The royal visit that got away - chucking away the invite

The then Prince Charles at the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head during a 2005 visit to...
The then Prince Charles at the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head during a 2005 visit to Dunedin. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Knock! Knock!


Knock! Knock!

"Enter. Blast you!"

"Good morning, sir."

"What kept you, Phipps?"

"Well, sir, I am a gentleman-in-waiting."

"Of course. What’s new?"

"Well, the election’s out of the way, sir. The new prime minister may not be your cup of tea, but so be it."

"None of them are my cup of tea. Anything in the mail?"

"Nothing much of interest, sir, apart from numerous emails from New Zealand."

"Oh, all about the rugby, I suppose?"

"Surprisingly not, sir. They’re all pleading with you to visit New Zealand when you go to Australia in October. Of course, your schedule is far too tight. A diversion to New Zealand could add days to the trip."

"No at all, Phipps. I once did a highly successful New Zealand visit which took only one hour. Before your time, of course, but I was pretty good. Obviously left them begging for more."

"Tell me more, sir."

"Pull up that Chippendale and I’ll tell you a tale. August ’66 it was. I was 17, a mere boy, on my way from Australia where I’d opened something to Jamaica where I had to open something else. The plane stopped over in Auckland for an hour to refuel and restock the Foster’s - you know what these Qantas pilots are like. Four thousand people had turned up to see me and that’s pretty impressive given Auckland airport was an even more dismal outfit than it is now.

"And, I kid you not - I shook hands with more than 700 adoring fans on my way from the plane to the terminal. One boy wouldn’t let go my hand but, I’ll tell you what, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place when I disentangled myself and told the kid that I had to get back to school, too. It took me 35 minutes to get to the terminal and I needed a drink. They gave me orange juice. Of course, this was a few years after I’d been caught in a pub drinking cherry brandy at the age of 14.

"What a day that was at Auckland Airport. I’ve got the clippings somewhere. Ah, yes - here they are. ‘No-one was more elated at the welcome than the Prince himself. He darted from one side of the covered walkway to the other to meet people and accepted their greetings with boyish delight.’ Here, read all about it."

"It says you were wearing ‘a subdued Glen Urquhart two-piece single-breasted suit, a woollen tie and a blue shirt.’ Not a pretty sight?"

"No, ghastly! But that’s the 1960s for you. People wore walk shorts and long socks, you know."

"Tough times, sir."

"How pleasant it would be to bring back those happy times. Perhaps I could open something. A hospital?"

"It seems they’ve just opened one in Auckland without your help, sir, and there’s one planned for Dunedin but the opening could well be something best left to a future monarch. Perhaps your grandson."

"Well, I could catch up with Kiri. She sang at my wedding, you know. We could have a short singalong. Let’s work on this, Phipps. A quick detour to Auckland should be a doddle. I’ll be heading to Samoa so it’s on the way and we could avoid using an RNZAF plane so all should be well."

"Since these emails started arriving, sir, I thought it prudent to do some backgrounding for you. An Auckland visit would not be excessively disruptive but it seems the New Zealand government are rather lukewarm about a visit."

"Really! After all the speeches I’ve sat through in that country. I’ve a good mind to send back that bloody clacking Busy Bee that I had to fiddle with on the ’83 tour. I’m hurt, Phipps. I was really looking forward to seeing Jacinda. She’s a tree-hugger, bit like myself."

"Ms Ardern has moved on to higher things, sir, and the prime minister is a Mr Luxon."

"What did he have to say?"

"He pointed out that as it wasn’t an election year there’d be no mileage for him in a royal visit. I suggested you might visit when there is an election year and he shuffled a bit and admitted that one plank of his National Party platform for the 2026 elections will be a referendum on the country becoming a republic."

"Well, that’s gratitude for you! Let’s just leave it as Sydney-Samoa direct, eh?"

"Just as you wish, sir."

- Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.