Getting invited to Government House can be both exciting and intimidating.
It is a minefield of traditional etiquette (“Do I curtsy?”), good taste (“Is this plastic raincoat appropriate?”) and knowing when you’ve had too much bubbles (“Oh, if you insist!!”).
Today, on Waitangi Day, I found myself invited to Government House the Bledisloe Garden Reception alongside Matt (my trusty plus one) and my very good friends Gina Williams and family (who this year won an award for their sustainable farming practice).
When I received my invitation by email to this auspicious occasion, my first reaction was “Why was I invited?” It is very humbling to be asked to an official event, but equally it can be immediately a little alarming! No one wants to be tripped up - but there isn’t a guide for what to do when you are about to attend an official event New Zealand style. It isn’t Buckingham Palace but it is about as close as you’ll get on this side of the world - after all, Meghan and Harry were there on their recent visit!!
Naturally, I wanted to ask someone who was a bit of an expert the honest questions we all wonder about when we find ourselves in a formal situation before the Queens representative in New Zealand, Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy.
Below are my ‘basic b***h’ queeries about the Bledisloe Garden Reception, which were kindly answered by the lovely Engagements and Communications Advisor, Jo Blick. On behalf of us all, forever more, thank you Jo!
(1) Help! I've received an invitation to Government House? Why was I invited?
“We can’t say too much about how or why people are invited. Trade secrets and all that! What we can say that the aim of the Bledisloe Garden Reception is to bring together as wide a mix of 21st century Kiwis as possible to spend part of our national day with the Governor-General. There’ll be MPs and mayors for sure but also representatives from the Governor-General’s patronages, community organisations, local schools, cultural groups, arts organisations and the odd stray blogger like yourself! A large number of people received their invitations through the public ballot process so there are guests coming from as far afield as Gore and Kerikeri. Shameless plug - the ballot takes place online and opens each year in the first week of September here.“
(2) Oh dear, what should I wear? Do I need to rent a tuxedo or a ball gown?
“We love the glamour of a tuxedo or ball gown but they’re a smidge over the top in this instance (although you do you, we’re not the fashion police!)
The official dress code is daywear. Think along the lines of what you’d wear to a smart summer wedding- a dress or a top teamed with a skirt or trousers. Flat shoes or low, solid heels are recommended, as you’ll be on the grass.
For men, a dress shirt and trousers is fine, although they can wear a jacket and tie if they wish to be more formal.
Things have relaxed a little since the days of Lord Bledisloe but there is still a small list of no-nos - no jeans, jandals, shorts or sneakers please.
Hats aren’t compulsory but there isn’t much shade so wearing one is encouraged. Of course this being Wellington, it does leave you with the problem of trying to juggle a drink, a canapé and hold onto your hat at the same time and we have yet to work out a solution for that one. A chin strap maybe? Good luck!”
(3) What should I do when I arrive? Do I take my car?
“We encourage people to take public transport, taxi, Uber/Zoomy or in general, to just not bring their cars. There’s no parking on the grounds of Government House and parking in the streets around Government house is limited.”
“Once you’re there and you’ve cleared security at the Main Gate, there’s a 5-10 minute walk up the hill to the North Lawn where the reception takes place. (See the previous advisory on sensible shoes and thank us later)”
(4) What is the best way to talk to people? I do not think I will know anyone! And how do I eat those dainty dishes on a tray neatly?
“Fear not! The crowd is large and happy and we’ve found in the past that even the shyest people find others to talk to. Conversational openers can be hard but topics like the weather (always a favourite in Wellington), the gardens and the food are all non-controversial and easy to chat about.”
“Eating food is made much easier by being strategic with your drink. If you have a drink in your hand, stick to small canapes that can be downed in one or things like sandwiches that can be easily held in one hand. Watch out for the sins of talking with your mouth full and never, ever double dip!”
(5) How do I address the Governor General? Do I curtsy?
“If you get the opportunity to talk to Dame Patsy, you can either address her as Your Excellency or Dame Patsy. Ma’am (rhyms with ham) can also be used. If in doubt, her ADC (the military officer who accompanies Dame Patsy on her official duties) will be able to advise. A curtsey is not required so don’t fret about those knees!”
(6) How do I know if I am talking to someone famous but maybe I don't recognise them? On the converse side, can I ask for a selfie?
“It’s fair to say that many famous people look quite ordinary in real life and sometimes we just don’t click who we’re talking to until later. The cringe is real and while it’s never pleasant to be “The Woman Who Asked The All Black Captain His Name”, it will give you a great anecdote to tell for years to come.”
“Selfies are a bit more contentious. Some people are fine with them, others aren’t. Our feelings are that it’s good manners to give celebrities and dignitaries some space and allow them to enjoy the event without having to pose for endless photos.”
(7) What about drinks? Gosh I need a champagne...
“But of course, Madam! There will also be some excellent New Zealand wine and craft beer and a range of soft drinks, including Government House’s famous Elderflower Cordial. Do drink responsibly.
(8) Wow, I might actually be enjoying this...How do I get invited back?
“Well you could try becoming an MP, being awarded an honour by the Queen or running for mayor. Sounds like hard work though so another route is trying your luck in the yearly public ballot for invitations. That will open on our website https://gg.govt.nz/ in the first week of September. Note: The venue for the Bledisloe Garden Reception usually alternates between Wellington and Auckland.”
If you’d like to have a different Government House experience, then you could return at another time to take a tour of the House. These tours are free and can be booked online. We’d love to see you!