No more worries for Lions fans - thanks to Cliff Richard-style bus


Auckland (AFP)

In an unusual move, British diplomats inspired by Cliff Richard have set up office in a bus to help rugby fans visiting New Zealand for the British and Irish Lions tour.

Up to 30,000 fans have made the long trek to support the Lions, creating a mobile town of campervans and hire cars that will follow the team across the length and breadth of the country.

Passport problems and other snags are inevitable, and diplomats have hit upon a novel way to deal with them -- a big red bus that serves as a mobile consulate.

Decked out in Union flags and slogans such as "Rugby is Great", the bus will travel from match to match during the near six-week tour.

It will provide consular services to citizens of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Joel Watson, First Secretary at the British High Commission in Wellington, said it was the first time the Foreign Office had done such a thing for a major event anywhere in the world.

He said travellers needing help would normally have to visit consular offices in Wellington or Auckland, a major disruption for fans on a once-in-a-lifetime trip following the rugby.

"About two years ago, we looked at the Lions tour and decided that with the volume of fans coming across here -- we're expecting 20,000-30,000 -- that several of them would need support at some stage or other," he said.

"Rather than them coming to us, we're going to be wherever they are."

- 'Who's Cliff Richard?' -

Watson said his original idea was to have a London-style double decker bus fitted out as an office on the ground level, with staff accommodation on the top deck.

The inspiration was Richard's 1963 movie "Summer Holiday", in which the British crooner plays a mechanic who takes a double decker converted into a holiday home around Europe.

"When I mentioned (Cliff Richard) the young people in the office said 'Who's that?" Watson said.

Sadly, the double decker proved unfeasible, so two single-decker buses have been fitted out, one each for the North and South Islands.

Watson said the suggestion initially raised eyebrows before the Foreign Office agreed that the idea had wheels.

"Certainly we went through a robust challenge session, both at the High Commission and with colleagues in London," he said.

"But the idea has been accepted and we've been encouraged to do our best with it... we're 100 percent that this is a good service we'll be providing."

He said reaction from fans had been warm.

"Kiwis have come along and given us a bit of lighthearted ribbing about the Lions, and Brits have been overwhelmingly positive," he said.

"They've been really pleased to see their government's thinking about the quality of service they have while in New Zealand."