarking, “This brings back memories!” Harry, who holds the rank of captain in the British Army, was dressed in army fatigues and got the thumbs up from the Kiwi troops who had 20 minutes to teach him the haka.
“He was sweating, we were sweating, a bit of frustration set in,” confides Warrant Officer Pene, but, “he was keen, that was the main thing.”
While Harry has described his New Zealand tour as “fantastic” and “just like being at home”, he has plenty to look forward to going back to his real home in the UK. He says he was sorry to have missed the birth of his niece, Princess Charlotte, because of her late arrival – “she’ll have to work on that!” he quipped.
“[Prince William] sent me two photos, one before everybody else, which was nice and then another one with her back with George back home. I’m so looking forward to seeing her, to meeting her and to holding her.”