Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

New Zealand Needs Our Friendship

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

New Zealand Needs Our Friendship

Article excerpt

Byline: TOM GUTTERIDGE

HAYLEY Westenra has one of the purest voices on the planet. I'd never heard her sing until yesterday, when a friend posted a recording on Facebook. Ten minutes later, Izzy wandered into my office and found me blubbering over my computer screen: she had to lend me her precious Peppa Pig to calm me down.

The friend who posted the link is a New Zealander and the song was Hine e Hine, a Maori lullaby recorded when Hayley was just 16 and which became the fastest selling debut classical album of all time.

She comes from Christchurch and, at the age of 12, was discovered by CTV, the local television station.

It's the same station which, right now, is just a huge pile of rubble concealing the bodies of scores of victims.

Among them is Donna Manning, one of the station's presenters and producers. The world's front pages pictured her distraught husband and two teenage children as they waited for news beside the debris until the police came and told them there was no hope. It's one of many tragic images of that terrible catastrophe.

One can't begin to imagine New Zealand's pain: one of the gentlest places on Earth, caught by a disaster sudden, horrific and unfair.

It's one of the few places where I could happily live.

A few years ago, I was invited to the country to give a speech. Fearing chronic jet lag from the journey, and because I doubted I would ever return, I arrived a week or two early and planned to spend some time exploring South Island on my own.

No words could adequately describe the scenery, but it was the beauty of the people that overwhelmed me.

After a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles, I arrived at my hotel in Queenstown to find an unsigned note on the bedside table: "Welcome, Tom, please come to Joe's Garage at 9am tomorrow morning." I went out of curiosity and found a coffee shop where, sitting at a long table with one spare seat, were eight or nine complete strangers. …

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