22 May A King’s Honour
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 22 May 2023
On a wet Friday afternoon last October, entirely out of the blue, an email arrived in my inbox from the Honours Unit at Parliament. At least, that’s where it said it was from – my first assumption was that it was a scam, or possibly one of my hilarious friends doing some kind of whacky end-of-week prank.
I tried popping the phone number into Google to see if it had been flagged as a fraud, and checked the email address for oddities until it felt safe to open the attachments. Slowly it dawned on me that some mystery group of people had quietly nominated me for a New Year’s Honour.
This is a delightful thing that any of us can do for anyone in our community or industry – there is a website that explains the whole process and if there is someone you think deserves a medal, you really should get amongst it.
So here was a letter sent on behalf of the Governor General – gasp – asking if I would accept an honour, subject to it being approved by the King. That’s quite a letter to be reading on what had been, up until that point, a very ordinary day. I had a cry, thought about how much this would have meant to my late-parents, and promised myself I wouldn’t tell a soul until (if) the King said yes.
Out for dinner that night with a dear friend, I blurted the news during the second glass of wine. Shameful. But she remained the only person I told for several weeks. It was a delicious secret, like a precious stone you keep in your pocket, touching it now and then with your fingertips to feel the shape of it, feel its weight.
And then you don’t hear anything at all for two months until finally the news comes that the King has said yes. This is a moment I like to think about – that one afternoon King Charles sits down at that desk we’ve all seen on The Crown, and signs his approval, one by one, to the list of Kiwis to be honoured.
I feel sure he would read the short biographical note beside each name to get a sense of who each person is. Dame Farah Palmer and Sir Ashley Bloomfield were on this list – the first batch of this King’s Honours – so he had some pretty terrific people to read about. I wonder what it’s like to see “New Zealand comedian” in one of those bios, and whether that might give you pause as it passes across the royal desk.
I like how our Honours system is widening – even redesigning – who we think of as our “establishment”. When the Topp Twins became Dame Jools and Dame Lynda in 2018, it rewired in the best possible way what I thought of as a “Dame”. As they said at the time, the rebels were getting their medals – for activism as well as entertainment.
I also like the way the process goes along without you, so you don’t know for a long time (and may never know) who made this happen for you. Which oddly means you end up treating everyone you know and work with as though they did this very kind thing.
On the day of the investiture – just seven of us at our ceremony – we talked with each other about the mystery of how this happened, and about self-doubt, and gratitude. And then how we might use this acknowledgement to boost more people in our communities.