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Who is beneath the top hat and green coat?

Apr 14th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

THE commissionaire at Kirkcaldie & Stains is iconic in Wellington. The smiling gentleman adorned with a top hat and green long coat lends a certain old school charm to the shopping experience.

For the past 12 years, Tom Neve (right) has been welcoming the public through the doors of the city’s oldest department store, yet few know much about him.

Tom is originally from Aberdeen, Scotland and started his working life in the merchant navy before joining the Royal Navy for the then compulsory National Service.

Nine years later he transferred to the New Zealand Navy where he spent another 11 years, during which he did a stint in Vietnam as a medic.

When he started at Kirkcaldie & Stains Tom was 65 and had recently retired from his full-time job as a welfare officer at the crown health department.

“My wife, bless her heart, was looking through the paper and saw a part-time job as a commissionaire. She knew I was at a bit of a loose end.

“‘It seems ideal’ she told me, ‘the only thing is you’ll have to wear a top hat, by the sound of things. It’s a uniform job, but you’ve been in the services so you’ll be quite used to that’,” he says, laughing.

At only 16 hours a week, the work doesn’t take up too much of his time and the money helps with the weekly grocery bill.

Tom said that during his 12 years on the door at Kirks he has been offered money twice and has posed for countless photos.

“Every time a cruise ship comes in they all come by.”

The most memorable when “three big women” came to the door and posed with him for a photo. The distinguishing moment was at the end, when one of the women came up to him and firmly shook his hand saying: “You’re now famous in Latvia.”

He says that no one had ever been downright rude to him.

“The younger people are more polite, they’ll always say ‘please and thank you’. It’s the older, ‘Mrs Khandallahs’ as I like to call them, that can be the rude ones.”

His genial nature is a quintessential part of the job “you have to be a people person”, though amateur dramatics as a youngster in Scotland have helped too.

“When I put on the uniform I play a part – people that I know from work don’t recognise me down the street.”

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