New Zealand PM Ardern engaged to partner after Easter proposal

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is engaged to her longtime partner, fishing-show host Clarke Gayford, after a proposal over the Easter holidays, her spokesman said on Friday.

The forthcoming nuptials are a rarity for world leaders in office and follow Ardern’s pregnancy last year which was seen around the globe as a symbol of progress for female leaders.

She is only the second elected leader to give birth while in office, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990 and, if she marries while in office, will be the first major leader to do so since French President Nicolas Sarkozy wed Carla Bruni in 2008.

Her fiancé, Gayford, is a 41-year-old host of a television fishing show who takes care of their 10-month-old daughter Neve Te Aroha, while Ardern, 38, runs the country.

News of their engagement broke after journalists noticed Ardern wearing a ring on her middle finger at a public event on Friday.

Her spokesman Andrew Campbell confirmed she had been wearing the ring since Easter. He did not give details of the proposal.

Ardern was asked by the BBC while visiting London in January if she would consider asking Gayford to marry her or wait for him to propose.

“Absolutely, I’m a feminist, but I want to put him through the pain and torture of having to agonize about that question himself. That’s letting him off the hook, absolutely not,” she said jokingly.

The couple met about six years ago when Gayford went to complain to a member of parliament about the then National Party government’s proposed changes to security legislation.

He bumped into Ardern, a rising star in the Labour Party, they had coffee and were living together not long after.

Gayford’s television show, Fish of the Day, takes him around the Pacific, fishing and finding recipes for his catch. The series has been sold to 20 countries and won a gold award at the Houston International Film Festival in 2016.

While Ardern was breastfeeding her infant daughter, the family traveled to New York for the United Nations General Assembly last September.

The family divides their time between the capital Wellington and Auckland, where they own a house in a central city suburb.

Ardern’s calm and compassionate response to the killing of 51 Muslims in March burnished the credentials of a leader who has been criticized domestically over her handling of the economy and flip flops in government policy.

Three U.S. presidents married in office, according to the White House historical association, wartime leader Woodrow Wilson and two nineteenth century presidents, widower John Tyler and Grover Cleveland, who married at the White House.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jacqueline Wong