Royal no-show disappoints Key

By Claire Trevett, Keith Perry

Opposition leader John Key said it was "disappointing" no members of the British royal family would be attending Sir Edmund Hillary's funeral next week, as public anger grew over what some are seeing as a snub to one of the country's greatest sons.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman announced that the Queen would not be attending and would be represented by Governor-General Anand Satyanand at the funeral on Tuesday.

The family has been offered instead a private service at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

The palace has spent a week deciding what action to take and until yesterday repeated calls from journalists were answered with the reply that the matter was still being considered.

The only public statement to come from Buckingham Palace since Sir Edmund Hillary's death was a comment that the Queen was "very saddened" by the news. She also sent a personal message of condolence to Lady June Hillary and her family.

Prince Charles is unavailable for the funeral because he will be in Yorkshire as patron of the Mutton Renaissance Campaign meeting farmers, chefs and business leaders.

The Princess Royal is attending a dinner as patron of the London Youth Trust.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said she did not regard the royal no-show as a snub.

She said the Queen had offered a "rare honour" to mark her special association with Sir Ed - a private service at St George's Chapel, Windsor.

The service at St George's Chapel that had been offered to Lady Hillary was much larger than the private ceremony routinely held when a Knight of the Garter passed away.

"Clearly the Queen in her early 80s is not in a position to travel at short notice as far as New Zealand but what she has done is something very, very special and unique," Helen Clark said.

"These exceptional arrangements reflect the personal and historic associations of the Queen with Sir Edmund since the beginning of her reign."

When one of the Queen's Knights of the Order of the Garter dies, the tradition is for the knight's banner to be presented to the family at a regular Evensong service at St George's. This happened in 1984 after the death of former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake, who was also a Knight of the Garter.

Helen Clark said the service would allow New Zealanders in London to take part, as well as Sir Ed's close family. She said she suspected the British Government would be represented but details of who would attend were yet to be settled.

Mr Key said it was disappointing not to have a member of the royal family attend, but he understood the difficulties in adjusting schedules.

"It is a little disappointing, given the historic links and because he was a truly remarkable New Zealander.

"But I know the Queen has personally written to Lady Hillary and the memorial service is a fitting farewell to a fine New Zealander."

Sir Edmund was one of only 24 Knights of the Garter appointed by the Queen and his success as the first man to step on the summit of Mt Everest was proclaimed on the morning of the coronation in 1953.

The Everest expedition was a British one, and Sir Edmund's success was claimed as a triumph for Britain.

The chairman of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, Lewis Holden, said his movement was disappointed no one from the royal family was attending Sir Edmund's state funeral.

"Since Sir Edmund Hillary was personally awarded Knight of the Garter by the Queen, this decision is very disappointing. This national day of mourning is the sort of occasion where the presence of New Zealand's head of state would be appropriate. The absence of the royal family shows plainly they are not able to do the job for New Zealand."

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