French ambassador shears in celebration

A new career-path could be beckoning for French Ambassador to New Zealand Florence Jeanblanc-Risler who wants to compete for her country when it hosts the World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in two years' time.

She put in her first-ever blows with the hot steel of a shearing handpiece at the Golden Shears in Masterton today ahead of her country hosting the next World Championships in Le Dorat, Central France, on July 1-6, 2019.

She managed a few blows down the last side and across the tail, under the watchful eye of shearing instructor Russell Knight, of Apiti.

The big difference was that her first touch of the handpiece came on the most vaunted stage in shearing competition, at the show which set the global shearing sports alight when it was first held in Masterton's War Memorial Stadium in 1961.

Mrs Jeanblanc-Risler, a self-appraised "city-girl" who ends her post to Wellington in mid-2018, envisages she will have time to learn to shear, heading out to the countryside where she did develop some affinity with les moutons as she played with lambs as a child around the family's "summer house" at Annecy in the French Alps.

Such interest leapt forward as she linked with the French team preparing for last month's World Championships in Invercargill, and their successful bid to stage the next championships.

She found it was all about the passion of a small town in the countryside, playing a significant role in the economy of a country with 7 million sheep.

She conceded making the team would be "hard work," but expects to be still at the championships, 370km south of Paris.

"It was very interesting to go to Invercargill and defend the bid," she said. "They had an amazing team of people, so I will be there (in 2019) in some kind of way, as a VIP or something."

Mrs Jeanblanc-Risler joins a growing list of politicians and diplomats grappling with a shearing handpiece in front of a crowd. Prime Minister Bill English did it at Invercargill, in a brief cameo with retired Te Kuiti shearing great Sir David Fagan, and US Ambassador Mark Gilbert, now detailed back to the states, did so at the 2015 Golden Shears.

Today, stadium commentator Gerald Spain assured her as she clasped the handpiece for the first time that she was "where it all started" for all shearers, being shown by Mr Knight how to peel the last few blows of the last side with the hope of one day learning how to shear a whole sheep and eventually getting a stand as a full-time shearer.

"Thank you so much for helping me," she said as she stretched the back a minute or two later. "I'm a bit disappointed though. I would have liked to do at least half the sheep."


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