'Lord Kevin' plans Kiwi-style royal wedding celebration

As European nobility gather in Westminster Abbey for Friday's royal wedding, one British lord is content to watch the nuptials on television in the small New Zealand farming town he calls home. The 64th Lord of Little Neston, known as Kevin Couling to his friends, dearly wishes he could be in London to see Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the knot but says prior commitments prevented him making the trip. Not that Couling expected to be rubbing shoulders with world leaders in the 10th Century Abbey -- his relatively low place on the aristocratic pecking order means he would have been angling for a vantage point with the hoi polloi. "I was invited to a party (for the wedding) on the Thames but just couldn't make it," he told AFP in his hometown of Shannon, a hamlet of about 1,500 nestled in the rural hinterland of New Zealand's North Island. "I'll just have a few friends over and watch it through the night on television with some champagne for a toast -- you can probably see more of it that way anyway." "I'll probably have a fire going too, if this weather keeps up," he added, bracing against the icy winds whipping along the town's main street. Couling, a dapper 48-year-old, is one of only a handful of British lords living in New Zealand. His title relates to a small manor in the village of Little Neston in Cheshire, north-west England. Recognised by Burke's Peerage, it was bestowed on Couling in 2007 by the current Earl of Shrewsbury after he became acquainted with the earl and worked for a time with his family. Couling said his title was a feudal lordship, one of many held by the Earl of Shrewsbury, and should not be confused with the far more senior parliamentary peerage, which confers a place in Britain's House of Lords. While the title itself pre-dates the 1066 Norman invasion of England, Couling's origins are more humble. His parents migrated from Britain in the early 1960s, seeking opportunities in what was then a far-flung outpost of the Commonwealth. They settled in Shannon when his father, an engineer, found work in a local box-making factory, then as a supervisor at a hydro-electric power station. Although born in New Zealand, Couling's English mannerisms and accent meant he had "quite a hard time" at school, where the rough-and-tumble boys were not predisposed to forelock tugging. Even today, he does not stand on ceremony when out-and-about in Shannon and locals greet him with a cheery "Hello Kevin" and no sign of lordly deference. "Most people don't even know I have one," he says when quizzed on attitudes to his title. "When they find out, you do get a bit of ribbing. Generally most people are fairly neutral to respectful of it, they don't find it offensive. There are some who do find it archaic but everyone has their own opinions, that's fine. "This is in many ways a fairly new country, it doesn't have any background in that sort of thing, so in many respects it's completely alien to it." Couling, who makes his living as a marriage celebrant, has also received a number of honours and titles through his charity work, including a project to give orphans in Malta holidays in New Zealand. These titles mean he is a Freeman of the City of London, an Honorary Colonel in the US state of Kentucky and boasts a Humanity Silver Medal from the Red Cross of Mongolia. Yet it is the title of Lord of Little Neston that he has inscribed on his business cards, a link to British nobility for the ardent royalist, who sees the royal wedding as a way to revitalise the monarchy. He points to Prince William's recent trips to disaster-hit areas of New Zealand and Australia as evidence that the second in line to the throne has inherited the common touch from his mother, the late Princess Diana. "It's a more human face for the monarchy," he said. "Diana opened the door to empathy with people." There is, however, a wistful tone when Couling notes this week's wedding is not being celebrated in New Zealand with the same fervour as previous royal extravaganzas. He's seen grainy newsreels of the huge crowds when the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II toured in 1953 and remembers a nation gripped by the marriage of Charles and Diana in 1981. This week's wedding has created a "warm, fuzzy" feeling of goodwill toward the monarchy in New Zealand, Couling said, although he was unsure how long it would last. He said becoming a republic did not seem an immediate priority for New Zealand but it was a prospect for which he was bracing himself. "I do think in time it will happen, yes, and I'm pretty sure it will happen in my lifetime... although I do think it will be sad to see it happen."