Prince Charles exchanges gifts with the Māori king, King Tuheitia, during a visit to Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia on November 8, 2015. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/AFP/Getty Images)

Prince Charles, meet King Tūheitia Paki of Ngāruawāhia

Steve Braunias reviews a new biography of Prince Charles by way of wondering when a full account will ever be given about New Zealand’s royal family and the kiingitanga.

One of the great forbidden stories of New Zealand journalism is a portrait of the court of King Tūheitia Paki. It’s not exactly open government at Tūrangawaewae, the kiingitanga seat at Ngāruawāhia. “It’s got nothing to do with you. We’re working through it ourselves,” Waikato-Tainui chief executive Donna Flavell scolded Herald reporter Matt Nippert in September last year, when he began following the King’s money. Nippert tracked down a report by the Charities Services which investigated possible mismanagement of funds. He wrote, “That report, obtained by the Weekend Herald, detailed the King’s $350,000 annual salary and raised concerns about 114 transactions between 2012 and 2014 totalling $120,691, relating to the purchase of jewellery, clothing and beauty treatments and almost $90,000 in cash withdrawals.”

There was a follow-up story published in the Herald on Sunday at Easter. “This took a long time, and a lot of legwork, to get over the line,” Nippert noted on his Twitter account, linking to his story about a “mysterious $46,000 invoice for weight-loss surgery”. From his front-page scoop: “Exactly who had the expensive procedure done privately at Auckland’s MercyAscot hospital, paid for out of a Tainui Group Holdings fund dedicated to the healthcare of King Tūheitia Paki, is unknown.” Who, exactly, was The Thin Man? Helpfully, there was film of Nippert and his famous brown suit at Auckland airport’s domestic arrivals gate, interviewing the King’s principal secretary, Rangi Whakaruru, described as “trim-looking”. Yes, said Whakaruru, he had gastric band surgery. No, he said, he knew nothing about a “mysterious $46,000 invoice”. Nippert wrote, “Whakaruru, who is paid an annual salary of more than $200,000 from the charity handling the King’s affairs, denied it related to his own treatment.”

Rangi Whakaruru, Principal Private Secretary to Kiingi Tuheitia, before he became “trim-looking” Photo: Radio NZ / Andrew McRae

The key line in the story: “Whakaruru has been a close confidante to King Tūheitia since 2009.” Close confidante, principal secretary, advisor – now we’re talking. In almost every monarchy, it’s the king or queen’s courtiers who are the ones to watch. They are the powers behind the throne, the influencers, with their urgings and promptings and various assorted maneuverings. In New Zealand, their activities are as covert as the royal family. King Tūheitia Paki operates behind a veil of silence; the media is rarely granted access. We know that his health is bad. He keeps a low profile. This pithy assessment in a 2011 Herald story may or may not be an accurate measure of his stature: “A former truck driver who is a rugby league lover and kapa haka fan, he mows his own lawns.” His eldest son Whatumoana Paki takes on many of his father’s duties. His younger son Korotangi is invisible, a preferable state of affairs to his shabby media appearances in 2014, best summarised in this haunting sentence from Stuff: “Paki, supported in court by his heavily pregnant girlfriend, pleaded guilty to all charges arising from the theft of two surfboards from Waikanae Motor Camp.”

But that was four years ago. Leave the “Prince” to get on with his private life. King Tūheitia’s advisers are fair game for scrutiny, especially considering the quality of some of their advice. Their decision to say thanks but no thanks to a visit from Prince William and Princess Kate during the 2014 royal visit was widely viewed as ungracious. On the other hand, that view was widely promoted by John Key. Newspaper report, London’s Daily Telegraph: “Mr Key said King Tūheitia’s advisors told officials at Kensington Palace that ‘if you can’t make it longer than 90 minutes, then don’t come.’ Mr Key said, ‘It’s a matter for them to decide their own thing, but in the end [Prince William] has a fairly tight timetable. I would have thought [90 minutes] was quite generous.’”

He might have had a point there. At any rate, the royal visit was a minor and innocuous matter. More seriously, the King spurned Labour at last year’s election and backed the Māori Party. King Tūheitia signalled his intentions at a speech in Tūrangawaewae in August 2016. The eternally hapless Labour leader Andrew Little didn’t see it coming. Jo Moir, Stuff: “On Sunday at Tūheitia’s speech Little was sat only metres away from where the King delivered his attack on the party. However a last minute heads-up about what was about to go down meant Little got thrown in a golf cart before the grenades started flying.” King Tūheitia later went on to endorse Māori Party candidate, Rahui Papa, in the Hauraki-Waikato seat over his own niece, Nanaia Mahuta. It didn’t work out too well. Outside of the Waikato, kiingitanga is often seen as an obscure construct, a historic curio, with limited influence. Ngāpuhi leader David Rankin scorned Tūheitia when he said, “As far as the Government is concerned, they have no right to use the term ‘Māori King’. Tūheitia could be called the King of Huntly, perhaps. I could live with that.” The 2017 election results suggested that kīngitanga has limited influence within the Waikato: Mahuta gave Papa a hiding at the polls, and increased her majority.

King Tūheitia Photo: Radio New Zealand

Was the whole thing King Tūheitia’s idea, his own doing, or was he acting on advice? Both Labour and New Zealand First pointed the finger at that brown eminence, Tukoroirangi Morgan, the former Māori Party president, who was forever described as “one of Tūheitia’s closest advisors”. Morgan has since stepped down. Tuariki Delamere replaced Morgan as the King’s “political advisor” in January, and pledged that the kiingitanga would give its “unconditional support” to Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led government. Advisors, principal secretaries, close confidantes….From whence do they come from? Who are all the King’s men? Is it entirely a formal arrangement, within the King’s 12-person council, Tekau-mā-rua, or is it sometimes informal? What goes on behind the scenes?

There was a fascinating glimpse inside the King’s “inner circle” on Native Affairs in 2015. The show’s reporter Maiki Sherman spoke with Morgan, and Te Kaumaru leader Te Kahautu Maxwell, a very thoughtful man who shared interesting views on the King’s apparent divinity. You have to wonder what else he thinks and what he brings to the table. But the programme was less than 12 minutes in length. A full picture of New Zealand’s royal family and its attendant courtiers awaits.

Strange to even think that we have an existing monarchy; it’s been around for 160 years, and has become an evidently wealthy enterprise, with its salary of $350,000 for King Tūheitia and $200,000 for his principal secretary. Matt Nippert’s instincts to follow the money have parted the curtain. Not everything that goes on in a royal court, though, is scandalous or mendacious. Auckland historian Paul Moon isn’t exactly seen as a friend to Māoridom – his 2008 book on cannibalism went down badly, and fellow AUT lecturer Hēmi Kelly attacked Moon’s 2018 book Killing Te Reo as “ridiculous” in the Spinoff – but he made valuable comments about kiingitanga in an interview with Elton Smallman, the excellent Māori affairs reporter at the Waikato Times. Moon said kiingitanga had a long and proud history and a “crucial role” to play in modern society: “This thing has a pedigree that goes back a long way… There is an accumulation of experience, there is an accumulation of wisdom and a lot of very, very committed people behind the king.”

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall make a gift to the Māori king, King Tuheiti, at Turangawaewae Marae on November 8, 2015. (Photo by David Rowland – Pool/Getty Images)

There are a lot of people behind Prince Charles, too, advisors and confidantes of all stripes, padding noiselessly along the corridors at Balmoral and Clarence House and St James Palace, sycophants of empire, “people of power and influence employed in or with access to the inner sanctum of the rival royal courts”, as described on the back cover of Tom Bowers’s new book Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles. Its 350 pages are based on the low-hanging fruit of interviews with 120 such “people of power and influence”. When it comes to detailed information about the secret goings-on within the court of King Tūheitia Paki, the cupboard is pretty much bare; Rebel Prince is merely the latest vast outpouring of revelations about the way Charles conducts his affairs.

Much of the book is thick with the various assorted maneuverings of advisers. Bowers’s thesis is that Charles does things his own muddled and disastrous way, and ignores every single piece of good advice. He operates by caprice, whim, and arrogance. “Embraced today, a favourite can be cast out tomorrow. Like some feudal lord, he presides at the centre of a court with no place for democracy or dissenting views…He has refused to engage in debate. Advisers know that to say ‘No’ will simply prompt his search for a replacement who will say ‘Yes.’ Every decision is his and his alone.”

It seems plain that one of Bowers’s sources is Don McKinnon. In exchange for giving Bowers a one-sided version of his dealings with Charles when he served as Commonwealth secretary, he comes across as a man of vision and courage, and given the heroic soubriquet “the combative New Zealander”. McKinnon claims that he urged Charles’s advisers over and over that the Prince had to go out and actually visit Commonwealth countries other than Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. “The Commonwealth’s existence was in jeopardy,” Bowers states, blindly going along with McKinnon’s version. Charles went as far as meeting the high commissioners of Pacific countries at New Zealand House in London: “McKinnon was unimpressed by reports of the encounter.”

The Queen is introduced to guests by Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon at a reception at Marlborough House in central London, March 2007 (Photo: Johnny Green/PA Images via Getty Images)

Later, Bowers writes, “Most Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, disliked the prospect of Queen Camilla.” Again, is this McKinnon, whispering sweet nothings into Bowers’s ear? Anyone who trotted along on the royal tour of New Zealand in 2012 would have seen that their reception was warm, genuine, excited. True, there was only one family to meet them when they arrived in the country, at Whenuapai airport. Elisabeth Uele was watching the news at her home in West Harbour when she saw that Charles was about to arrive. She gathered her sister, visiting from America, and six of her nine children, and jumped in the car. Her kids posed for photos on police motorcycles. They were outnumbered by the diplomatic protection squad, who parked up in front of two cows in a yard, and threw invisible rugby balls at each other…But two days later, on Queen St, crowds lined up six-deep to welcome Charles and Camilla. It was a public ecstasy, something genuine and fond.

But this doesn’t fit the narrative as suggested by “the combative New Zealander”. One story in Rebel Prince, possibly real, possibly fabricated and self-serving, has McKinnon, that wild colonial, bold and true, telling it like it is to Charles’s lackeys: “Charles must do his bit!”

They meet him less than half-way. “We’ve been thinking,” they airily instruct McKinnon, “that he might visit Malta.”

The fools! Didn’t they know what was at stake? And who did they think they were talking to, anyway? McKinnon wasn’t the type to tug his forelock and back out of the room. McKinnon, according to Bowers, “snapped” at the lackeys: “Malta’s down the street. He needs to go further!”

Sadly, the response is the same as when McKinnon was deputy prime minister under Bolger: no one listened to him.

If only Prince Charles would heed the wise counsel of those like McKinnon, sighs Bowers, who affects to wring his hands with frustration. “As a committed monarchist, I want Charles to become king,” he writes. But: “His popularity, as I write in early 2018, remains disconcertingly low.” Well, it can always plummet lower, and Bowers does his best to present Charles in the worst possible light. There is fresh gossip and stale gossip and discredited gossip; Bowers drags out the old lie told by a valet of Princess Diana that he once saw Charles and his personal assistant Michael Fawcett “in the midst of a sexual act”. For balance, or something, he also drags out the one by a cop who wrote in his tawdry memoirs that Diana possessed a vibrator.

NZ’s next head of state and some flowers. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Rebel Prince, like any tell-all or tell-some, operates like one of those “You Won’t Believe What Tiger Woods’s Wife Looks Like Now” clickbait fillers that we consider ourselves too lofty to look at but find ourselves driving the arrows relentlessly forward in search of the next unpleasant image. Prince Charles is seen as a hothead and a cold fish, most often as a crackpot. “He sits for hours, and sometimes for a whole day, dressed in eccentric clothes in the garden.” He smashes dinner plates in a rage. He puts down his siblings: “I’m the Prince of Wales, and they’re not.” He puts down his sons. He communicates with his father by letter. He has Stephen Fry over to dinner; the appeal of that old phoney is that he’s “clever, funny, and endlessly flattering.” He has a man to squeeze the royal toothpaste and a man who carries his own personal lavatory seat on all his travels so that it may please his royal bum.

But it’s all the same thing. There’s no light and shade in Rebel Prince, only vindictive and embarrassing little leaves of gossip that swirl around Prince Charles but fail to illuminate the man inside. One of the few times he comes alive in the book is when Bowers presents two pieces of dialogue between Charles and Camilla.

The first reported exchange is during their affair.

Charles: “I need you several times a week.”

Camilla: “I need you all the week, all the time.”

The second reported exchange is more recently, and the setting has Charles at the bottom of the stairs, shouting up to Camilla, on their way to an official engagement.

Charles: “Come on, get a move on!”

Camilla: “Where are we going?”

Charles: “Haven’t you read the brief?”

The first, driven by lust and desire (although the “several” estimate is less than crazed); the second, a banal scene from a marriage. “Get a move on” – the appeal of husbands everywhere, impatient on the doorstep, looking at their watch, needing to go out somewhere when they’d probably rather stay in with the woman they love. For all his supposed eccentricities, there is an appealing ordinariness about Charles. Shy, awkward, funny, not especially clever, endlessly flattered…There can hardly be any mystery why he’s mad as a snake. When he was a toddler, he once paraded up and down the red carpet in the nursery corridor, wearing a red velvet Santa Claus cloak, and chanting, “I’m the King!” Not yet; his whole life he’s been waiting for his mother to die.

Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles by Tom Bowers (Harper Collins, $54) is available at Unity Books.


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