Spinoff royal correspondent Alex Casey waits at the Auckland Viaduct for the celebrity encounter of a lifetime.
‘They will be here any second,” said a feverish woman holding a GoPro, an accurate 23 minutes before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would wobble their way down the Viaduct like me after a mad night at Danny Doolan’s circa 2012. Harry and Meghan were late as hell, and the commoners were growing irate. A cross section of crying babies, office folk and die-hards. And my right honourable colleague José Barbosa. “This is just like The Crown,” he said, leaning against a lamppost.
When we had arrived an hour earlier, it took a while to find someone who actually wanted to be there. There was Monique from ATEED, who was primarily just curious to see how the crowd would work in the waterfront space. “Media said there would be 10,000 people – but then they also said 5,000,” she withered somewhat accusingly at me. “I care about the royals a bit, just because it’s rare, but I mostly want to see how the area will cope.” A prosaic approach, but an approach nonetheless.
I bumped into an American woman in a pink flouro jacket and matching visor, who had just flown in from Los Angeles that morning. For the royal tour no less?! “No, I don’t know what’s going on,” she said, pointing back to her downtown hotel from where she had spotted the crowd. A trio of equally legendary women wearing Burger King crowns waved from a top a mighty viewing plinth. This clearly wasn’t their first royal rodeo. “We actually met Harry a couple of years ago at the cloud,” one of them told me.
I asked if they talked to him. She said no, but that he looked “very nice”.
We swerved our way through the morose crowd that was filling up Karanga Plaza and along Jellicoe Street. The news cameras were firing up and the reporters in humongous rain jackets were risking their lives to get their vox pops in the path of several rogue Lime scooters. An aggressive anti-monarchy gale was picking up, and it was starting to look like rain. Some people in the crowd voiced concern for Meghan’s wardrobe on such a blustery day.
The mood lifted slightly when Jess, an Auckland fashion blogger, burst into our quiet corner of the crowd to announce that she had arrived to break up a wedding. “Alexa: play, ‘That Should Be Me’ by Justin Bieber,” she joked. Keeping spirits buoyant, tradies on a nearby construction site began whooping from the scaffolding. “Those are my workmates up there,” said one of their high-vis brothers on the ground. He took a swig from his Coke can and unwrapped a Magnum Almond. A meal fit for a Prince.
“We’re actually trapped in right now by all of this, so I thought I might as well come down and watch.”
Don’t get me wrong: there were definitely devoted royalists in the crowd, we had just arrived far too late to get close to them. There were teen girls who had skipped school to get front row spots, children wearing Meghan and Harry tea towels like capes and someone who was moving slowly through the crowd with a bunch of flowers the size of an actual smart car. “That’s a security risk,” said the woman behind me. “That’s got to be a $1000 bunch of flowers.”
A fun game to pass the time was something I like to call “Secret service with earpiece – or disillusioned youth listening to podcast?” The guy in front of me was scrolling The Daily Mail, reading up the welly-wanging that had just transpired elsewhere. I held a cane and umbrella for a man in his 70s named Hugh while he got his phone camera ready. He told me that he had a “pretty special” encounter with The Queen, all the way back in 1954.
“She just drove past me in her car.”
We had positioned ourselves at the end of the walk on Jellicoe Street, right next to their getaway cars. As the time ticked on, the royal chariots began reversing further and further back up the path, finally stopping about 20m away from us. Just as the screams erupted from around the corner, it dawned on us that we weren’t going to see the royals on foot.
“This would look better on television,” grumbled José, firing up the NZ Herald livestream on his phone.
Two furious-looking bald men paced back and forth up the royal walkway, presumably to secure the immediate area while also keeping their FitBit stats sky-high. I tried to use the screams like a sonar, and deduced that the royals had bypassed our street completely to do a circuit of Karanga Plaza. Minutes later, a car door slammed. They were heading our way. A hush fell over as our entire patient cohort lifted their cellphones in unison to capture the worst Santa parade of all time.
A police motorcycle.
One empty car.
Two empty cars.
The third… was not empty.
I craned my neck and peered as hard as I could through the tinted windows (they didn’t even wind them down! what are they hiding!) and could make out two vague human shapes. Then: a definite hand. Human. Slender, sophisticated, presumably soft with a thousand Suits scripts read. It was Meghan Markle’s hand* and it was slowly waving at me** behind a thick pane of blackened glass. Here is my stone cold evidence to prove it.
The cavalcade continued past beloved local landmarks such as the City Convenience dairy and the mighty Bayley’s Real Estate. The crowd cleared faster that one might say “tēnā koutou katoa” at Government House, leaving only the fanatics and the people stuck reliving what had just happened moments before through their own camera rolls.
A woman who had been at the very front of our section beamed and held up an extremely grainy photo on her iPad from the moment before Meghan got into the car.
“Ah well,” she sighed, “at least we saw her for a millisecond.”
*The Spinoff is unable to confirm that it was actually Markle waving due to the fact that the windows were suspiciously shut
**The Spinoff is unable to confirm that the wave was actually directed at their reporter due to the fact that the windows were suspiciously shut
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The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.