Two weeks ago, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry touched down in Sydney for their first official tour together: a 16-day trip through the Pacific. The arrival of everyone’s favorite royal couple (sorry William and Kate) coincided with a Kensington Palace announcement that Markle is pregnant with her first child, but that little bump didn’t seem to slow down the duo’s jampacked itinerary. Their trip Down Under included events in Australia, Fiji, Tonga, and New Zealand, where the couple stopped at Wellington’s Maranui Café to meet with representatives of mental health projects. The popular café, located in a century-old building that also houses New Zealand’s second-oldest surf club, is co-owned by Bronwyn Kelly and Katie Richardson.
Just a few hours after the duke and duchess of Sussex had left the café, Slate caught up with Kelly over the phone to find out what exactly goes into planning for a royal visit, including what code names she used for the royal couple.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Rachelle Hampton: I’m assuming you’ve had a bit of a day! Could you take me through it?
Bronwyn Kelly: Oh yeah, it was a bit of an early start this morning. We got here quite early just to arrange the café for the event, which we were hosting, which was about mental health specifically in response to youth with a lot of youth workers from around the area. At about 7:30 the street was all cordoned off and it was filled up with royalists. We had a big coffee cart outside because obviously, us being a café, it’s very important to keep people caffeinated. We understand how important that is. [Laughs.] Then we just had a million—well no, sorry, that’s an exaggeration—we had a lot of media and a lot of police coming through the building.
It was very exciting. Then they pulled up in their car around the front and they got out, sort of did their wave to a lot of the onlookers, and came up. We introduced ourselves, my business partner, Katie Richardson, and I, and then they went off for a cup of tea and then they went around with these groups and had their discussion.
What were your impressions of Harry and Meghan?
In the room itself, we had quite a few media and [government officials] inside, plus all these participants from this group, and it was all very slightly tense, slightly anxious, quite quiet. Then once Prince Harry and Meghan, the duchess, came in, everyone sort of just relaxed because they were very nice, very smiley, very engaging, and they sort of basically just chatted to everyone and then everyone sort of took a big deep breath and the whole room seemed to just become a much more enjoyable sort of happier environment.
I can imagine there were a lot of nerves building up to the visit. What exactly was the planning process like?
We sort of knew about a month ago. To start with, we didn’t quite believe it was going to happen because it seemed so far-fetched that a member of the royal family was going to come to your café. But then after a couple of weeks, when we realized it was confirmed that it was going to happen, we sort of tried to treat it a bit like a street party to really try to get into the hype of it, the enjoyment of it. There were a few tears at times, of excitement and joy, so it was quite cool.
You said a few tears?
Yeah, one of the participants this morning, we had to take her to another room so she could calm down because she was crying.
You said you were pretty surprised, so how exactly did this visit end up getting planned then?
From what I understand, the staff from the royal family came to New Zealand earlier, and they did a sort of preplanning itinerary and they actually came to Maranui Café and just really loved the vibe and the atmosphere and the location. Maranui itself is right on the beach in Lyall Bay. We can see the airport on one side and you’ve got this sweeping sort of ocean right in front of us. I think it’s quite uniquely got this casual, beachlike feel, and I think it was kind of what they were looking for.
What was your reaction when you first found out?
Disbelief. When they said a very important couple coming from England, I thought, Oh my gosh, Beckham and Posh, but of course it was the other important couple. It was very exciting when it got finalized. My business partner, Katie, and I, we didn’t actually tell anyone for a very long time because we didn’t believe it was going to happen. It was just so fairy tale–like.
I heard you had code names for Harry and Meghan while you were keeping the visit a secret?
When you think of the most important people in Britain, you think, Oh, Posh and Becks. And so that’s what we nicknamed them: Posh and Becks.
What logistics, other than code names, did you have to plan for the visit?
All the staff had to be fully vetted, including me as well and my mother who actually does the payroll here. Luckily those all came back fine. We had police out on the beach, there were naval boats out on the ocean, a huge amount of police force, and also the bomb squad came through and turned over every table—literally—which was quite amazing. It just goes to show that New Zealanders, or the police and everything, take it very seriously. But it was a little bit embarrassing because we probably hadn’t swept everywhere and there’s a lot of sand since we’re off the beach.
Did you change the menu or have anything special?
It was a morning tea, and my business partner, Katie Richardson, she’s the one that is sort of the baking whiz in the kitchen, she creates menus. It ended up being basically English baking with New Zealand style, New Zealand flavors, local Whittaker’s chocolate, and just sort of fresh, New Zealand produce.
Were you a big royalist before this?
I used to really like Princess Di. Growing up I thought she was awesome. I once saw Princess Di and Harry and William when they were just little toddlers: They were at a museum in Paris, and I was like, Wow, that’s amazing, Princess Di. And now I’ve met Harry and shaken his hand, however many years later. That’s my whole royal story.
Oh, wow, that’s really full circle in a way. To see him as a toddler and now to meet him and his wife, who’s pregnant.
Yeah, it was amazing, really.
Could you give me a little background on the Maranui Café?
The building is quite unique. It’s a heritage building. It’s quite old in New Zealand—it’s well over 100 years old, which probably sounds pretty new. It operated as a surf lifesaving club, the Maranui Surf Life-Saving Club. We opened within the club in 2003 and then we opened up a café, so we’ve been here for a while. It has a really sort of rustic beach style, retro, quite colorful, and we have a lot of local artists doing work for us. A local artist named Mark Ussher has designed all the tabletops and a lot of artwork on the walls, which is really cool.
Do you think there’s anything else I should know about the visit?
Well, there was this one thing that Meghan did that I thought was very nice: So obviously we produced quite a lot of beautiful food for them. After their meeting, they went down the stairs and there was this little group of school kids, local school kids. And Meghan and Harry, they crouched down and shook hands with them all and talked to all these kids, and then Meghan asked if we could bring down all the extra baking to give to the kids, which was really sweet. I thought it was really generous of her to even think of that. It was unnecessary but very nice.
That’s really sweet! Was there any other gesture or moment like that that really stuck out for you?
Just that they were very nice, and they actually paid attention to everyone’s names. We all had nametags and Harry, in particular was like, “Oh hey, Bronwyn, it’s nice to meet you.” And my café manager, Tom, is actually from Britain and of course, you know, he was extra chuffed. Harry at one point was like, “Tom, Tom, come stand over here for the photo,” and he’s like, “Oh my gosh, Prince Harry just said my name.” It’s quite sweet. It was very cool.