Father Des wrestles with his titles

17:00, Dec 30 2011
Des Britten
FROM PRIEST TO KNIGHT: Father Des Britten on holiday in Melbourne with his grandson.

The Reverend Canon Father Sir Des Britten doesn't know what to call himself any more. The cheerful figure who for the past 18 years led Wellington City Mission has been given many titles over the years.

He was called Father at the mission, made a Canon Emeritus in the Anglican diocese of Wellington this year, and was named the 2011 Wellingtonian of the Year for his commitment to the people of Wellington and for carrying out his job with humility and more than a dash of flair.

And from today, he will be Sir Des, made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours.

The award rounds out a few weeks spent "rolling on the floor" with his grandson Arlo, 2, in Melbourne, as well as celebrating Christmas and a birthday.

"It's all terribly exciting."

He had never dreamed of being a knight, he said. "I'm still pinching myself to see if it's real ... I'm just a little Kiwi joker born in Otane."


From that small Hawke's Bay town, Sir Des's long career has put him in the roles of DJ, restaurateur, television cook and Anglican priest, all while maintaining a passionate commitment to the people of Wellington.

For 18 years he was at the helm of the Wellington City Mission, feeding hundreds of Wellingtonians every week.

While at the mission he increased the number of staff from seven to 30 to keep up with demand.

In the 1970s he hosted two television shows, Thyme for Cookery and Bon Appetit, and wrote several cookbooks. He also owned top Wellington restaurant The Coachman. Before that, he was a DJ who regularly entertained up to 3000 kids at his Coca-Cola Hi-Fi Club dances in Wellington Town Hall.

Even while overseeing the mission, his name was still regularly on the pages of food magazines and newspapers, including The Dominion and The Dominion Post, where he wrote restaurant reviews.

He fronted a television campaign for cheese for the New Zealand Dairy Board and toured overseas as an official ambassador promoting dairy and meat products.

But his work at the mission was the highlight of the long and varied career, he said.

When he started "we didn't know quite what we were doing, except being kind to people", and it was amazing to see how far it had come since, he said.

Receiving the knighthood was the icing on the cake of a career that always revolved around people. "It's very delicious icing."

Despite retiring from the mission in July, he is not fading into the background. He plans to take in a few more movies, and have a "glass of pinot gris at five o'clock instead of six o'clock", but he will also be looking for other ways to keep busy.

"I hope it will be something for the good of people ... I'm not a golfer."

The Dominion Post