Royal etiquette relaxes for PM

By Claire Trevett

Royal etiquette in Tonga demands many things - among them, standing for photos to be taken in a nonchalant pose with your visitors and pretending the cameras aren't there. No questions are to be asked and no interaction had.

Somebody forgot to tell John Key and Poobah.

The King had released the royal "corgis" for the occasion - Poobah - a low-slung, rotund beast of black fur and indeterminate breeding and Estelle, a wire-haired Jack Russell, who did at least have the colouring of a corgi.

While Mr Key stood beside Tonga's King George Tupou V on the lawn for photos after their first meeting, Estelle bounded about leaping on both the reporters and the dignitaries pretending they weren't having their photos taken.

Poobah concentrated on hustling Estelle away before grovelling for pats for himself.

The King observed to Mr Key that Poobah - presumably named after his rather haughty namesake in the Mikado - has quite a reputation - "he's damaged five SUVs".

At this, Mr Key quite forgot he is supposed to be pretending the reporters aren't there and hollers to them "don't get run over by Poobah!"

While democratic change is afoot in Tonga, Mr Key's first meeting with the King showed that tradition remains strong.

Royal etiquette had also left several women among the New Zealand journalistic contingent to peer over the boundary wall of Consular House at the goings on, after discovering too late that women wearing trousers could not enter the grounds.

All other journalists were told to stay five metres away from the King, and to refrain from talking to him.

Other quirks abounded - the King turned to Maori Affairs minister Pita Sharples as Mr Key prepared to talk to the journalists, issuing an invitation to join him "for a glass of champagne".

But Poobah's reluctance to abide by any royal etiquette showed the King at least had a sense of humour.

Mr Key was certainly most amused, declaring the King to be a "a thoroughly entertaining and quite charming fellow".

Of the incident of the trousered women, Mr Key took a diplomatic stance, noting it was a deeply conservative country and the wardrobe etiquette was signalled well enough in advance to have given his wife Bronagh - accompanying him on the trip - some anxious moments.

"Each country has its own standards, There needs to be an acknowledgement that Tonga is a very religious and quite conservative country.

"Yes, it is evolving and coming of age in the way we might see things but it wouldn't be for New Zealand to dictate what is appropriate attire or standards in other countries."

Progress being made elsewhere - including the King's determination to pass the constitutional and electoral changes that will dilute his own powers - also impressed Mr Key, and so he finished with some with some wardrobe advice of his own:

"I think you've got to take your hat off to the King."

- NZ Herald

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