At home with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa: why she always knew she would come back to Aotearoa
Grandmother Dame Kiri and Luther adore each other. Photo / Jae Frew
To be invited to the house of one of the most emblematic figures of this country is a privilege, but also an experience to be lived, because Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is a woman who leaves all the airs and graces at the front door. . At home she is a friend, a lovely chatty woman with a great sense of humor and lots of stories to tell.
“This is the front door,” she said, welcoming the Weekly team to her home. “But we never use it – come over here.”
Dame Kiri’s house is filled with light and large windows that reveal spectacular views of the Bay of Islands, but it is also a house that is a house. There are comfy and plush sofas, magazines and books, art and flowers, and it’s impossible not to feel welcome.
On the dining table are sandwiches, cakes and cherries for her guests, and as Dame Kiri sinks back into her sofa, she is a picture of contentment. It takes a while to realize I’m a little impressed that there are chicken sandwiches with the crusts cut off (courtesy of Dame Kiri’s special friend, Diana Fenwick, who flew north specially to make them).
With a fresh face and brushed but not wavy hair as she waits for Weekly hairstylist and makeup artist, Dame Kiri is a natural beauty. Dressed simply in white pants and a striped shirt, she is casual and chatty.
Outside her window is a tree of equal beauty, a rambling pōhutukawa that she says is at least 500 years old, and all around is the constant trill of enjoying the property’s many native trees.
“I’m so glad we’re in the right place – we’re home,” she says.
Dame Kiri has owned the property in the Bay of Islands for 38 years, but so far she has not lived there permanently. The house is simple but splendid, down to earth but elegant, just like its owner.
When Dame Kiri last spoke to The Weekly, she had recently made the decision to leave the UK to spend more time with her gorgeous 3.5-year-old grandson, Luther.
She would see him once a week and she said, “I’m 77 now and I don’t know how many summers I have left. I want these summers to be with Luther.
But then the Covid Delta variant hit and Auckland, where Luther lives with his parents, Kiri’s son Tom Park and partner Zeera, was placed in its longest lockdown to date.
“We got stuck here, but I’m not complaining,” she says. “I have never worked harder in the garden. I am really in my raised beds, and I have lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and in the front I have sunflowers. of seven feet coming up. “
With her partner, who prefers to stay away from the spotlight, she says they are working on the 10 acres. [4ha] ownership and there is a lot of toil ahead. “We’re both pretty perfectionists so there’s always more to do.”
As you walk towards Lady Kiri’s house, there are possum traps everywhere and a new pest control fence has been put up. There are countless piles of lumber created from dead trees on the property, and everywhere you look you can see it has been thought through and painstakingly worked.
The recent arrival of their riding mower from the UK was a cause for celebration as Dame Kiri loved to hear it outside cutting the lawns halfway around the world in her new home. And she recently had solar power installed, which means she’s learning to live in the sun.
“If I look at the control box and there’s a lot of power, I just run out and do a load of wash,” she laughs.
And finally, little Luther is with her for the holidays. It was his third Christmas with Lady Kiri, but probably the first he will remember when he grows up.
He really likes his Spider-Man and Iron Man action figures – and it’s obvious Lady Kiri spent a lot of time playing with them as well. She has the sounds of superheroes and as they play together Luther looks perfectly content in the arms of his beloved grandmother.
Her intention to see more Luther by moving home may have been dashed by the Covid restrictions, but she was able to see him briefly on an exempt medical trip to Auckland. It was an opportunity to catch up with her little boy, although briefly and socially distant from
a mask on it.
Dame Kiri remains grateful to live in New Zealand while her friends in the UK battle the Omicron variant. And she remains frustrated with those people in this country who complain that they have lost their freedom because of our Covid restrictions.
“I think this country is not used to going a line, whereas in the UK they’ve been through the war and they’re still in this ‘we’ll do what we’re told’ mode, and l “Germany is the same. They’ve been in the situation where you have to do these things to save lives, but here in New Zealand I feel like they maybe haven’t had that, to except some older people. “
Due to Covid restrictions, Dame Kiri had to do her hair for the weekly shoot and she shows me the clothes she chose to wear in her wardrobe. She holds up a gorgeous blue and white flowered skirt and proudly says, “This is a Zara bed sheet.”
She wanted a skirt with hydrangeas on it and when she found the perfect fabric it turned out to be a £ 19.99 (NZ $ 40) sheet, which she bought and took then asked her seamstress to do something with it.
One of her favorite clothes, she wore it to the Cardiff Singer of the World Awards in 2019. She puts it on and turns, then says excitedly: ”
Am I wearing the pearl earrings I wore to Charles and Diana’s wedding? “
One has the feeling that now Dame Kiri has all her treasures with her in her house, she takes pleasure in discovering them again.
Being stuck in the north didn’t stop her from continuing to work with the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, which she started in 2004 to help young New Zealand opera singers early in their careers.
Dame Kiri supervises young singers and the foundation works to support them and
for a year, the 18 singers in her care were supported with £ 800 (NZ $ 1,600) per month.
“It was a lot of money for them that came out of nowhere so it was great to be able to help them and now they are back to work,” she says proudly.
In August she hosted a workshop and loved the voices she heard.
“Some of them are a bit young, but they’re all going to improve because they’re focused. Someone said to me, “How do you know they’re going to be okay? And I said, ‘Because there’s nothing else that distracts them. We make them the great singers they are meant to be. ‘”
Kiri admits that she hadn’t done much to prepare for Christmas. Like many of us, she struggled to
get back in the mood after the difficult year we have all had. “I lit two sparkling Christmas lights and it was Christmas,” she laughs. “It’s a weird feeling. It’s not cold enough, it’s not humid enough, and it’s not miserable enough.
“In England, we crouched down and it was cozy, and we had too much to eat and drink, but here it’s salad and tomatoes!”
But there is no regret that she returned home. She had a very special bond with the former owner of her house.
“She was a wonderful and special woman who adored me,” she says. “Before I left for England as a young opera singer, she sent me a little silk New Zealand flag and a compass. I traveled through Europe using this compass and I was there. still have. “
And when Dame Kiri relaxes on her outdoor daybed for a photo, she chooses a simple cup of white tea that once belonged to the previous owner of her house. “It gives me very special memories,” she said, making herself comfortable.
Dame Kiri says her house has a very special feeling, which means people often find it difficult to leave.
“It’s a strange thing that happens, but once people have been here for a while, they usually resist leaving. It has happened several times when people have felt such a connection that they feel it is very difficult to disconnect. It’s love – they would dive into it if they could. “
She always felt this for her house and knew she would come back there for good eventually, but maybe not as quickly as she did.
“I knew I would always come here, but the decision was so sudden because of Covid. I remember the last time we got back to England from here, I said to my partner: ‘We’re going in the wrong way. This is the wrong way. ‘”
She says if she were to move now it would be much more difficult to try and sell her UK house and organize the movers, containers and her four adorable dogs.
“It was the right thing to do. The time had come for us, but it has been a year and a half
stress coming in here and we’re not quite done with a few things to sort out yet, but we’re getting there. “
As the Weekly team leaves, Dame Kiri beckons us to leave, surrounded by her four magnificent Pomeranian-Yorkshire terrier crosses and her grandson by her side.
I hear him lean over and tell Luther that they have white bait fritters for dinner.
He hands her Iron Man, ready to play again.