In 1998, the City Council of Christchurch, New Zealand, hired Ian Brackenbury Channell as official assistant. For the past 23 years, he has received an annual salary of NZ $ 16,000 (just over US $ 11,000 today) in exchange for “[providing] acts of witchcraft and other wizard-like services, as part of promotional work for the city of Christchurch.
According to Christchurch City Libraries, these acts and services included rain dances, spells, philosophical speeches in the city’s Cathedral Square, etc. Channell’s status as a “living work of art” – not to mention his appearance as Gandalf, with a pointy hat, flowing dresses and a gnarled staff – has also made him a tourist attraction for the area.
But soon, Christchurch will be wizard-free: like NPR reports, officials decided to terminate Channell’s contract in December. For anyone familiar with Channell and his work, the news might not come as a big surprise. The 88-year-old wizard has been curtailing his activities in recent years, and last summer he even expressed a wish to hand over the reins to an apprentice.
That said, he apparently won’t hang up his hat completely, even after the paychecks stop. “It does not make any difference. I will always continue”, he said Recount Stuff, explaining that he plans to continue his visits to Christchurch’s Arts Center. “They will have to kill me to stop me.”
As to why Christchurch is firing its most eccentric employee, Lynn McClelland, deputy chief executive of city council, said in a statement that the city is forming new programs that “increasingly reflect our diverse communities and feature a vibrant, diverse and modern city that is attractive to residents, national and international visitors, new businesses and skilled migrant workers. It is not clear whether the authorities have completely abandoned the tradition of having a city wizard or have decided that Channell himself does not imitate the values of the city. As The Guardian underline, he shed light on violence against women, along with other derogatory comments towards women, in an interview earlier this year, although Christchurch did not cite the incident as a factor in his decision.
“The board met The Wizard and sent him a letter thanking him for his service to Christchurch over the past decades, and advising him that we are ending our formal contractual agreement,” said McClelland.