There are good life stories, and then there are BETTER life stories.
Wayne’s story is up there with some of the best — one he’ll dine out on for years to come.
Queenstown’s Shotover Jet frequently carries celebrities and VIP’s, but all were outshone when the Number One megastars of celebrity visited 18 months ago.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on their Australasian tour and Shotover Jet was one of only three tourism activities in New Zealand selected to host the couple. So on April 13 2014, Shotover Jet Operations Manager Wayne Paton had a day he’ll never forget.
The build up to the royal visit was spread over about six months, with Wayne only let in on the hush-hush details, and the fact that he’d been chosen as THE driver, a month out. For him, the Big Day came pretty quickly.
“The funny thing was I expected it to be pretty weird turning around and seeing them in the boat in real life, when you only ever see them on TV. For some strange reason that felt perfectly natural,” says Wayne.
“What did feel unnatural was so many people on the river’s edge screaming and yelling all the way down. There were a couple of thousand spectators all whooping and cheering at Tucker Beach alone. That was a bit different, normally we hardly see anybody.”
Royal jet boat drivers Wayne Paton (L) and Nick Simpson
Along with the riverbank crowds there was a large fanbase of locals and Shotover Jet staff on the lawn at Cavell’s Café with a birdseye view of the royals on the beach and jet boat. They’d set up camp hours earlier, adding to a real carnival atmosphere on the day.
Down on the beach, a media scrum of well over 70 photographers, reporters and TV cameras jostled for position and took the Twittersphere by storm with the tiniest of details on the day.
The fact that the royals got their New Zealand adrenalin rush at Shotover Jet — on the world’s most exciting jet boat ride — is still ‘top of mind’ for visitors today.
“People quite often ask ‘did you take them?’ when I’m down on the beach, and they’re a bit gobsmacked when I say yes,” says Wayne. “They certainly get a bit of a kick out of it, as if a little bit of royal magic might rub off on them.”
Wayne’s Big Day also delivered Shotover Jet its largest single media exposure ever. Tourism NZ valued it at over $10 million worth of exposure to Shotover Jet and New Zealand generally.
For Wayne, the royal magic lives on. “It’s a day I’ll always remember, you just can’t forget something like that.”