She’s not a royalist and she isn't even a Kiwi.
But US-born Fulbright scholar and earthquake survivor Ann Brower had more of a chinwag with “Charles” today than most of us ever will.
Ms Brower was in a bus when the shattering February 22, 2011, earthquake struck. Falling debris from a building severely damaged her lower leg.
The talented scholar and violinist has made such an extraordinary comeback she is now running marathons.
Today, she was one of 20 earthquake heroes and their caregivers who met Prince Charles at the Christchurch City Council headquarters in the central city. Some were in wheelchairs.
Prime Minister John Key, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and mayor Bob Parker accompanied Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at the meeting.
Grouped in a circle
Ms Brower says the quake survivors were grouped in a circle. They had been told earlier that it was not necessary to bow or curtsey, but they could if they wished.
“He spent a lot of time with us. I got to shake his hand and I called him Charles, I didn’t curtsey or anything.
“I didn’t want to take up too much of his time. There were a lot of people more breathless than me to talk to him. He did more talking than me.
“I was happy to meet him and I don’t mean to sound ungracious or anything, but I would rather have seen some of those people walk than meet a celebrity.
“He’s very empathetic – quite the charming gentleman. The ladies were all smiling.
“He wanted to know about their experiences and said how horrible it must have been.
“He also asked me about my handbag [a leather handbag in the shape of a watering can].
“At one stage, he leaned towards us to show us the tag on his coat, which says Made in New Zealand, and he said, ‘Isn’t it marvellous the ability of New Zealand wool to disguise a slowly decaying body’.
“I spoke longer with Key, probably. I said to him, 'the last time you saw me was in Burwood Hospital', and he said, ‘yes I remember’.
"He talked about how they were contacted by Brownlee on the day of the earthquake and he said, ‘we knew when we heard about the bus that there would be deaths out of this one. We were prepared for the worst’.”
Meanwhile, outside the civic centre a crowd of about 200 people gathered to await the prince's departure.
Sang happy birthday
Before he emerged into the brilliant sunlit spring day, Mr Parker came out dripping with mayoral baubles, telling the crowd that because it was Charles’ birthday it would a good idea to sing happy birthday when he came out.
He then led the crowd in a happy birthday practice that echoed what happened a few minutes later.
Instead of allowing himself to be whisked away, Charles, surrounded by four sharp-eyed bodyguards, approached the crowd and shook hands and exchanged a few words.
He spoke to one man wrapped in a large British flag, who responded in a thick northern English accent and yelled in the direction of Camilla, “I love ya”, and “hooray the Queen”.
The cavalcade then proceeded to the earthquake-damaged Diamond Jubilee Clock in Victoria St with its spire still at a 45-degree angle and gave short speech.
Eventually, the cavalcade snaked its way back to Cashel Mall, where a large crowd amid the pop up shopping containers was enjoying the sun.
The official party watched “Twinkletoes”, the giant demolition machine imported from England, as its high reach pulled massive concrete beams down from the multi-level building it was destroying 100m further down Cashel St.
More crowd greetings followed and the cavalcade eased away for a luncheon and then to the Canterbury A&P Show, where the prince was to present the award for the supreme animal.
The royal couple leave for Darwin at 10.45 tonight.
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