A speech by Prince Harry at a reception for the emergency services of New Zealand

Published 15 May 2015

While it took me 30 years to make it to New Zealand for the first time, it certainly won't be long before I'm back again.

Thank you Your Excellency for your kind words and for hosting this gathering of extraordinary New Zealanders.

Tena koutou katoa

My family has always enjoyed very strong links with New Zealand. These links are of course central to the constitution of this nation, but they go much deeper than that. They are built on a profound personal fondness for this captivating country and its charming, talented people.

I have heard so many wonderful things about Kiwis from The Queen, from my Father, and more recently from my brother and sister-in-law following their time here with George last year. I can't believe it's taken me over 30 years to get here, but I am delighted that I've finally made it.

As a passionate Rugby fan, I've always wanted to know how you can be so good! But don't worry, I am NOT here to spy.

We are here this evening to honour you; emergency services and other organisations which work both at home and overseas to support those in need, at times of crisis. It is a great privilege for me to be in your company this evening and to recognise your work, often in great personal danger, for the benefit and security of fellow New Zealanders, and also those further afield in places such as Vanuatu and most recently Nepal.

As I mentioned, I've heard many fantastic things about New Zealand from my family, but my brother William has also told me some heart wrenching stories following his visit to Christchurch to see the devastation from the earthquakes in 2011 and the Pike River Mining disaster. I saw the scars that Christchurch still bears myself, four years on from the quakes. In spite of the horror of these disasters, the courage and resilience of those affected and the solidarity and bravery among those working to support the community was striking.

New Zealanders are rightly proud of the high esteem in which they are held by the rest of the world, not least by everyone in the UK. I believe this respect is founded on the strength of character and spirit which ties all New Zealanders together. Characteristics which are exemplified by the emergency services and volunteer organisations represented here this evening.

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to meet with Sam Johnson and the other founding members of the University of Canterbury Student Volunteer Army who mobilised over 9000 students to support the emergency relief efforts following the Christchurch earthquakes.

The spirit which motivated Sam and his contemporaries to tackle the challenges head on following the disaster was seen by the world as characteristically kiwi. However, such heart can only go so far; there is surely nothing more challenging for an individual, a family, community, city or nation than to have normal life replaced by the horror of a natural disaster.

In such circumstances, a community and its people must be supported by trained professionals, able to preserve life, provide basic needs - shelter, food and water - and work toward a long term recovery. Mercifully, national emergencies do not happen every day, but as we all know, the support provided by the emergency services are called upon many times each day; whether it's to find the lost walker, rescue a distressed swimmer or provide support to the elderly and infirm.

The existence of the organisations you represent, give us the confidence to live without fear. In the knowledge that, if the need arises, there are those who are willing and able to help or support, no matter what the circumstances.

Such skills are not easy to acquire, they take many years to achieve and often a lifetime to perfect. Once acquired they must be constantly refreshed through rigorous training. I have seen the level of commitment first hand when William worked as a Search and Rescue pilot and now as he prepares to take up work as a pilot with the East Anglia Air Ambulance.

This burden of training and demanding hours affects the families of those who serve as much, if not more, than the soldier, police officer, lifeguard, volunteer fire-fighter or charity worker. So I would like to say thank you to you here this evening and to your colleagues but I especially want to thank your families too.

Lastly I would like to mention all those working, as we speak, in Nepal. I know a number of New Zealanders are among those who have offered their expertise to the country in its time of crisis. Nepal is a nation New Zealand has enjoyed close links with since Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Everest alongside Tenzing Norgay. The people of Nepal are in our thoughts and prayers. Our sincere thanks and best wishes go to all those working on the relief effort.

I would like to end by thanking everyone I have met over the last week for the hugely warm welcome. While it took me 30 years to make it to New Zealand for the first time, it certainly won't be long before I'm back again.

Thank you.