It’s an inside joke between cricket legend Sir Richard Hadlee and his wife Dianne, Lady Hadlee, and one that illustrates their unique bond. Dianne (61) shows the Weekly a photograph of Richard (64) beaming with happiness after receiving his knighthood in 1990. It’s kept in a special cabinet along with his much-treasured medal.
“But turn the picture over and you’ll see my sense of humour,” Dianne says with anticipation.
On the reverse is the exact same photo. But this time, Dianne has taken a black marker pen and drawn large rimmed glasses and a comical mouth over her husband’s face.
“I don’t find it funny at all!” Richard says, rolling his eyes. “But I suppose that’s just her humour.”
The brief exchange reveals a lot about their partnership. There’s the legend that is Richard Hadlee, one of the most beloved sportsmen in New Zealand – then there’s the man who suffered from depression in the early ‘80s. Dianne is his vibrant counterpart, whose laughter reminds him that having fun is good for the soul.
“We make a great team and enjoy working together,” says Richard.
Dianne agrees, adding, “Although it’s a clichéd term, we feel blessed that we are soul mates. It’s a term that’s used a lot, but that’s what we truly are.”
The couple admit it’s rare for them to invite media into their modern home, situated on a golf course 20 minutes’ drive outside of Christchurch.
“We normally keep our home life very private and don’t seek the limelight,” says Richard, who has two sons, Nicholas (34) and Matthew (30) with his first wife Karen.
Richard and Dianne, a former high school teacher and now performance consultant, have lived together since 1995, marrying in an intimate ceremony in Scotland four years later. The couple are seldom interviewed together, but Richard is prepared to open his home – and his heart – to the Weekly to speak about being an ambassador for Glaucoma New Zealand.
It’s the country’s leading cause of blindness, but it can be prevented, and Richard has been spurred into action to help other families after seeing first hand the devastation that losing your eyesight can cause. On Boxing Day in 2004, his late mother Lilla woke up to discover she’d gone blind in one eye.
Richard says it was particularly difficult because of the central role Lilla played in the family. “Like me, my father Walter played cricket for New Zealand, and he and my mother had five sons. My father was the ship and my mother was the engine room,” he begins.
The five Hadlee brothers – Barry (73), Martin (69), Dayle (67), Richard and Chris (60) – have always been close and credit their upbringing as the reason for their tight bond. Richard is one of three boys who followed their father into international cricket – Dayle and Barry also played for New Zealand.
“Mum was very proud of all of her sons. Growing up in Christchurch, I remember she made sure that all our sporting whites were perfectly washed and ironed. But she was always in the background and didn’t like taking any credit for her hard work.”
When his mother suddenly went partially blind, aged 86, she tried to downplay how seriously she was struggling. “She could no longer drive, and therefore lost a lot of her independence. But I doubt if any of us ever really understood how much it affected her, because she kept a lot to herself.”
Two years later, Lilla was widowed after her husband passed away from a stroke. Ever close, the Hadlee family was there to support her. “We made sure we visited her regularly to help her out and keep her company, which she loved. Even then, she didn’t like to be fussed over at all.”
Lilla passed away in 2010 at the age of 92. Since her death, Richard says he’s become more motivated to encourage Kiwis to get regular eye checks, including those testing for glaucoma. Both Richard and Dianne have had regular tests themselves, and they’re both pleased and surprised to find there have been no major issues with Richard’s eyes so far, especially considering his many years of playing cricket under the glaring sun.
Richard says he’s even more determined to live a long and healthy life since becoming a grandfather for the first time in May – his eldest son Nicholas and his wife Eve recently welcomed a baby boy named Leo. At the time of our visit, the couple had yet to meet Leo and couldn’t wait to hold him in their arms.
“Being a grandfather might suggest I’m growing old,” Richard laughs, “but I’m excited. I’m going to be the type of grandfather who will encourage my grandchildren to have a go at everything they want to pursue.”
Talk of goals and ambitions ignites a conversation between Richard and his wife, revealing an interesting perspective they both hold – that New Zealanders can learn how to win from our Aussie neighbours.
“Australians want to win – there’s no silver medals for them,” Dianne says pointedly.
Richard agrees. “New Zealanders have a very different philosophy, where it’s not about winning – often it’s about fun, fair play and participation. But kids need a competitive attitude to survive. If they’re good enough, they can make a living out of sport, and that’s something Australians instil in their children from an early age.”
Richard admits he adopted a little of this attitude on the field himself and says he admires the mental toughness of Australian sportspeople. But in spite of this, he believes the country’s national cricket team sometimes crosses the line. Case in point – the underarm bowling incident of 1981. Richard, who is considered one of the greatest all-rounders ever, says the episode continues to play on his mind.
“Feburary 1, Melbourne Cricket Ground at 5.42pm. We may forgive but we will never forget,” he says with a wry smile.
After a career that spanned 19 years and saw him playing cricket at the highest level, Richard says he’s now enjoying his retirement. He loves to play golf and is an avid movie buff. In fact, he confides that he and Dianne recently enjoyed watching kids’ animated flick Frozen on their giant television screen wearing 3D glasses. Although their home has a few of Richard’s awards and other cricket memorabilia on display, Dianne, who is a keen photographer, has added her own personal touch. She supports local artists and many of their works are displayed.
“It’s nice to have the cricket stuff around, but it still needs to feel like a home,” she says.
Richard is still heavily involved with New Zealand cricket and is often asked to be patron to many organisations. But working with Glaucoma New Zealand in time for its annual awareness month was an easy decision, as he’s keen to spread the message that it’s important for Kiwis to care for their eyes.
“As a batsman, you always have to keep your eye on the ball. The same can be said of your health. I’d be devastated if I lost my sight. It’s important we keep having the appropriate checks, not only for our own wellbeing, but for the people we care about.”
The facts about glaucoma
•About 91,000 New Zealanders over the age of 40 have glaucoma, although half that number are unaware they have it.
•Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in New Zealand. If it is detected, ongoing treatment and compliance is vital to help keep your sight. About
98% of those who comply with their prescribed treatment for glaucoma will not go blind.
•Glaucoma New Zealand is a charitable trust providing education and information to those diagnosed with glaucoma and their families,
as well as health professionals.
To find out more or make a donation, visit glaucoma.org.nz.
Watch the infamous underarm bowling incident of 1981: