Kiwi photographer Bill Rowntree, now living in England, with photos of his royal family plastered in newspapers, magazines – and even biscuit tins. Photo / Bill Rowntree
Bill Rowntree thinks of his exclusive visits with the royal family whenever he likes a sweet treat – his picture emblazoned on the biscuit tin.
The former Invercargill man, who now lives in south London, was given exclusive access to photographs of the royal family prior to their 1970 tour of New Zealand, and the photos were included in and on everything from newspapers to magazines to biscuit tins.
Prior to working on the property of the Sandringham royal family, the 81-year-old worked at the NZ Herald in Auckland and then moved to Sydney.
He and a fellow journalist then decided to take the slow route to England, put their vehicle on a boat in Perth to Singapore and drive to England.
About six years later, in December 1969, he worked for the Daily Mirror and the royal family was preparing for their New Zealand tour.
Queen Elizabeth decided she wanted a Kiwi photographer to take a family commemorative photo for the tour and Rowntree was contacted.
After arriving and preparing his equipment, he felt himself being pelted with objects.
“When I arrived and started to organize everything, I was attacked by Prince Edward who fired his Christmas present at me which was a ping pong gun.
“I turned around and there was a 5 year old boy who was very smiling with his Christmas present.”
However, photo opportunities were quickly destroyed by the royal retainer.
“That [courtier] looked at me and he said, ‘Bill if you take a picture of the prince shooting a ping pong ball at you, the Daily Mirror will be banned from the royal event for life’.
Rowntree, who worked for the Daily Mirror for 36 years before retiring in 2001, then met Edward’s entire family, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, who died on Friday night (New Zealand time), whom he was surprised to find was “very welcoming. and help “.
“What impressed me was how friendly they were even though it was a semi-formal event.
“I am 30 years old and have been in England six years and this is my first contact with the royal family.”
Although he wasn’t sure what their itinerary was at that stage, he had the impression that the royals wanted to meet “ordinary New Zealanders talking about their own country”.
He presented his own life and work history in New Zealand as a 10-month trip around the world, which fascinated them, he said.
The photo shoot went well enough that Prince Philip asked Rowntree to join him and the Queen for some wine that afternoon.
Given the urgency of photo processing, it was an offer she couldn’t accept.
“Unfortunately we can’t because I have to get all those films back in London. That would be great.
“I said ‘I’m really sorry but I have a photo lab waiting to process all the films and sort everything out, but thank you very much.
“It was an amazing experience.”
The photos from the shoot were finally released by the royals about two weeks before the tour and were used for all kinds of promotions and related naks including the biscuit tin left in his kitchen, full of biscuits, to this day.
The tour itself, celebrating James Cook’s bicentennial, notes a few firsts: Charles and Anne’s first visit to New Zealand; and in Wellington, the Queen first tries “the streets”, where she gets off her vehicle about 50m before her destination and mingles with the public.
It has continued since that day.
While visiting family in New Zealand in 1971, Rowntree was given a commemorative biscuit tin by his mother.
She often jokes with her friends that she is the only photographer she knows to get their own photo on the biscuit tin.
“I think I’m always joking, I don’t think many other photographers have published on biscuit tin caps before, and I think that’s what amuses me the most.
“The biscuit tin is a little more durable and is still being used. It lives in our kitchen full of biscuits.”