As It Happens

New Zealand wizard insists reports of his retirement have been greatly exaggerated

The Wizard of Christchurch isn’t going anywhere, no matter what his haters say.

‘It's put out by my enemies, of which I have millions,’ says the official Wizard of Christchurch

The Wizard of Christchurch says he won't retire. (Joseph Johnson/Getty Images)

Transcript

The Wizard of Christchurch isn't going anywhere, no matter what his haters say.

Despite what you may have read in the headlines, Ian Brackenbury Channell — also known as Jack  — insists he has no intention of hanging up his pointy hat anytime soon.

"No notion of that at all. I don't know where that came from. You can't retire, really. It's almost impossible," Channell, 87, told As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong. "You might drop dead. You're not going to retire."

Ari Freeman, the man perhaps best positioned to benefit from Channell's retirement, echoed that sentiment. 

"I don't think wizards are supposed to retire," the wizard's young apprentice said. "I think they keep going until they fall off their perch."

"Unless they go soggy on a woman, and then I'm afraid they've really had it," Channell added. "Watch out for those women. They're too good."

How Christchurch got its own wizard

Channell is former English teacher from England who briefly trained as Royal Air Force navigator in Manitoba. He has been the official Wizard of the New Zealand city since 1998. 

He collects an annual salary of $10,000 ($8,656.09 Cdn) for the work he does promoting tourism, attending events and welcoming dignitaries.

Before that, he was appointed the Wizard of the University of New South Wales in 1969 by the school's vice-chancellor and the students' union. In 1990, then-prime minister Mike Moore dubbed him The Wizard of New Zealand.

He was awarded the Queen's Service Medal, the nation's highest honour, in 2009. He has his own Wikipedia page and four stars on TripAdvisor.

Jack the Wizard awaits the arrival of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, during a visit to Latimer Square in Christchurch on April 14, 2014. (Martin Hunter/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1995, then-As It Happens host Michael Enright interviewed Channell and asked him what his wizardly duties entailed.

"There are a lot of ceremonial duties needed because the church has stopped doing it now, and the place is getting more and more boring," he replied.

"Everyone wears ordinary clothes and jeans and baseball hats and the whole of the ceremonial life is going to pot. So I do what I can to bring some ceremony back into New Zealand."

Got a lot of enemies

But when he first showed up in Christchurch to do his wizardly work in the 1970s, he didn't receive a warm welcome. 

The city council refused to acknowledge his wizard status, and denied him permission to speak in the city square, according to a recent profile on CNN.

CNN also reported that Channell "spends less time in the public eye" as he gets older, and is looking for a successor. That prompted a string of headlines suggesting that he's stepping down

Ian Brackenbury Channell has long been a national institution and a magnet for tourists. (Reuters)

"It's put out by my enemies, of which I have millions. They're bureaucrats and they want me to retire because they can't stand that they've got a wizard here because nobody ever wanted a wizard in authority," he said.

"People like the wizards. But I can assure you, scientists, priests, academics, bureaucrats all hate wizards — unless they're on film or in a book, and then they're OK."

The next generation 

That said, Channell has been training Freeman, his apprentice, ever since he showed up six years ago and announced: "Hi, I'm Ari, and I'm a young wizard."

"I had no choice in it. He just turned up," Channell said. "That's how life is. Whatever happens, you have to put up with it. And he seems very keen and he's got the right intellectual detachment, so I'm not going to object to it at all. He helps out quite a bit."

Musician Ari Freeman is following in the Wizard of Christchurch's footsteps. (Submitted by Ari Freeman)

Freeman is a musician and says wizardry seemed like a natural next step. 

"I'd say that being a performer is exactly why I became a wizard, and not because I considered being a wizard necessarily a performance. But I consider all performance a type of magic … a way to charm an audience into having a good time, especially through music," he said.

"And when I started to have some success in that, I started to wonder, what can you get away with? And Jack the Wizard of New Zealand has been getting away with a lot of things for a long time."

The two don't always see eye-to-eye on the role of wizardry, he said, but they both share a passion for keeping the tradition alive.

"And he's got a wonderful beard," Channell said. "Mine is humble by comparison."

Despite his years of study and bushy-faced credentials, Freeman will have to wait for Channell to shed his mortal coil before he can step into the role of Wizard of Christchurch.

"Because there's so much ego-tripping in the role, I'd say there can only be one arch-wizard at one time," Freeman said. 

But so far, there's no one else in line for the job. Channell says Freeman is the only person who has ever asked him to be trained as a wizard's apprentice.

"There's no big movement yet," Channell said. "But it's coming up. I'm sure the world right now is ready for wizards."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Ian Brackenbury Channell and Ari Freeman produced by Sarah Jackson.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story miscalculated the currency conversion between New Zealand and Canadian dollars and misidentified Christchurch as New Zealand's capital city.
    Aug 13, 2020 8:28 PM ET

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