Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Kiwis honoured at investiture ceremony

Eleanor Catton after receiving the NZ Order of Merit at the investiture ceremony. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Eleanor Catton after receiving the NZ Order of Merit at the investiture ceremony. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Novelist Eleanor Catton is thrilled to be honoured for her services to literature - but doubts she'll wear her new medal to many parties.

Catton was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit at an investiture ceremony at Government House in Wellington today.

Last year, the 28-year-old became the youngest-ever author to win the Man Booker Prize for her second novel, The Luminaries.

She still felt her youth at today's ceremony - but she also felt thrilled and "like a proud New Zealander".

"It feels quite extraordinary, actually. I think it's because it's usually something that's bestowed on somebody at a later stage in their life, so I feel like it doesn't quite suit me yet - I'm going to have to sit on it for about 10 years."

Catton said today's ceremony was far more enjoyable than the "nerve-racking" Booker Prize ceremony, when she didn't know if she was going to win.

The theme of service had really hit home, she said.

"I hadn't really thought about that before - that writing a book is a kind of a service that you're doing for your country."

Catton and her family were "very excited" when they found out the investiture honour came with a medal - but don't expect to see her wearing it in public anytime soon.

"It comes in a little box so maybe we can put it on the wall somewhere. I don't know if I go to very many parties where it's appropriate to wear a medal."

Catton hoped the honour would encourage her students at the Manukau Institute of Technology, where she lectures part-time in creative writing.

"I think that inspiration's a tricky thing because you can never quite put a box around it, but I would hope that it would encourage them to aim high."

Catton was supported today by her parents, her partner, and her brother and his partner. They planned to go out for a family dinner at Wellington's Logan Brown restaurant.

Next on her schedule is a month-long book tour, but she won't be getting started on a follow-up to The Luminaries just yet.

"No, gosh no - not for a while."

Among those who congratulated Catton after the ceremony was former Christchurch mayor Sir Bob Parker, who was knighted today by Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

Sir Bob said it was an "extraordinary honour" to be made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit - but insisted he was just one of the many people who pitched in after the earthquakes.

"To receive an award like this is unexpected, it's very special, it's greatly treasured, it's muchly appreciated.

"But I'm fiercely aware of the fact that there were tens of thousands of people in those really difficult days who did extraordinary things ... I don't feel I'm any different to anybody else, and I accept this honour in part because I think it's recognition for all of us in a way."

Sir Jerry had told him, as he was pinning on the medal, that Sir Bob's wife Jo also deserved recognition.

"I absolutely agree, so it's with great pleasure that I have Lady Parker to accompany me now."

Sir Bob was also accompanied by his mother and his three sons but, sadly, his father passed away around New Year. "So it would have been great to have had him here."

Sir Bob said the new title felt a bit unusual, but it was one he was proud of.

To his friends, however, he would still be mate or Bob. "Or even some things a lot worse than that."

Meanwhile, award-winning television host Phil Keoghan has credited his hard-working West Coast grandparents for his achievements.

Keoghan, 46, received his New Zealand Order of Merit insignia at the investiture ceremony at Government House in Wellington today.

"My first thought went to my grandparents. It was like a thank you to them for giving me the opportunities.

The Santa Monica-based host of the Amazing Race donned a navy Prada suit and blue tie for the occasion. He has won nine Emmys as host and producer of the show, and is also an ambassador for multiple sclerosis. Today he was formally recognised for services as a television presenter and to tourism.

"My parents came up from Christchurch and my in-laws came over from Sydney so that was wonderful because we all got together as a family last night," he said.

Keoghan, who grew up in Lincoln, said he had strong memories of the time he spent with his grandparents in Westport.

"My grandfather didn't get a chance to go school, and he became a mechanic.

"My other grandfather was a carpenter and my grandmother wasn't allowed to go to college [university] because she was a girl.

"In a way, it was kind of like a way to reflect on the opportunities I have as a result of my grandparents creating opportunities for my parents."

Before today's ceremony, Keoghan had been in Sydney for the filming of a documentary about Harry Watson - the first New Zealander to ride in the Tour de France.

He is due to fly to Auckland tomorrow then onto Los Angeles.

A total of 130 people will receive honours at six ceremonies in Wellington this week.

- APNZ

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