Patrick Gower on the royals: Why he thinks it’s time New Zealand became a republic

Publish Date
Tuesday, 14 November 2023, 9:41AM
Patrick Gower: On The Royals. Photo / Warner Brothers Discovery

Patrick Gower: On The Royals. Photo / Warner Brothers Discovery

Patrick Gower thinks it’s time New Zealand became a republic.

It’s been just over a year since Queen Elizabeth II’s death left the world in mourning - and raised questions over Aotearoa’s future with the monarchy. Those questions have dwindled in the months since then, as we saw King Charles III crowned and the monarchy entering a new era.

Now, the Newshub journalist and host of Paddy Gower Has Issues is taking on the republic question in a new documentary, Patrick Gower: On The Royals, set to screen on Three tonight.

The subject matter is in quite a different realm from his previous documentaries on drug use and other social issues - so what made him want to take on the royals?

“We always said that after the Queen died, we would have a ‘conversation’ about becoming a republic,” he told the Herald. “To be honest, it’s been pretty bloody quiet. Too quiet for my liking.”

When he first set out to make the documentary, he “really didn’t mind” how that conversation went, but then he started thinking about “how I was the ‘subject’ of a king or queen”.

“Honestly, once that crystallised, it made me cringe,” he reveals.

Sign up to Coast's newsletter for exclusive prizes and to keep up to date with the latest.

Now he believes “New Zealanders need to believe in ourselves and paddle our own waka. We can still be proud of our history, but our future is as a republic”.

“I am a proud Kiwi - I am not anybody’s ‘subject’.”

Gower admits there’s something about the spectacle of the royal family that thrills us even from afar, recalling the “phenomenal” experience he had covering the Queen’s funeral last year.

“It was inspiring to see what I call the ‘magic of the monarchy’ in the United Kingdom - so much history and meaning. But it is their history and their meaning,” he says.

Even in New Zealand, it’s that “magic” that appeals to so many die-hard royal fans who follow their every move, collect every commemorative teacup and can remember tuning in to every royal wedding. Some of us can trace our family history back to the UK and feel connected to it, even if we’ve never travelled there.

Gower gets it. “I can see why people like the royals - history, glamour, gossip, the circus,” he says.

“That’s cool. It’s fine to like the royals. Personally, I prefer to follow Taylor Swift. I like her music, and I like her new boyfriend, Travis Kelce. But I don’t want Taylor Swift to be the symbolic head of New Zealand. I just want her to come and do a concert here.”

And while a number of Kiwis may have felt attached to the Queen for sentimental reasons, Gower says the relationship with Charles just isn’t the same.

“It’s hard to see how Kiwis gauge him because we’ve had nothing to do with him,” he says. “Since he’s been crowned, he still hasn’t visited here yet; he’s said about two sentences about us.”

He notes that he couldn’t get anywhere near Charles himself to chat to him for the doco, adding that he “tried quite hard” - and not even Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, his representative in Aotearoa, wanted to be interviewed.

“The royals don’t seem to want to talk about what New Zealand means to the royals.”

What do our politicians think? Former Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern believes New Zealand will become a republic in her lifetime. Her successor, outgoing Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, has said he thinks it will happen “eventually”, while incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has said he doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon.

Gower’s estimate is not so conservative. He thinks we could become a republic within the next 10 years.

“You’re either a Republican or you’re not, in my view,” he says.

“I think politicians who don’t have the courage of their convictions are just scared of pushing New Zealand forward and of having a vision.”

Gower asks whether it's time to cut ties with King Charles and become a republic. Photo / AP

The republic debate raises even more questions for New Zealanders, particularly Māori, whose relationship with the Crown has at times been a complicated one. What happens to the Treaty of Waitangi if we become a republic?

Gower doesn’t shy away from exploring this in the doco and notes that Aotearoa could keep the Treaty as its foundational document even if we were to become a republic.

“I believe the Treaty would become even more special ... it would be a matter of changing the law to say anything to do with the ‘Crown’ becomes ‘the New Zealand Government’,” he explains.

And when the documentary screens in Kiwis’ homes tomorrow, Gower hopes it gets them thinking about the republic question again.

“Do we keep the royals, or do we move on? If we decide to keep them, all good. But I reckon if we talked properly, Kiwis would want them to go.”

And on Gower’s part, he thinks it’s time we pulled a Meghan and Harry and started talking about “Kiwixit” - moving on from the royals for good.

“There is no royal ‘we’ anymore,” he says. “It is the Kiwi ‘me’ and the royal ‘them’.”

Patrick Gower: On The Royals screens on Three at 7:30pm, Tuesday, November 14.

This article was first published by the NZ Herald by Bethany Reitsman and is republished here with permission.

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you