Key Points:

Aroha Ireland returned to Auckland's Wesley Intermediate this week to be mobbed by schoolmates wanting her autograph.

"Some were teasing me and kept coming up for autographs," said the 12-year-old plucked from obscurity a week ago by National Party leader John Key to attend Waitangi Day.

"They were just joking. I didn't sign anything."

The quiet Year 8 student from McGehan Close - labelled by Mr Key as a street of hopelessness - had to cope with the death of her 13-year-old cousin, living in nearby Mt Albert, in the Starship hospital on Thursday.

But last night she was still in good spirits, saying her trip to Waitangi was "all right".

The highlight was "meeting all the people". The only trouble was that she could not remember any of their names.

Although her mother, Joan Nathan, is Ngapuhi and her father is half-Tainui and half-Irish, Aroha did not understand the speeches in Maori at Waitangi's Te Tii Marae.

She has not spoken to her father since Christmas two years ago.

Ms Nathan said Aroha and her two brothers had had nothing to do with him since the bitter breakup of their 10-year relationship.

"It's taken me three years just to get full custody," she said.

Ms Nathan now has two more children, aged 18 months and 3, with another partner, but he lives in Mt Roskill.

She draws a benefit to look after all five children in a two-storey Housing New Zealand unit.

As the eldest, Aroha spends a lot of time looking after her siblings.

"She's my right-hand man," Ms Nathan said.

"She [also] plays with her friends on the street and hibernates in her room and does her own thing. It depends what tickles her fancy - she draws and she makes greeting cards."

Aroha has lived variously in Auckland and Hamilton, where her father lives. The family have been in McGehan Close for three years and she likes living there and is not afraid of the teenage gangs who frighten some of the older residents.

Unable to play sport after a bone infection last year that resulted in a six-week stay in the Starship, Aroha enjoys listening to "heaps" of music.

With 52 others in her year at Wesley Primary and now Wesley Intermediate, Aroha has had an advantage over the "underclass" in that she has been part of a charitable project called "I Have A Dream" founded by software entrepreneur Scott Gilmour.

The "Dreamers" have had after-school care and tuition since the project started in 2003.

Ms Nathan believes Aroha's Waitangi experience has been good for her.

Mr Key and local National list MP Dr Jackie Blue have phoned several times since Waitangi Day and have become Aroha's friends. "She's really missing them. To her, he [Mr Key] is just a friend."