Why Sir Tim Shadbolt has ditched his republican ways to become a huge fan of the queen

Her Majesty is all right with the knight.
Sir Tim Shadbolt

It might come as a surprise to learn that for once in his life, Sir Timothy Richard Shadbolt was actually left speechless the moment he learned he had been made a knight in the 2019 New Year Honours list.

“It was stunned silence,” confesses the normally talkative Invercargill mayor. “I’ve had a colourful past and I didn’t think I would fit into their criteria.”

But given the decades devoted to local government – at 71, he’s New Zealand’s longest serving mayor, with a remarkable 10 terms in two different cities over four decades – Sir Tim’s bursting with pride at the being handed the title.

“I’ve joined a very special club – I feel very privileged and lucky,” he says, adding he’s been inundated with messages of congratulations including from fellow knights Sir Don McKinnon and Mad Butcher Sir Peter Leitch.

Sir Tim Shadbolt with partner Asha

And while he admits to having republican leanings in his 20s, he’s a little astonished he hasn’t come in for some flak from his old university friends.

“They seem to be very pleased for me, which I found very surprising. I thought I would have at least one ring up and call me a traitor!”

But over the decades, Tim has shifted to embrace the monarchy.

“This issue came up when Sir John Key wanted to change the flag,” he explains.

“Much to the surprise of my fellow former radicals, I defended the monarch on the basis that every country I’ve been to, you’ve got to have one leader. In New Zealand, our leader is the Queen, and the police, army and JPs have to swear allegiance to her. It seems old- fashioned, but if you’re going to have one el supreme leader, I’d prefer it to be someone who has got there by an accident of birth rather than someone who actually wants to be the el supreme leader.

“Generally speaking, I think the Queen’s done a good job, so there wasn’t any issue there for me in terms of ideological positioning.”

Eyeing his ninth tilt at leading the southernmost city, where he lives with youngest son Declan and partner Asha Dutt, Tim recalls the moment he was spurred into action back in 1983.

“In a Titirangi by-election, voting had dropped down to 12 per cent. My father was a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm and killed in a training flight for Korea. I felt it was almost an insult to only get 12 per cent of people bothering to vote, so I promised the people of Waitemata City I would tow my concrete mixer behind the mayoral car if I was elected. And because the councillors didn’t have a sense of humour, they passed a bylaw making it illegal to put a tow bar on the mayoral car. It seems frivolous, but it won me the election in a way.”

He famously made good on his promise, reversing the bylaw and towing his concrete mixer, dubbed Karl Marx, behind the regal eight-seater Daimler many times.

“I think people enjoyed the symbolism of a rusty old mixer being towed by this ostentatious Daimler that we’d got from the British High Commission in London,” he chuckles.

Stirring up trouble! Tim tows his concrete mixer behind the mayoral Daimler in 1983

Earning his honour for services to local government and the community, he cites an unconventional initiative to attract students to Invercargill’s Southern Institute of Technology as his greatest achievement to date.

“Councils aren’t supposed to get involved in education, but I just felt the zero fees scheme was such a groundbreaking project and it’s worked out so well. We went from 1000 to 5000 students with our population, which was the fastest declining city in Australasia, and turned it around!”

There’s even a silver lining to what he considers his worst mistake in local government.

Grandiose plans to extend the city’s airport runway and turn Invercargill into a trans-Tasman travel hub ended up costing him the 1994 mayoral race. Two decades on, that $7m investment is about to come into its own with carriers considering flying jets between Auckland and Invercargill.

“At least it was only a short- term failure,” he says. “In the long-term, it’s proven to be quite a strategic asset.”

Strutting his stuff with Dancing with the Stars partner Rebecca Nicholson.

But it’s his familiarity and ambition to inject humanitarian values into politics that he credits with keeping him in the job since 1983.

“People say, ‘You must have had brilliant policies!’ I say it’s probably more thanks to Dancing with the Stars and Intrepid Journeys. It helps when people feel familiar with you because they’ve seen you on TV or heard you on the radio.”

He also pays tribute to the strong women who made an impression on his life of service, including his aunt Hedda Dyson, former editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, and Aunt Rene, a nurse in the international brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

“There’s been quite a family tradition of doing good things and looking after people,” explains Tim, adding his own mother was a nurse.

And the superannuitant says there’s plenty more to achieve before he hangs up the mayoral robes.

“I’m feeling fit and healthy, I’ve got a six-year-old boy and seven grandchildren, and I feel I’ve got the strength to carry on. I’m an old-fashioned Kiwi who hopes to bring a bit of excitement and joy to local government and New Zealand as a whole.”

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