Simon William English

Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the state

Former Prime Minister Bill English was checkmated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in 2017 but today he was knighted by her Government in recognition of his three decades in office.

After being appointed a Knight Companion of the Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours, he will use the title Sir William on formal occasions.

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However he hoped most people will stick to calling him plain old Bill.

His wife Mary will take the title of Lady and English said that recognition of a spouse was a good thing about the honour.

"For Mary, who's been in public life really for almost 30 years its great to see recognition of her strength and resilience for all those years and keeping our family anchored so that when we've come out of politics we are all here and together."

He hoped his children would also see it as recognition.

"I hope they take some pleasure in it because they've been part of a household that has been very committed to political life and that political life has had quite an impact on the household.

"Some of that has been great for the kids, they've had exposure to a lot of different people and ideas. Some has been pretty demanding at times."


Former Prime Ministers are usually acknowledged with a high honour and today's appointment means he and former PM Sir John Key now both have knighthoods.

English's knighthood is in the first tranche of honours decided by the Labour coalition Government.

The New Years' Honours list was largely already in place by the time Labour came into power.

English's National Party polled higher than Labour in the 2017 election but NZ First opted to put Labour into Government.

English laughs when asked if he was surprised to be knighted so soon after that election and given the appointment coincided with Labour's characterisation of English's reign as "nine years of neglect" in its sales pitch for the Budget.

He said governments tended to focus on contributions rather than political colours when it came to the honours system.

Sir William English says he is happy his wife, Lady Mary, has been recognised with the honour. Photo / Marty Melville
Sir William English says he is happy his wife, Lady Mary, has been recognised with the honour. Photo / Marty Melville

"I suppose I was a bit surprised. But nonetheless the honour is a bit bigger than politics and particularly important for those around me like Mary, my family, the people down south that I represented, those I worked with closely in politics."

His official citation gives him credit for nursing New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis in a better condition than most other countries.

English was Prime Minister from December 2016 until the election and Finance Minister for the first eight years of the last National Government.

Key's knighthood is higher in status than English's and Key will undoubtedly remind English of that regularly.

Key is a Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

"It's great to feel this team we were in which he led contributed enough that it's seen more broadly as positive for New Zealand a real contribution," English said.

Lady Mary said it was nice to be recognised alongside English.

"When I got married I certainly didn't realise I was marrying into long-term public service at the time and I think this is a nice full-stop at the end of that."

Since leaving office, English has got involved in directorships and advisory work for business.

"I'm really enjoying that. It's quite different from what I was involved with in politics.

"You always know political life is going to end. So I think it hasn't really been too big a transition or shock to move into a life that was always there, it just wasn't that obvious before."

English had not quite closed the door on his work of the past three decades, saying he still wanted to work on ideas such as social investment – the use of data to identify at-risk people for support.

That was the one area English had pleaded the new Government to stick with in his valedictory speech, but Labour signalled a different approach.

"There's interest outside New Zealand in those ideas."

He was enjoying driving himself around in a sensible Toyota.

He was also enjoying life without a permanent security escort, although he and Mary did concede they had their uses when it came to getting through crowded areas and it could be entertaining trying to lose them.