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John Key reflects on knighthood, legacy

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 4/06/2017 Boris Jancic

Although he says parts of his legacy are still to be decided, former prime minister John Key was never going to turn down a knighthood.

Famously casual Mr Key, or rather Sir John, has been handed the particularly formal title of Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year's Queen's Birthday honours.

It comes just half a year after his shock resignation, the government he led for three terms still facing many of the same issues as it heads into its first election without him.

Sir John tells NZ Newswire while he's proud of his achievements as prime minister - particularly following the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes - there is an element of inevitably to the process.

"I was myself a little surprised it happened at the time it did," he says.

"I was not surprised in the sense that at some point an honour came my way, only because if you're blunt and honest about it, every prime minister has received some sort of honour. You'd be a little disingenuous if you didn't think it was a possibility."

And while Helen Clark and Jim Bolger - both republicans - turned down titles while still being made members of the order, Sir John was the prime minister who brought back knighthoods in 2009.

"It would be really odd to be the person who brought back titular honours to New Zealand not to take one," he said.

"I believe in this system."

His successor, Bill English, didn't leave much him choice either.

"Bill rang me and it turned out I was on a golf course overseas somewhere. He said: 'You're getting a knighthood, so make sure you take it'."

Describing the honour as humbling, Sir John is quick to say he believes it's not just about him.

"I look at it and think the fact I was able to be prime minister for a long period of time was because I had such a remarkable cabinet and caucus and because millions of New Zealanders chose to support the government I led. So I hope those people can share in the accolade."

In some ways, he's more proud of what it means for wife Bronagh.

"She really made an enormous sacrifice and a big contribution. It was 15 years in politics but a decade of being on her own, having to deal with all those things and raise two kids," he says.

"So, to me, the thing I really like about the honour is not the thing that happens for me, but in her own way she's Lady Bronagh and she's been a great ambassador for New Zealand."

Will he be using the title?

"For eight years as prime minister people used to come up to me and call me John ... and I don't think that'll change," he says.

"Some people may call me slightly worse names, but most people will call me John."

And while Sir John says he's still doing what he can for National, he's enjoying being out of the spotlight and filling his time with a portfolio of commercial ventures.

"It's been nice ... reflecting on what was a remarkable period of my life and feeling as though hopefully I made a difference to New Zealand ... but I'm not missing being prime minister."


* Sir Geoffrey Palmer (1989-1990) - appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George in 1991

* Mike Moore (1990) - Made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 1999

* Jim Bolger (1990-1997) - appointed a Member of Order of New Zealand (the country's highest honour) in 1997, but as a well-known republican declined a knighthood

* Dame Jenny Shipley (1997-1999) - made a Dame Companion in 2009, after titular honours were restored by the National government

* Helen Clark (1999-2008) - a Member of Order of New Zealand since 2009. Her government axed the awarding of titles in 2000.

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