For more than two decades, the New Zealand city of Christchurch has annually paid thousands of dollars to Ian Brackenbury Channell, known as the official Wizard of New Zealand.
Now the city council wants him to disappear.
Channell has been paid $16,000 annually in New Zealand dollars (about $11,290 U.S.) – about $368,000 ($260,000 in U.S. dollars) over 23 years – for “acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services,” the city’s assistant chief executive Lynn McClelland said in a statement to USA TODAY.
“The Council is grateful for the valuable and special contribution The Wizard made to our city’s cultural life, and he will forever be a part of our history,” she said.
Born in London, Channell began making appearances in the city’s Cathedral Square in 1974, according to the city’s library website. Over the years, his public appearances included rain dancing during droughts.
Popular with tourists, Channell’s presence grew as New Zealand became known as the location where the “Lord of the Rings” movies were made.
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The council recently sent him a letter saying his services would no longer be needed and that his presence didn’t fit with its new tourism message, in a move first reported by The Guardian. The city’s “promotional landscape” is changing, McClelland said, and will reflect “a vibrant, diverse, modern city that is attractive to residents, domestic and international visitors, new businesses, and skilled migrant workers.”
The council hasn’t commented on another development: Channell’s recent TV appearance, during which he discussed his attitude toward women.
“I love women, I forgive them all the time, I’ve never struck one yet,” The Guardian reported Channell said on the TV show New Zealand Today. “Never strike a woman because they bruise too easily is the first thing, and they’ll tell the neighbors and their friends … and then you’re in big trouble.”
Channell told The Guardian he had made fewer appearances lately because the council would not respond to his ideas on how to improve tourism.
“It’s just they don’t like me because they are old bureaucrats and everyone likes me and no one likes them,” he told the outlet.
The city’s website says it’s the only city in the world to have its own wizard since 1982. That year, The New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Association dubbed Channell “a living work of art.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Mike Moore also honored him with a citation in a 1990 letter, posted on Channell’s website, noting “I am concerned that your wizard is not officially at the disposal of the entire nation.” So Moore promoted him as, “the Wizard of New Zealand, Antarctica and relevant offshore areas” and a “National Treasure.”
Channell had been prominent in protests against the city’s plan to demolish some historic buildings damaged in a 2011 earthquake, according to an exhibit in the city’s Christchurch Heritage Festival 2021.
McClelland said the last of the city’s quarterly payments to Channell will be made after Dec. 31.
“The Council has met with the Wizard and sent him a letter thanking him for his services to Christchurch over the past decades, and informing him that we are bringing our formal contractual arrangement to a close,” she said.
Channell told New Zealand news website Stuff he plans to continue making public appearances.
“It makes no difference,” he said. “I will still keep going. They will have to kill me to stop me.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.