Forget pop stars, it was always Prince Charles who had Ruth Bly's heart. At the age of 14, when other teenagers were swooning over Elvis Presley, Ruth (62) only had eyes for Prince Charles after seeing him for the first time on New Zealand TV. He was celebrating his 16th birthday and she realised they shared the same date of birth.
"It was the first time the royal family were actually on our TV. Since then I've always been a fan of his. I've always stuck up for him. He's got big ears and so has my dad – it was meant to be!"
As a teenager, Ruth indulged in plenty of schoolgirl fantasies about coming face to face with her idol, but it took 48 years before her dream finally came true.
Ruth, who lives on the Kapiti Coast near Wellington, was one of 64 New Zealanders born on the same day as the prince who got the opportunity to attend his birthday party at Government House in Wellington last month.
More than 1500 people applied and Ruth was one of the lucky ones who received an invitation and enjoyed Charles’ undivided attention – even if it was just for a few minutes. "I think he's lovely. He's got beautiful skin and he spoke beautifully," says Ruth, who brought the prince a present to help win him over. The birthday guests were told they could bring him a gift so Ruth brought pohutukawa and silver fern seeds.
"He said, ‘I always wanted to have a New Zealand corner in my garden and now I have got it. I will remember you and New Zealand every 14th of November.’ And he held me on my elbow as he said it, and I thought, 'Ooh, he's lovely,’" she smiles.
The dress code was daywear so Ruth was finally able to wear a frock that she had in her wardrobe and had been saving for a special occasion. "I had my nails done the day before and I was having a good hair day, so I felt great."
But Ruth, who is now retired but once worked in the advertising department at New Zealand Woman's Weekly, still couldn't compete with the love of Charles’ life, Camilla, who she also met at the party.
"I had a good conversation with her. She asked me where I lived and I told her Kapiti Coast. I asked her how old she was and she said she was four months older than Charles. So I said, 'Oooh, you've got yourself a toyboy! And she said, ‘I have, haven't I? I must tell him that.’ “It was a nice conversation but she did seem tired," Ruth adds.
Despite being one of Charles’ biggest fans, Ruth would rather see his son Prince William become king when Queen Elizabeth II dies. "I think the Queen's going to say it's going to be William. She said that this was her job for life. And I think William has been trained well for the job."
Lauren's surprise of a lifetime
A regular school day turned into the surprise of a lifetime for Lauren Hutchinson when Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville paid her a visit.
On a recent trip to New Zealand, Hugh, who plays Robert Crawley on the British drama, travelled especially to Palmerston North Girls’ High School to surprise his 17-yearold fan. Interrupting school assembly, Hugh appeared and asked for Lauren.
“I was like, ‘What, me?’ It was really strange, I wasn’t expecting it at all,” says Lauren, who was in shock and could hardly speak to her idol. Hugh had noticed Lauren’s regular tweets about Downton Abbey and had been planning the surprise for weeks.
The star himself tweeted, “I can’t stand those tweets which go, ‘I’m doing something really exciting tomorrow, but I can’t tell you what yet.’ This is one of them.”
Lauren says she had no idea the surprise would be for her. “I was so in shock, but he was really nice. He was asking me questions until I calmed down a bit.”
When Downton Abbey first hit New Zealand screens, Lauren says her mum had to convince her to watch the show – but once she did, she was hooked. “I really enjoy history, and the era the show is in. All of the characters are so well written, I feel like I can relate to them.”
And Lauren’s tweets have given her more than just the best surprise of her life. “Hugh started following me on Twitter the day he surprised me.”