Admired Helen Clark can hold her head high

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, John Armstrong

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has won the Kiwi vote, gaining the title of Greatest Living New Zealander.

In a close race against Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata, Helen Clark edged out in front with 3163 votes - 25 per cent of the overall vote - while Corporal Apiata gained 21 per cent, with 2645 votes.

See the final results here

Helen Clark said the win was "a nice way to start the year", but was quick to deflect her success, acknowledging other worthy New Zealanders and rival Willie Apiata.

"I guess it's quite a hard ask asking who is the greatest living New Zealander - Sir Ed's gone and undoubtedly would have won any such poll conducted in his time." She said Willie Apiata's rating reflected people seeing the award of a Victoria Cross as something quite extraordinary.

"Full marks to Willie. He is a remarkable man," she said.

Asked whether the title of greatest living New Zealander offered some solace for November's election defeat, she laughed. "As I said, I went with my head held high and that's the way you would like to be remembered."

Since Sir Edmund Hillary's death last year, talk about who might be the country's greatest living individual has wafted through the country.

A total of 12,665 Kiwis responded to the Herald's online poll, which has been running since mid-January.

Among the favourites for the title were All Black great Colin Meads, 1021 votes; Mad Butcher Peter Leitch, 514 votes; The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall, 387 votes; and Louise Nicholas with 361 votes.

Debate also raged after former National party leader Don Brash put in a nomination for Act MP Sir Roger Douglas for his work in transforming the country's economy in the 1980s.

Asked what she thought of Mr Brash's attempt to nominate Sir Roger Douglas for the title, Helen Clark said she would give the suggestion "the charity of my silence".

Corporal Apiata said he was honoured to be listed alongside some of the country's most respected individuals. He congratulated Helen Clark on her win.

"She is a truly inspirational New Zealander and thoroughly deserves this recognition."

Prime Minister John Key said he was not surprised his predecessor had topped the poll: "She has been front and centre stage in the public eye for the last decade. ... She is well thought of as a New Zealand Prime Minister."

Greatest Living New Zealander - Top five nominees:

* Helen Clark - 3163 votes
* Willie Apiata - 2645 votes
* Sir Murray Halberg - 1467 votes
* Peter Jackson - 1340 votes
* Peter Snell - 1041 votes

- additional reporting by John Armstrong

- NZ Herald

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