Dame's oath is as good as her word: New Zealand's Governor General, best known for her colourful language, will choose the prime minister in a hung parliament

TO ANYONE unfamiliar with the down-to-earth-manship of New Zealand public figures, the behaviour of the country's Governor General, Dame Catherine Tizard, 62, could come as a surprise.

'Jeez]' she is likely to exclaim when asked awkward questions. Her conversation is a blizzard of 'hells' and 'bloodys' and other oaths, often bawdy. She may call you a 'fuckwit' - just for a joke, of course, as she did to a colleague at a reception in 1986 when she was mayor of Auckland. Or she may embarrass you by insisting that you sing for your supper, as was the fate of Germany's president Richard von Weizsacker at a state dinner in Wellington earlier this year.

She is as likely to preside over the Weightwatchers Ball as she is an investiture at Government House, and she has admitted that a deciding factor in her becoming the Queen's representative in New Zealand and local head of state was that the job came with a pension.

Dame Cath, as she likes to be called, is perhaps best remembered abroad for her walk-on part in the American travel writer Paul Theroux's book The Happy Isles of Oceania. They met in Fiji and their rather sour encounter, which involved a coarse description of the Governor General's eating habits - shovelling food on her fork with her thumb, licking her fingers, picking scraps from her teeth and eating them - and her smugness had New Zealanders rushing with their spears to her defence.

Theroux, however, said she was a New Zealander to her fingertips: rather silly, shallow, unimaginative, bossy, vain, cunning and principled in a meddling way. New Zealanders especially didn't like that.

Whatever foreigners may say about Dame Cath, Kiwis like her. If they have any misgivings, they explain it away by saying: 'She is very down to earth, you know.' Barry Gustafason, a former university colleague and political scientist at Auckland University, said: 'She is not a foul-mouthed hard-drinking person as the (fuckwit) incident would suggest. Decency and order come to mind when I think of her.'

She may seem graceless, but her manner conceals a true professional. A senior New Zealand lawyer who has worked with her says she has 'tons of savvy, is the opposite of wimpish, not a bull-at-a-gate person, very effective and very feminine, sensitive and intelligent'. I thought he had fallen in love with her. He called Paul Theroux 'a pig'.

This week, when the final results of the country's split election are announced after counting absentee votes, she may have to lead New Zealand out of a constitutional impasse. Last weekend's poll brought a hung parliament. National, the governing party, won 49 seats in the 99-member House; it needed 51 to form a majority. The Labour opposition won 46, and two new parties, New Zealand Alliance and NZ First, collected two seats each. The final counts could change the results in some nine seats where majorities range from 10 votes to a couple of hundred.

Dame Cath will have to decide which party leader - current Prime Minister Jim Bolger or Labour Party leader Mike Moore - to ask to form a new government.

Sir David Beattie, a former Governor General and former Supreme Court judge, compared last week's vote to Britain's first 1974 general election, which left a cliff-hanger between Edward Heath and Harold Wilson.

'Heath, as the former prime minister, was asked by the Queen to form a government. He couldn't,' Sir David said. 'Harold Wilson was asked next, and he could. We haven't got to that situation yet, but in the long run the sort of government we get can only be decided on the floor of the House. I cannot see any real problem for Dame Cath as the conventions are pretty clear and she has good independent advisers.'

Born in a rural settlement in the North Island, Dame Cath progressed from a state school to Auckland University, where she met and married Bob Tizard, an aspiring Labour politician. After bearing her husband (by then an MP) four children, she won election to Auckland council on a Labour Party ticket in 1971 at the age of 40. Twelve years later, divorced from Mr Tizard, she became mayor of New Zealand's biggest city, and stayed in the job until she was appointed Governor General in 1990.

When asked what kept her going in public life, she replied: 'I've come to the conclusion it's bloody Presbyterian Calvinist doing-my-duty.'

Additional reporting by David Barber.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones