A lady of many talents Christine Hill
Like a fairy story is how Lady Christine Hill describes her life. In a rare interview, Lady Christine, the wife of Sir Michael Hill (jeweller) talks exclusively with Metropol writer Neville Idour about art, jewellery, and design.
woman of many talents, Lady Christine Hill has for almost six decades been an integral part of the “Michael Hill” journey, complementing her husband’s business acumen with her artistic design sense.
An art teacher, she arrived in New Zealand on the immigration scheme in August 1964. “The fare was 20 pounds,” Christine recollects. “The ship left Tilbury Docks in London and the voyage, via Panama and Tahiti to Wellington, took six weeks which was quite an adventure.”
Why New Zealand? “My mother had always corresponded with a girlfriend who lived in Whangarei, and her brother Harry Field wrote the arts column for the Northern Advocate there.
“I was teaching in Derbyshire at the time. One day when I went home to Huddersfield, a man was there talking to my parents about New Zealand. I thought this sounds like some sort of place. I applied to Immigration to get to New Zealand, but was turned down because I was an arts teacher, which I thought was rather odd. They seemed to want something intellectual such as maths or physics.”
Christine thought surely there was some art teaching in New Zealand so she wrote to Harry, who approached the local school headmistress with Christine’s story. She happened to be losing an arts teacher, and sent Christine an application form which she completed and returned.
The result? “She rang me and offered me the job. Most unusual in 1964 to make an international phone call like that. I went back to Immigration, and they said yes.”
Christine was 24, and had been teaching several years by then.
“I was at something of a loose end so on to the ship it was, taking my dark green Morris Mini WCX513 with me.”
Time at sea was spent contemplating her future, and “maturing”, until arriving in Wellington. She recalls the weather was terrible, and the ship late, so the immigrants were allowed to stay the extra night on the vessel.
“Harry came down to meet me and we drove my car back to Whangarei. When we got to the top of the Brynderwyns I could look down on Whangarei, and could not believe I was going to live in such a place,” she laughs.
“I came from Huddersfield, an industrial town in the north of England, so I thought it [Whangarei] looked sensational. I could not believe how clear the air was and you could see so far. Not like the smog I had come from. Living near the water and harbour was fantastic.”
The fates aligned when Christine lost a tiny stone out of a pendant, and went to Fishers “which I thought was the best jeweller in town”. “I met him [Michael] briefly there, but I was learning to play squash and it was there that I really got to
They didn’t wait for the grass to grow as Christine related: “Arrived in New Zealand in August, met Michael in November, got engaged at Christmas, and married the next March, 58 years ago.” She taught for another four years until their son Mark was born.
Happily for Christine, her parents came out for a holiday and liked the place. After the wedding, when her father retired, her parents emigrated to live in Whangarei, which proved invaluable – as were Michael’s parents – when opening the first shop in 1979.
Her initial interest and involvement in the jewellery business was drawing jewellery pieces for Fishers’ newspaper adverts and catalogues. When Michael and Christine opened their first shop after their house was destroyed by fire, Christine did the window display, changing it every Monday. Her displays were so eye-catching that people would come to watch what she was going to be putting in the window. “It was fun.”
Designing jewellery evolved as the business did, and Christine still has few pieces in stores that are her designs.
Painting is another love. “I have always drawn since I was a kid. I left school at 15, and no one back then gave counsel about what you were good at. I was working in a department store and they had an exhibition of art students’ work. I thought, brilliant, that’s what I have got to do, so I went to Arts School for five years then did a year teacher training.”
She’s extremely modest about her painted art, and even though she always has something on the go, she doesn’t go out of her way to sell it, although sell it does.
“I’ve started a new series based on rusty metal from a boat on Great Barrier Island. I think I might call it Rust Never Sleeps.” Drawing is also a part of her repertoire, as is golf to a certain extent. “I don’t like playing golf, but love walking the golf course and love the property. There is always something going on in my life.”
Looking back? “Opening that first shop was so exciting. It was sensational, as was opening any of those first shops.
“We were away on a friend’s boat and wondering what to call the shop and what the logo would be. I drew the logo which stuck with us for years.
“When I think about my background, coming from a humble family with my father a sheet metal worker and my mother a weaver, I feel where I have ended up in life is like a fairy story. It’s unbelievable.
“When I got on that ship I had no idea what lay ahead.”