For a man who confesses he finds it hard to keep a secret, Father Des Britten has done well to keep his new knighthood under wraps.

The retired Wellington city missioner was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Years Honours for services to the community, after stepping down from the Wellington City Mission's top role in July after 18 years' service.

Sir Des said he was "speechless" when he got the news.

"I have known for a little while and I'm not a secretive person - I find secrets hard to keep. But I've managed to keep this one under my belt."


The mission, which provides services to people from all walks of life who are in need, had nine staff when Sir Des took over in 1994.

Since then it has grown to almost 40 staff, and now provides support for people of all ages, from children to the elderly.

Sir Des was previously the Anglican vicar of St Barnabas Church in Roseneath, and before that ran the renowned Wellington restaurant The Coachman for 28 years.

A passionate chef, he hosted two television cookery shows in the 1970s and wrote a number of cookbooks, earning him a place in the New Zealand Chefs Hall of Fame.

His work with the mission dates back to his days as a restaurateur, when he would bring in meals on the weekends "to keep it open and to keep them warm and fed".

"It used to come from the restaurant, and I can assure you it wasn't all the leftovers thrown in and boiled up in a pot. They were fed French vichyssoise, which was on the menu, or French onion soup, which used to take us hours to make."

Sir Des said he was most proud of bringing structured programmes to the mission, which had turned it into a "real force for good" in Wellington.

"If you don't do that you will be forever giving them money and giving them food parcels, so I'm very proud of the fact that the mission is very structured, and helps in everyone in society," he said.


Sir Des said he was humbled and honoured by the knighthood.

"I keep saying I'm only a little old country bumpkin from Otane in Hawkes Bay ... but I feel really great not only for myself, but for my family and for my dear wife. So I take it with great respect and will guard it jealously."

As for the title Sir Des?

"It all sounds a bit strange, and I think I'll just be plain old Des as much as I can be."

Jokes aside, what Sir Des believes is most important is to always think of others.

"We've just got to keep focused and think of others, because if we don't it's going to be a very sad world in which we live."