Our best friends Prince Harry and his gestating wife, the Duchess of Sussex, shot through New Zealand this week in the third car of their seven-car convoy, the silver BMW marked with a little Union Jack stuck on an antennae, travelling south, travelling north, always on the go, 19 engagements in four days, he weighed down with pomp and ceremonial cloaks, she weighed down with baby, and they absolutely, comprehensively smashed it. They charmed. They wowed. They said nothing of interest but they said it so very winningly. Royalty is forever being built to last; the tour of 2018 secured the palace gates and tied a bow on it.
To traipse after Mr and Mrs Mountbatten-Windsor since they arrived last Sunday was at once a mindless exercise and the chance to witness that rarest of things in New Zealand public life – happiness. We reserve it for special and essentially childish occasions. The royal tour as the A & P show, as the Santa parade, as Halloween. Actually, I went to see Halloween in Wellington on Monday afternoon, during a gap in royal engagements and came out of Reading Cinema on Courtenay Place with the distinct feeling that the world was meaningless and awful. I think I must have watched the film as a metaphor for our ordinary, everyday lives, where the struggle to survive is paramount, and it's always dark. The royal family exists as an escape. They mean no harm and move in light. Harry and Meghan came in springtime, glowing.
It was the baby on board tour, the holding hands tour, the Karen Walker jacket tour – it was the Meghan Markle tour. Shirley Hamilton, 69, who recently had a stroke but was back on her feet to join the crowds at the royal walkabout in Rotorua's Government Gardens on Wednesday, said: "She's the bomb." Hannah Brooking, 16, set eyes on the Duchess on Sunday, at Wellington's war memorial, and whispered: "Oh my God." And then, louder: "Oh my God." And then, screeching: "OH MY GOD I SAW HER I SAW HER I SAW HER!!!" From lower case to full caps in approximately 0.3 of a second, inspired by the distant sighting of a 37-year-old retired American actress.
Research shows that 19 people in New Zealand actually watched Suits, the Netflix series that Markle starred in from 2011 to 2017. Her great fame is due to her brilliant, luminous performance as the lead bride in last year's royal wedding production when she married Prince Whatshisface.
Harry played second fiddle on the royal tour but he seemed like a good egg. He had a lovely smile. He's just what the royals need right now: his older brother has turned into a bald coot and full-time bore, forced to sit next to Sir Peter Jackson and suffer his movies, a toothy dad stuffed with dad jokes. Harry was visible from miles away with his copper top, and there was something touchingly, explicitly vulnerable about him: the boy who lost his mother.
"I'm glad he's found a woman who can stand by his side," said Kam Mellars, 62, when we stood among a crowd of about 500 at Wellington airport to catch a five-second glimpse of Harry and Meghan walk from the plane into Jacinda Ardern's arms. A crowd of about 300 waited for 45 minutes outside Rotorua's Novotel Hotel on Wednesday to catch a three-second glimpse of Harry and Meghan walk from the front door to their car; I stood next to Chimmyma Kiriona, 46, who had driven from Tauranga with her mum, Janie, to see the royals, and she said, "He's got a lot of Diana in him."
We care for the royals. Will New Zealand ever want to tear itself away, and become a republic? Right now the chances range from approximately zero to minus zero. What's not to like about Harry and Meghan? They smiled and waved, smiled and waved, smiled and waved, and listened carefully in meaningful conversations about mental health. They survived a spot of rain. They survived the Taumarunui earthquake on account of the fact they weren't anywhere near it. They survived the sternest test of all, engagement 3, scheduled from 1845 to 1905 on Sunday at Government House, where they had to meet Simon Bridges.
All else was flowers and Burger King cardboard crowns, balloons and Union Jacks brought to you by The Breeze. Hilary Barry from Seven Sharp covered the tour, and wore pink; Melissa Davies from Newshub covered the tour, and wore magenta. The royals probably didn't notice the one, minor protest, in Wellington, where a banner advised against the war in Afghanistan. It was held at either end by Ivan Andrew, 25, and Jasper Auld, 26, who stood on a wall. They speedily clambered off when I asked for a few words. Ivan made a passionate speech about the need for Prince Harry to issue a public apology which acknowledged that the British Empire "invaded over half the world, killing and disrupting the lives of millions of people!"
He raised his hand to emphasise his point, and Jasper said to him, "Hey, how did you get that nasty cut?"
Ivan studied the side of his hand. "I got it caught in a door," he said.
I left them to it. What does it say that a man with his hand stuck in a door represents the only feeble rip in the social fabric that holds the monarchy and the status quo in place? Have we lost an edge? When did we become so docile, so unquestioning? Was it all those long, brain-dead years of the Key regime, nine years hypnotised by Key's smile and wave, smile and wave, smile and wave?
It felt more like ancient forces were at work. New Zealand always finds a deep, profound comfort in itself as a benign, conservative island nation still operating on 1953 time, when Hillary knocked the bastard off and the young Queen and her cohort made their epic royal visit, travelling to 46 towns over Christmas and New Year. It was a summer of love. We revisit it with every royal tour. Harry and Meghan, the newlyweds, expecting their first child – the royal visit of 2018 returned us to the British Empire's warm, needy embrace.