Exclusive: Willie Apiata shares 'beautiful' memories of the Queen

Source: 1News

Willie Apiata never imagined as a young boy from Mangakino that he would stand in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Victoria Cross of New Zealand recipient doesn’t love to talk to media, but days before the funeral of the woman he signed up to serve, he’s made an exception.

“The most amazing lady you could ever meet, and it doesn't matter where you are from, poor or rich.. or whatever country, she has that ability to feel comfortable in her presence and that is beautiful.”

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The boy from small town New Zealand said he was made to feel at home in the grandeur of Balmoral Castle when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in 2007.

“You don’t meet the Queen first, you meet a whole lot of corgis, I suspect they checking that you come in peace."

Willie Apiata shakes the Queen's hand in 2014.

As patron of the association, the Queen hosted the group at a reunion every second year.

“The Queen instituted the Victoria Cross for diversity and inclusion, so regardless of your nationality you could be acknowledged for your valour on the battleground."

Now the former soldier along with the other recipients of the UK's highest honour, have made the trip to London at her request for her funeral.

His time with her, while she was lying in state, he says, was humbling.

“There’s a place where we could sit almost basically in line with her.

“[I] was just reflecting on all the beautiful moments and the privilege I’ve had and to be able to share this journey with her.

His medal usually sits at home in his underwear drawer, the safest place, he says, but the memory of his encounter, and the honour he’s been given, stay with him.

“It's a huge honour to be here to represent New Zealand and Aotearoa… on the day of the funeral when we lay the queen to rest.

“I will do us proud.”

Clarification: A previous version of this story stated Willie Apiata was our first and only Victoria Cross recipient.

He received the first of what's known as the 'Victoria Cross of New Zealand’ and is the only recipient of that particular award.

This replaced the British Victoria cross in 1999, which was awarded to other brave kiwis including captain Charles Upham.