Step aside Harry Potter! Meet the first man in the modern world to be government appointed as an official Wizard!

wizard487Wizard of Christchurch (

New Zealand is known as “Middle Earth” by Tolkien fans around the world because it was the location for Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies of epic movies. Fans flock to the country to visit the various areas made famous in the films. Hobbiton has become a major tourist attraction with tours of the film set augmented with themed bars, cafes and a shop selling clothing inspired by the movies. The spectacular alpine scenery featured in the films also draws visitors in droves. However, these Tolkien fans might not realize New Zealand has the only legally recognized wizard in the world! Unless they visit Christchurch, they will probably leave New Zealand without knowing anything about him.


Ian Channell’s name may not be recognized by the majority of Kiwis but as the Wizard of Christchurch, Ian has become an icon and a tourist attraction. This eccentric, and intelligent man was born in London in 1932. He was an airman in the Royal Air Force before attending Leeds University where he graduated with an honours degree in psychology. While studying at Sydney University in the 1960s, he created ALF (Action for Love and Freedom) and as a result added some excitement to the stodgy university. His head of department was convinced he was mad so had him dismissed from studies but other staff members saw his potential so had their colourful student reinstated as their university’s official wizard. Over the following period Ian spent time travelling around Australian universities and convinced the powers at Melbourne University to hire him as their cosmologist and shaman. At this time, he created Alf’s Imperial Army as a pacifist organization to campaign against the war in Vietnam. His army of  enthusiastic “soldiers” fought battles on campus and made headlines across the city.

With a recognizable nod to the zany British “Monty Python” comedy team, Alf’s Imperial Army may seem totally mad to many people. Have a look at this video taken at Otago University to celebrate the 40th anniversary ‘battle”. Their antics are an acquired taste but it’s all undertaken with tongue in cheek.

Tired of Australia, Ian moved to Christchurch where he was soon seen astride a ladder in his conical wizard’s hat lecturing to the crowds in Cathedral Square, in the centre of the city. The city council tried to have him arrested but when they discovered he had done public speaking in Melbourne without disturbing the peace, and also with his speeches proving to be popular with the citizens of Christchurch, they eventually designated the square a public speaking area leaving him free to enlighten his followers.


During spring and summer each year the Wizard’s daily public declarations in Cathedral Square have drawn crowds and in 1984, the New Zealand Art Gallery declared him a living work of art. That same year, the Christchurch City Council officially declared him “Wizard of Christchurch”.  On a day I listened to him speak, there were around 60 people gathered around him. There was a heated discussion about something going on. His opinions often caused debate, just what he wanted to happen. Being very articulate, it was easy to be drawn into any discussion he generated.

As well as the wooden ladder used as a prop for his declarations, the Wizard’s bright red 1965 Volkswagen has been an iconic attraction in Christchurch for many years and is possibly the quirkiest car in Australasia. The Wizardmobile’s “push me-pull me” appearance always turned heads as it puttered around the central city prior to the earthquakes of  2010 and 2011.


After the devastating earthquakes destroyed the central city, the Wizard moved to the southern town of Oamaru, recognized as home to the quirky Steampunk exhibitions and residents who amble around the town’s historic precinct dressed in Victorian clothing. With these eccentricities, it seemed the ideal place for the Wizard. However, when the badly damaged Christchurch Cathedral was at risk of  being demolished, the Wizard returned to his beloved city to try and save the building from disappearing forever. The locals were pleased to see him return as they understood how important he was to Christchurch’s economy. He was immensely popular with tourists who eagerly lined up to have their photos taken with him. His return also gave comfort to the weary citizens as his presence represented a step in the city’s recovery.


Prime Minister Mike Moore signed an official document on the 6th October 1990 declaring Ian Channell the ‘First Wizard of New Zealand’. This entitled him to do wizardry for the benefit of New Zealand and its citizens. Now also known as “Jack”, he was charged with a number of tasks including cheering up the population but especially to put New Zealand on top of the world!


The Wizard has been asked to cast numerous spells and perform rituals to help with various issues that have arisen over the time he has been in Christchurch. He performed a rain dance in Australia to break a drought. It worked! He was also invited to a Farming Show in the town of Waimate south of Christchurch, where farmers were struggling with a six month drought. There was a great deal of interest as the Wizard produced a bucket, an umbrella, a drum and his trusty wizard’s staff. After a short time banging the drum and chanting mantras, clouds appeared over the town and rain fell so heavily, the show was flooded. The success of the spell made the front page of the New York Times and put the little town on the map.


In December 2015, after living in New Zealand for 41 years, the 83 year old Wizard of Christchurch became a naturalized New Zealander. “I’ve been here long enough to know I love it. I feel like a Kiwi. I’ve already been Kiwi-fied. I’m now ‘The Wizard of NZ’,” he beamed to reporters after the naturalization ceremony.

The Wizard has recently taken two wizardry apprentices under his spell and is passing on his wizard’s magical secrets. When asked when he will hand his work over to these younger men, he said, “I can’t retire. Wizards get better with age, but they might fall off their perch at some stage. My brain gets better every day.”

Check out this short profile on the Wizard made by the local TV station.

In the Queen’s 2009 Birthday Honours, the Wizard of New Zealand was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for his services to the community.

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