Proud to Serve the Commander-In-Chief

Aide-de-camp Lieutenant Holly Swallow (left), from Masterton, with Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and aide-de-camp Lieutenant Keri Hayden, of Feilding.
Aide-de-camp Lieutenant Holly Swallow (left), from Masterton, with Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and aide-de-camp Lieutenant Keri Hayden, of Feilding.

14 July 2017

You’ve got 12 months to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

That’s how a Masterton-born Navy lieutenant describes her role alongside the Governor-General of New Zealand.

Lieutenant Holly Swallow, an old girl of St Matthew’s Collegiate School in Masterton, is finishing her role as one of two live-in aides-de-camp to Dame Patsy Reddy.

There are always two aides-de-camp to the Governor-General, both accommodated at Government House in Wellington. One is “in waiting”, primarily on duty, and one is “out of waiting”, who can defer to the primary aide-de-camp while catching up on other duties and planning longer-term events. The pair swap roles each week.

Aides-de-camp meet the Governor-General daily to discuss her programme and attend events at Government House or elsewhere. They have to liaise with event managers, organise gifts for events, and arrange travel. They organise her appointments and schedule, keep up with correspondence, and ensure speeches have been written.

The demands on an aide-de-camp’s time are high, with not much time off, which is why the military appointment is only for a year.

“I started in June 2016 with Sir Jerry Mateparae,” Lieutenant Swallow says. “That was pretty cool, to serve someone with a military background, and then someone with no connection to the military. They both had that same kind of mana – you have that automatic respect and awe.”

International travel is a big part of the job, she says.

“It’s VIP treatment, which is always fun.”

Another highlight has been meeting amazing people in the community.

“It’s simple things – like someone getting invested for service to their community, and with each person she remembers who they are. It’s really cool meeting people who put their heart and soul into a community.”

The job comes first, she says, because the Governor-General is the most important person in New Zealand.

“At the end of the day you are in the military, you are serving the Commander-in-Chief, and she comes first. But it helps that there’s two aides-de-camp, so you can share the load.”

The role has opened her eyes to how the Government works, and has given her insights well beyond her experience as a Navy supply officer.

She had decided on a career in the Navy by year 11, having been pointed by her father to a careers expo, and she followed a recruiter’s advice to get a degree first, with the Navy assisting with a scholarship. She joined the Navy’s 2014 officer intake.

After a posting on HMNZS Canterbury, her careers manager pitched the idea of a stint as an aide-de-camp to her.

“I was only 23, I didn’t know much about it. But the more I read the more interesting it sounded.”

It is not a “bag-carrying job”, she says. “People will look at you because you’re in uniform and they will look to you for guidance, leadership and example.”

Her Navy career was a departure from her years of dancing with her grandmother, Geraldine Inder, the founder of Wairarapa’s Geraldine Inder School of Dance. Her mother, Nicola Swallow, also teaches there.

“I just knew I would never be a dancer,” Lieutenant Swallow says. “It’s a hard industry to get into. I just wanted something different, and I found the answer in the Navy.”

The dancing side of her family might have been “slightly disappointed” when she left dancing, she says.

“But they are proud of what I have achieved in a short space of time. I’ve done my own thing, rather than what could have been laid out for me.”

This page was last reviewed on 13 July 2017.