Bill Ralston: The king and I

by The Listener / 15 April, 2014
Young George is already showing regal aptitude, with all the necessary skills.
George, I am sure, would make a perfectly excellent king for New Zealand. Well, not right now. You would get dribbles and dried-up rusk through all the official papers he’d have to sign. Actually, he’d have to sign with a crayon, wouldn’t he? But in the longer term I’m sure he’d be a great head of state, especially as they don’t really do anything but wander about smiling, chatting and accepting crushed flowers from little children.

His periodic visits to his country would give my grandchildren, in another 50 years or so, a bit of the good old-fashioned royal mania we’re all experiencing at the moment.

The first thing on my bucket list would be the complete eradication of the term “bucket list”.


Quite how newspapers could get five pages of pictures and copy on the first day from half an hour of Wills, Kate and the kid getting off the plane and soggily wandering about the lawn at Government House is beyond me. However, TV’s One News also managed to squeeze four tape items and a live cross or two into its bulletin that first night.

The thing that strikes me most is not Wills or baby George but Kate and how small she is. Her visit, following hard on the heels of the great “heifer” and “lardo” debate about the size of New Zealand women, could cause a little angst. I do hope someone slips her a pie and a sausage roll in one of the endless official bunfights they have as they tour around, or she’s likely to blow away in a severe equinoxial gust.

Why does someone always schedule royal visits for autumn or spring when the weather is on the turn? The royals must believe New Zealand has roughly the same climate as the Falkland Islands. A summer visit would have meant the couple could have taken George to the beach and he could have had a paddle and built miniature Windsor Castles in the sand.

Still, even a bleak roam around the near-wintry country­side is enough to guarantee New Zealand worldwide fame. A silly story about George’s car seat being installed managed to feature in dozens of foreign news outlets, and the family wasn’t even in the country. I say it was a silly story not because you shouldn’t fit the seat with the baby reversed – that’s an ideal safety move – but because the royal baby is travelling in the most heavily protected car in the country. The chances of it colliding with the Eastbourne bus are remote indeed.

The best thing is, for a couple of weeks, we can all follow their passage around the country in the papers, on radio, on the telly and, a new phenomenon, via the instant medium of Twitter. Most of the correspondents covering the tour are on Twitter and so you get lovely gems, such as the one from reporter Katie Bradford suggesting the royals could do what every other parent in Wellington does when it rains and visit Te Papa.

I note that George has received a parcel of New Zealand books for his reading pleasure. Hopefully not The Luminaries as it could be a bit of a challenge at eight months old but, perhaps, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy could help shape the future king – which I think would be a fine thing, indeed.

I do prefer the idea of New Zealand being a constitutional monarchy rather than, say, having an elected presidency. The royals never interfere in our business, whereas there’s the risk a republic would see a past-his-or-her-expiry date crazed politician voted in as president – one who would then start meddling in the business of Parliament.

The popularity of Game of Thrones will probably help stave off a republic. The royals aren’t exactly a sword-swinging, dynasty-rolling lot, I know, but there is a lot more romance in the doings of princes and princesses, kings and queens, than there is in the grubby machinations of common politicians.

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