The soon-to-be-former prime minister has assumed many mantles and many monikers. DJ, play that song, because here are some of her greatest hits.
Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern has had her name misspelt more times than seems humanly possible for someone whose moniker is extremely, bloody online. Her name, her job and associated facts have been innocently mangled at the hands of local and international media and sometimes deliberately by detractors.
Jacinta has been the youngest president of Middle Earth. Adern was mentioned as the pregnant world leader approximately one billion times and let’s not forget, Arden is also the partner of a hairdresser.
Her time as prime minister has presented us with a leader of great compassion in times of tragedy, a steely and life-saving resolve in times of national trial, a recipient of valid criticism and utterly toxic abuse, a good sport with millennial social media and pop culture savvy and a real talent for repping us on the world stage.
Her first press conference as Labour leader
Ardern assumed leadership of the Labour party on August 1, 2017, seven weeks before the 2017 general election. To watch Ardern’s speech then is to watch a very different Ardern. Not quite at the heights bestowed upon her by Jacindamania, and not yet utterly worn out by a tenure marked by tragedy and pandemic management, there was steel in her spine as she stepped up and resolved to take on the leadership. It was, given the extraordinary circumstances, a commanding performance.
An electrifying performance at the Auckland Town Hall
Though it had been building, Labour’s 2017 campaign launch presented us with full-throttle Jacindamania. “Let’s do this” was proclaimed and a hug from Helen Clark took on the enormous symbolism of a baton being passed.
Becoming prime minister
Wrote Mad Chapman: “The result of the 2017 election was by no means a landslide for Labour. Ardern’s tenure as prime minister was bestowed upon her by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. It was still a huge moment for Ardern in more ways than one. Surrounded by staff in her office, Ardern watched her television like everyone else as Peters addressed the nation, describing his difficulty in making the decision. He was the political Bachelor, idly twirling his final rose. When he finally announced that he’d chosen Labour, Ardern’s office erupted. A bottle of whisky was opened and Ardern poured for everyone except herself. Her morning sickness hadn’t kicked in yet, but it would. Just six days earlier, three weeks after the election – and in the middle of negotiations with New Zealand First – Ardern had found out she was pregnant with her first child.”
The finger point and “RIP Mark Richardson” shot from the hip
After AM host Mark Richardson suggested women should tell their employers if they plan to get pregnant before starting a new job, Ardern fired back. “That is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say women should have to answer that question in the workplace,” she said to applause from Amanda Gillies and well-adjusted people everywhere.
Had a baby in office, then took her to the bloody UN
Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford was born on June 21, 2018. Within seven weeks Ardern was back at work. Five weeks later, she was at the United Nations. Her presence made history as Ardern became the first world leader to attend a United Nations general assembly meeting with a baby in tow.
Images seen round the world after Christchurch mosque shootings
A further explanation of this image isn’t really required. Ardern hugs a member of the Islamic community at the Kilbirnie Mosque after a terrorist shot and killed 51 people in Christchurch. It was emblematic and tone-setting as the country reeled and a community mourned.
The circle of apologies over the death of Paddles (RIP)
Poor Paddles. The prime minister’s cat was run over in 2019. It was later revealed that the incident occurred at the hands of a neighbour. He received a phone call from the prime minister a month after the cat was killed in which Ardern apologised to him for having to “go through that”. They later ran into each other at a local park and apparently just said sorry to each other on repeat.
Picks up Stephen Colbert from airport, gives Colbert meat
In 2019, Late Show host Stephen Colbert came to New Zealand. Ardern picked him up from the airport. On her most recent visit to the US, she once again flexed her global ambassador chops by giving Colbert a chilly bin of literal meat.
Another disaster response in the wake of the Whaakari White Island eruption
On 9 December 2019, Whakaari White Island erupted. Twenty-two people died. Ardern fronted a press conference, was calm and empathetic but left technical questions to the experts. The prime minister then visited first responders in Whakatāne.
The time she handed someone a bottle opener in the Koru lounge
Fronts nation to announce Alert Level system, announces level 4 lockdown two days later
In a direct television address from the prime minister’s office on March 21, 2020, Ardern introduced the Alert Level system that would see the country through nearly two years of the pandemic. It got compared to the fireside chats of wartime, and marked the beginning of a near constant presence by the prime minister as Covid Commander-in-Chief. It was the introduction of her advice to “Be Kind”. Though that message curdled over time as frustrations grew and wicks got short, it did collectively unify a frightened country for a while. We put bears in our windows and actually spoke to our neighbours. We did save lives. On March 23, from the Beehive theatrette, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins in tow, Ardern announced that New Zealand would enter a level 4 lockdown.
Remained consistently comfortable with meeting her human and cake doppelgängers
Comedian Melanie Bracewell did a very good bit for a while, impersonating the prime minister on social media. Ardern has always been a good sport about healthy parody and turned up in one of Bracewell’s videos. It’s been watched nearly half a million times.
Like many of us, comedian Laura Daniel went a bit stir-crazy during lockdown, and made two cakes in Ardern’s likeness. The first one was disturbing, haunting even, Ardern’s face taking on the quality of a melted candle. The second cake attempt was a marked improvement and despite what looks like shock in Ardern’s eyes as she comes face to icing face with her confectioned self, she was quick to compliment Daniel on her skill upgrade.
The Dawn Raids apology
In all honesty, this moment belongs to the Pasifika community and those that organised the event at the Auckland Town Hall in August 2021, but the image of Ardern under the fine mat for ten minutes was a visual exemplar of a long overdue apology that had extraordinary significance to those receiving it.
The White House visit
After the country reopened in April, Ardern spent 55 days abroad in 2022. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone critical of her ability to represent the country overseas. The most high profile was her visit to the White House, where she and US president Joe Biden had a very warm and friendly exchange.
Just bloody loved anthropomorphic kiwifruit
First Ardern held hands with Zespri mascots, Gurin (Green) and Gorudo (Gold). Then Ardern posed with them again in Japan in April 2022. Ardern’s visit to Japan was also the reason we got the swaying kiwifruit dancers.
Calling Act leader David Seymour an arrogant prick, helping raise $100,000 for charity
It was both funny and somewhat shocking, given Ardern’s usual composure. A hot mic in the House picked up Ardern referring to Seymour as an arrogant prick. The Hansard transcript was framed and auctioned off, raising more than $100,000 for a prostate cancer charity.
Resigning as prime minister
Though a personal decision, this call from Ardern is a bloody big one that will shape the political landscape this year. Her honesty about not having anything left in the tank, about wanting to be there when Neve starts school and finally getting married, continues a shifting generational approach to political careers, first set in train by John Key’s resignation and further perpetuated by Simon Bridges. Where previously the only way out was by ousting, election loss, scandalous resignation or death, there is now another way. Politicians can choose quality of life and call time on their own terms.