Prince William embarks on first official tour - a three-day visit to New Zealand

• Opportunity for future monarch to 'learn the ropes'
• Unofficial stopover in Australia also planned

In retrospect, the two young women drinking lattes outside the Vulcan coffee bar off Auckland's Queen Street may not have been the best people to ask about New Zealanders' attitude to the monarchy. "Prince William?" one said, "Is he the one with the chubby cheeks, or the one with red hair?"

After this weekend she might have less excuse for ignorance. This Sunday, William, who one day may be monarch of New Zealand, Australia and 13 other countries as well as the United Kingdom, opens a new chapter in the royals' saga on his first official overseas visit, during which he will stand in for his grandmother in opening the new supreme court building in Wellington.

That in itself is a sign of change: New Zealand's judicial decisions are no longer subject to appeal to the privy council 12,000 miles away.

New Zealand television company TVNZ is doing its best to stir up excitement. "Will Prince William revive our fervour for the royals?", its website wonders as if not entirely certain, adding hopefully: "While the older royals are a bit of a bore, it must be said that the prince is pretty hot stuff."

TVNZ is asking Prince William fans, "or anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of him", to email in; though whether its decision to screen the movie The Queen Sunday evening is entirely tactful, concerning as it does the monarchy's reaction to the death of Princess Diana, William's mother, is less clear.

The prince's five-day trip will take him from Auckland to Wellington then, unofficially, to Sydney and Melbourne. For the royal family it will be a test of how the 27-year-old prince performs and a key to his future marketing skills as he trips from one event to another: meeting the All Blacks here, touring a hospital there; greeting Australian troops fresh from service in Afghanistan and survivors of last February's disastrous bush fires; enjoying a barbecue with the New Zealand prime minister and lunch with Australia's governor general.

In the words of Major Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, his private secretary, it is "an instance of Her Majesty seeing an opportunity for her grandson to learn the ropes".

Just as important, he is not his father. Prince Charles is not widely esteemed in either country, seen as too stuffy, too English, too rotten to Diana and too critical of the environmental cost of agricultural exports to Britain.

So William provides a chance for the monarchy to redefine itself in a more youthful fashion in countries where the trend towards republicanism has been stronger than anywhere else in the Commonwealth.

The moment could be propitious because the debate in both countries has stalled. In 1999 Australians voted by a narrow margin not to abandon the monarchy, but then last month the conservative opposition party replaced its pro-republican leader Malcolm Turnbull with Tony Abbott, a man who says he will always be a monarchist.

The Melbourne Age recently bemoaned: "It's highly likely that after the Queen's death the Australian ethos of the 'fair go' will probably deliver the next monarch."

New Zealand is unlikely to move before Australia. The former New Zealand prime minister Jim Bolger, himself a committed republican, told the Guardian: "The prince will be very welcome – no drama whatsoever. The future of the monarchy is a pretty low-level priority. It's just a matter of time and generational change."

That infuriates committed republican campaigners. Lewis Holden, an Auckland IT consultant who chairs the New Zealand movement, said: "The royal family come over here every five years and the premise that they are essential to the functioning of the state is nonsense. We have had a working government since 1853 and it is a stretch to say that the monarchy had much to do with creating it."

Across the Tasman Sea, General Mike Keating, chair of the Australian republican movement, said: "William's having a two-day familiarisation visit here, tacked on to going to New Zealand. Give me a break – what's he going to learn about a country of 5 million square miles in that time? Here's someone who's not been here since he was a baby, who could one day be our head of state. How can he possibly empathise or understand? It sounds to me like he's another 27-year-old having a holiday with his mates."

But the pro-monarchists feel they are on a roll. "I think there is a positive virtue in having a head of state 12,000 miles away," said Noel Cox, professor of constitutional law at Auckland University of Technology and chairman of Monarchy New Zealand. "It means we don't have to worry about them and we effectively have a crowned republic already."

Thomas Flynn, Abbott's successor as executive director of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, said: "They can come here as often as they like. People say Australians don't like Prince Charles and wouldn't like Camilla, but if they got to know her, I think they'd change their mind - she likes a drink and a smoke, so I think she's very Australian in character."

William may be spared the attentions of Sam Bracanov. The octogenarian Croatian immigrant who once sprayed Charles with air freshener " ... to get rid of the stench of royalty", has turned to spraying local politicians instead. The last time the Queen came, the authorities made a deal with him: the police would supply him with an aerosol can providing he only used it after she had passed.

For now that just leaves the 800 members of the NZ republican movement emailing TVNZ to say no, they don't want to see the prince.


Stephen Bates in Auckland

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Prince William New Zealand visit 'not political'
Royal officials deny prince's first official overseas tour means he is supplanting his father in the succession

Stephen Bates

14, Dec, 2009 @2:42 PM

Article image
Prince William tours Christchurch earthquake damage
Prince describes quake aftermath as unbelievable during tour of New Zealand and Australian disaster areas

Toby Manhire in Auckland

17, Mar, 2011 @1:35 PM

Article image
Prince George to travel with parents on royal tour of Australia and New Zealand
Family will travel by scheduled flight and George will be looked after by a nanny while duke and duchess make day trips

Caroline Davies

02, Mar, 2014 @6:00 PM

Article image
Prince William arrives in Auckland for official visit to New Zealand
Prince given warm welcome by All Blacks rugby team and allowed to take the wheel of America's Cup yacht

Stephen Bates in Auckland

17, Jan, 2010 @12:06 PM

Article image
Prince William meets shy Kiwi on New Zealand visit
Heir to throne visits Kapiti Island reserve and officially opens new supreme court in Wellington

Stephen Bates in Wellington

18, Jan, 2010 @7:30 AM

Article image
Prince William in New Zealand and Australia

Prince William's first official overseas visit sees him take in New Zealand and Australia on a whistlestop tour

19, Jan, 2010 @1:09 PM

Article image
William and Kate 'very relaxed' about unauthorised pictures

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sidestep row over photos taken during break from official engagements on antipodean tour

James Meikle

21, Apr, 2014 @3:16 PM

Article image
Royal tour: William and Kate visit the Royal Easter show in Sydney

Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge watch sheep shearing demonstration while locals hope for ribbons for their cattle

David Marr in Sydney and Caroline Davies

18, Apr, 2014 @1:52 PM

Article image
Prince William in Paris on first official visit since mother Diana's death
British royal couple begin visit to French capital in European tour to strengthen ties as Brexit looms

Kim Willsher in Paris

17, Mar, 2017 @5:30 PM

Article image
Prince William urged to help improve Aboriginal lives
Elders at community centre in Sydney present royal with petition calling for monarch's intervention to boost living conditions

Stephen Bates in Sydney

19, Jan, 2010 @1:53 PM