Royals’ NZ arrival
Alison Mau: Give Meghan trackies and a lie-down.
New Zealand’s Invictus Games team is due home today with a gold, a bronze, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle attended the closing ceremony last night along with Invictus Games Sydney 2018 ambassador David Beckham.
The royal couple will touch down in Wellington with the team of wounded, injured and ill, active and veteran servicemen after sharing a Royal NZ Air Force flight from Sydney. The trip is part of the royal couple’s first international tour together.
They’ve spent time in Australia, Fiji and Tonga but the couple’s bout of beautiful weather looks set to end when they arrive in wet and cloudy Wellington, before making their way around several official engagements.
A welcome ceremony at Government House with a powhiri, hongi and haka will be followed by a visit to the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, and a call from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National leader Simon Bridges. On Sunday evening a reception will also celebrate 125 years of suffrage.
Napier mum Kerri Burgess will be making the four-hour drive south early today in a bid to glimpse the royal couple with daughters Charlotte and Amelia. ‘‘They’re just the cutest, to get a handshake would just be amazing,’’ she said. The family planned to stay overnight – Burgess reckoned the chance to meet Prince Harry and Meghan was worth missing a day of school.
Meanwhile, the Air Force flight will not be archer and navy serviceman Ihaka Matairangi’s first time meeting the prince – they have a photo together from last year’s games in Toronto, where Matairangi won bronze.
The 35-year-old, from Auckland, remembered Harry as ‘‘the most humble guy’’ and well versed in the art of the hongi.
However, this is not why Matairangi said he thinks the world of the man: he is grateful to the prince for founding the Invictus Games and the awareness the event raises for the physical and mental health struggles of servicemen, past and present.
‘‘I hope that people who are in isolation, former servicemen and women, who maybe aren’t aware of who have lost contact with the defence force – hopefully hearing about [the Invictus Games] will start opening doors for them like it did for me,’’ he said.
Matairangi enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Navy in 2002. In 2007, he was diagnosed with lung and testicular cancer. ‘‘The tumour in my left lung got so large it pushed my heart to the other side of my chest,’’ he said.
Down one testicle and half a left lung, Matairangi was in remission seven months after his diagnosis. But it took a long time before he was able to meet the minimal fitness requirements to be back out at sea, so he spent years tethered to an office job with the navy – which knocked his confidence.
Matairangi said the Invictus Games helped give him the focus he needed to train, and that he’s noticed an improvement in his mental health by honing his fitness. The games let him rediscover himself and start ‘‘turning negatives into positives’’, he said.
A passion project of Prince Harry, the Invictus Games have been held annually since 2014.
The word ‘‘invictus’’ comes from a poem by 19th-century poet William Ernest Henley, himself an amputee, in which he thanks the gods for an ‘‘unconquerable soul’’.
Five hundred competitors from 18 nations took part in this year’s games, competing in 11 adaptive sports, including wheelchair rugby.
New Zealand’s Craig Wilson, a former SAS soldier, won gold in the men’s 1500m and ex-infantry soldier Nu Filo won bronze in the men’s shot put.
Ihaka Matairangi, far left, with Prince Harry and, far right, Willie Apiata VC.