Duchess learns to hongi in a big hat

MATTHEW THEUNISSEN, KIERAN CAMPBELL AND MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
 Duchess of Cornwall and Taiaha Hawke
SNPA/David Rowland

Winging it: The Duchess of Cornwall and Taiaha Hawke hongi at a Maori welcome at the War Memorial Museum in Auckland.

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They might as well have been back in Britain as Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall chatted with war veterans about the miserable weather.

At least the duchess, on her debut visit to New Zealand, had her first hongi, leaning in towards Ngati Whatua's Grant Hawke, only for her large Philip Treacy feathered hat to get in the way.

"Lucky she didn't have a flat nose like mine," Mr Hawke said with a giggle after a powhiri at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, where several hundred people turned out to greet the royal couple yesterday morning.

Next in line, Taiaha Hawke, said he was "a bit of a hongi expert" and was not put off by the duchess's hat. "You've just got to take the lead," he said.

Prince Charles received glowing reviews for his address in Maori. "It was very eloquent," Mr Hawke said. "He did his mother proud."

Prime Minister John Key said it was a thrill to meet the couple. But - perhaps chastened by his recent David Beckham comments - he would not say what he joked about with the prince during the Armistice Day commemoration ceremony, marking 94 years since the end of World War I.

"They said they had a lovely night's sleep at Government House, so that was good, and they're having a great time," Mr Key said.

Labour Party leader David Shearer met the prince briefly and said their topic of conversation was weather. "We were just saying that if he'd been here the day before, it'd been brilliant sunshine," Mr Shearer said.

The royal couple had morning tea in the museum with 10 war veterans who served in the armed forces.

Graeme McKay, who was an army captain, said the royals were very easy to talk to. "I guess they get lots of practice. He made you feel as though you were the only person in the room.

"He was asking where I'd served and I said I'd been in Korea and Malaya, and we discussed what it was like over there. It was a pretty nasty war in many ways, and the prince was impressive with his knowledge about it."

Mr McKay's wife, Nan, said she was surprised by the duchess's small stature. "She was not quite what I expected - she's so little and so petite and she's so pretty and so charming.

"She makes you feel like she's actually interested in meeting you, which is a gift. I was just incredibly impressed with her.

"She was beautifully dressed, beautifully groomed and just completely charming - they were both charming. They talked to all the old soldiers and they made them feel important."

Navy veteran John Dallow, who served in the Korean war, was equally impressed.

"I would have thought that they'd get a bit tired of doing this sort of thing all day every day. They must have to do an awful lot of it, but they were genuinely interested in what I did in Korea and what the navy's function was. I thought they were both absolutely charming."

Almighty Johnsons TV show actor Dean O'Gorman missed out on a handshake, but was pleased his 90-year-old grandfather received one at a private meeting.

"He was very chatty," former Parachute Regiment soldier Ron Cossins said of the prince. "I told him I served with his father. He was on a destroyer, we served in the same war area north of Africa, in the Mediterranean and Italy."

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Fellow British Airborne Forces Association member Roy Tilley said it was great to see so many New Zealanders commemorating Armistice Day.

"It's taken on greater importance in New Zealand over the last few years. Anzac Day is good, but it's nice that we're taking a broader view."

Outside, the royal couple met some of the 500 or so people gathered for the ceremony.

Mr Key said the enthusiasm of the crowd reflected the affection that New Zealanders still had for the monarchy.

Veteran Kingi Taurua was not allowed to stand with his comrades beneath the cenotaph because he was holding a protest sign.

He said he supported the royal visit but was concerned that Waitangi was not on the itinerary.

Mr Taurua, who served in Vietnam, Malaya and Borneo, was told by police that he had to remain behind barriers with the rest of the public.

The royal couple will spend today in Auckland, before flying to Wellington on Wednesday.

- The Dominion Post

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