Willie Apiata leaves job helping at-risk youth

Willie Apiata was with the trust less than two years. Photo / Richard Robinson
Willie Apiata was with the trust less than two years. Photo / Richard Robinson
Willie Apiata has moved on from his job helping at-risk youth - and is now being handled by Richie McCaw's management team.

New Zealand's only living Victoria Cross recipient had left the Defence Force to take up a role at Papakura's High Wire Charitable Trust.

Securing someone with the mana of Mr Apiata was a high-profile coup for the trust, but the move appears to have not worked out after less than two years.

Mr Apiata is now being managed by experienced rugby player agent Warren Alcock of Essentially Group.

The international sport and entertainment marketing company's clients include All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and cricketer Daniel Vettori.

Mr Apiata had been running the High Wire Trust's satellite camp at Awhitu Peninsula, which hosts at-risk youth for activities including high ropes, abseiling and kayaking.

The trust was set-up in memory of Papakura liquor magnate Michael Erceg, whose widow Lynne is a trustee.

Financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2013 show it received more than $3 million in donations, but a going concern was a reliance on continuing support from the major benefactor.

It has strong links with the armed forces, running an academy to help young people towards careers in the military.

When Mr Apiata announced his move to High Wire, Prime Minister John Key said he was a loss to the Defence Force, but would prove a great role model for at-risk children.

The New Zealand Herald had been told that Mr Apiata became frustrated with the opportunities available to him at High Wire, but the trust's chief executive David Hopkins strongly denied that.

"That's wrong - he hasn't left under a cloud or anything, Willie's left for other things, to advance his profile and do different things," said Mr Hopkins, who served with Mr Apiata in the Defence Force.

"He's also still in contact with the trust. Willie's a good man. Life goes on I suppose."

Late last year Mr Apiata signed up with Essentially Group, Mr Hopkins said, and he was now managed by Mr Alcock.

The Dunedin-based lawyer, who has been involved with rugby contracts since the turning of professionalism in 1995, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

An "Essential Speakers" section on the group's website said it was launching this month.

Mr Apiata is a former corporal in the SAS and received the VC in 2007 for bravery under fire in Afghanistan after carrying a gravely wounded comrade across a battlefield to safety.

Originally from the eastern Bay of Plenty township of Te Kaha, he has made several public appearances in recent months, including during April commemorations for the Battle of Gate Pa in Tauranga.

Simon Collett, who helped organise the commemorations, said it had been a thrill to have the war hero speak.

"It was outstanding. He's quite a nervy speaker, but, man, when he was speaking you could hear a pin drop. There's something about him, there's a real presence."

On Anzac Day Mr Apiata made a public speech at Auckland's War Memorial Museum, in which he spoke of his own war experiences and what the day meant to him.

According to The Australian newspaper, Mr Apiata also addressed the Melbourne Storm in the lead-in to their clash with the Warriors on the same day.

The NRL club was bought last year by a syndicate headed by Kiwi sports lawyer Bart Campbell, who is also a director of Essentially Group.

- Nicholas Jones of the NZ Herald

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