Few diplomats make history in the country they are in, but British High Commissioner Laura Clarke has done just that. After almost two years in New Zealand, Clarke talks to senior writer Claire Trevett about her background, Brexit, rugby, that expression of regret, and her summer balls.
It is not often a diplomat is moved to tears in public.
It is also not often that a diplomat makes history for the country they are posted to.
As British High Commissioner Laura Clarke wiped the tears off her face as she stood before the people of Ngāti Oneone earlier this month, she was doing just that.
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Clarke will go down in history for arranging and delivering the expression of regret to three iwi for the deaths of Māori at the hands of the crew of the Endeavour on the first landings by Captain Cook around Gisborne.
It was officially delivered on behalf of the British Government, but Clarke's emotional response showed it was also personal.
Her tears made headlines back in the UK.
Clarke makes no apologies for them.
It was Clarke who drove that to reality, persuading the British Government to sign off on it.
"It meant a lot, actually. In lots of our work, you are very focused on doing your best, but accepting you won't always be able to deliver on it.
For me it was important, at a very human, emotional level, of responding to that need of the iwi to have that story heard and acknowledged, to have that pain acknowledged.
And when we were there, it was a very emotional thing."
Her husband Toby Fisher and her three children stood alongside her and stayed with her for the week she spent marking those landings.
She cannot think of a better way for them to have spent their school holidays.
I became a diplomat to make a difference. That’s often hard. But this week, together with Tūranga iwi & Ngāti Oneone, we did something special: acknowledging the pain of the past, so we can move forward together. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou 🙏🇬🇧🇳🇿 pic.twitter.com/CIGD373hte— Laura Clarke (@LauraClarkeUK) October 4, 2019
It was the first occasion of its kind for the British Government, and there was inevitably concern about the precedent it might set and the possibility it would trigger similar requests elsewhere.
So it was supposed to be a low-key event, heard only by the ears of those iwi and then passed on through oral histories.
There is little chance of that in a country such as New Zealand and the NZ Herald got wind of it the day before.
Clarke is also involved in work to secure iwi better access to taonga which was held in overseas museums and collections, and is working with the Federation of Māori Authorities to develop trade links with Māori companies.
She knows more te reo Māori than many New Zealanders do, taking on Māori language lessons and a Māori advisor.
On the whiteboard at the High Commission, the words of the most recent lesson are still on the board.
Clarke, 41, is one of the new generation diplomats, active on social media and comfortable with the press.
She is a recognisable figure around Wellington, not least because of her hair – a glorious pile of curls that led one colleague to describe her as a role model for all women with curly hair.
People had frequently suggested she straighten her hair. "And I say, 'thanks, but my life is too short to straighten my hair.'
"I once let a hair dresser straighten it for me. I looked dreadful.
I was living in Brussels and I went back to my flat, and one of my housemates stood up from the sofa and walked over and introduced himself to me.
I thought it was interesting in showing how lazy we are in what we use to identify people. So for me, it's just my hair."
[For those with curly hair, Clarke reveals she uses Tigi "Curls Rock" and a smoothing cream]
"You might find her quite posh," one person said when asked about Clarke.
Clarke ponders over this, for she is not really that posh at all.
She certainly wasn't posh on her most recent visit to the Pitcairn Islands (she is the Governor) when she was terribly seasick.
Her rural childhood sounds like something out of Enid Blyton book, replete with memories of milkshakes, swing seats and chasing chickens. But she went to state schools and did not exactly have a Downton Abbey lifestyle.
"I am from a family that maybe used to be posh. There was a branch that used to be a bit Downton Abbey, and other branches that were much more normal."
One of the posh links is a rather distant family link to New Zealand.
"My mother's cousins are descended from Lord Liverpool, the first Governor General of New Zealand. So that's some New Zealand whakapapa there. Kind of."
She has somewhat closer links than that now.
Clarke is almost half way through her four-year posting to New Zealand, a posting she pushed to get because her husband, Toby Fisher, is a New Zealander.
She first saw Fisher when they were at Cambridge University and they later met when Fisher's brother took him to Clarke's housewarming.
Fisher made the first move.
"Toby was very clear about his interest. His opening gambit, his chat-up line, was about Francis Fukuyama and The End of History.
I remember thinking "that's quite a chat-up line". It was clearly designed to show he was interested in international relations too.
"He said in retrospect that he felt that was the time he had perfected his chat-up technique. He never got to use it again."
That was in 2002. They got married four years later, Fisher proposing to her in the Bay of Islands.
Clarke was educated at Cambridge University, studying languages and international relations, and the London School of Economics.
She went into the Foreign Office after being seconded there from the Ministry of Justice. It was a role she had not even considered to begin with, assuming it was for "the boarding school boys".
"What I love about diplomacy is you've got the combination of the really big picture, strategic geo-political issues of the day .. and then the people side – making friends, building networks, building relationships."
She has apparently excelled at the latter in New Zealand.
One senior Labour MP said she has proven to be a very proactive High Commissioner.
"After Jonathan Sinclair I didn't think they could get a better High Commissioner, because he was excellent. But they did."
Sinclair was her predecessor, another young diplomat highly regarded in political circles.
National MP Nikki Kaye describes Clarke as "very bright" and "a complete professional".
She was not surprised Clarke had organised the expression of regret. "If you're going to expect a High Commissioner to make a significant difference instead of just being a diplomat, she's done it."
The Prime Minister has also been impressed.
The other landmark event of her tenure has been another history-making in the United Kingdom: Brexit.
It is now less than two weeks before the UK is supposed to leave and still uncertainty is the only certainty.
Perhaps surprisingly for a diplomat, Clarke has made no secret of her personal view that the outcome of the Brexit referendum was not what she wanted.
"Everyone had their own vote. But the important thing when you are a civil servant is you run with the government's agenda and I think the main thing now is to find a resolution and get a deal so we can start moving on."
Clarke insists New Zealand is in a good place, not only because it is one of those first in line for a free trade agreement.
"It was always an important relationship, but there is a real sense of there being an increased interest in this relationship and what we can do together."
She also points to the wider Pacific, where Britain has started ramping up its diplomatic presence, planning to open or re-open High Commissions in Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa.
She is also working with New Zealand and the Pacific on climate change as the UK prepares to host the next COP meeting next year.
There is also the "fun side" of her job.
Since arriving, Clarke has put in place some traditions of her own – some modern, some rather more traditionally British.
In the first category are annual International Women's Day events – a cocktail party and a competition for a young woman to be "High Commissioner of the Day" alongside Clarke.
In the latter category is an annual Christmas Ball. This is held at the High Commissioner's residence, a stately house in Karori.
"I'm all about starting new traditions. I wanted to do something fun, a bit of glamour, a bit of excitement. It's also about thanking all our contacts."
There is dancing and a "Gin Room", in which various British gins are provided.
She has just over two years to go in her term, and Clarke has not decided what will happen when that time is over.
A big night of rugby ahead - as well as normal sporting divisions in the Fisher-Clarke 🇳🇿🇬🇧 whānau 😬— Laura Clarke (@LauraClarkeUK) October 19, 2019
We are all planning a preemptive sleep so we can stay up as late as possible... 🏴 🇮🇪 🇳🇿 🍺 🏉 @tobyfisherlaw https://t.co/ouMt48dJJ9
In the immediate future there is some rather pressing domestic diplomacy to attend to: the varying loyalties in her household over the Rugby World Cup.
Before Clarke and Fisher married, they entered into a pre-nuptial agreement over sport.
The agreement was for Fisher, to support England in football, and for Clarke to support New Zealand in rugby.
That agreement was ripped up this year, as England and the All Blacks prepare to play in the Rugby World Cup semi-final.
"I had to renege on that when I became the British High Commissioner.
I am supporting the home nations, but my husband is very much supporting the All Blacks and I think the children are supporting the All Blacks."
This weekend she will be cheering on England and Wales.
But should the All Blacks and South Africa make the finals, she will support the All Blacks: "with bells on".