She had already done far more than most people dream of. She had managed several hundred staff at Buckingham Palace, and later forged a career in insurance.

But as she ran down the still-shaking stairs of the cracked AMI Building on February 22 six years ago, her life perspective changed.

“The buildings to the side of us had fallen over,” she said.

“I immediately looked over to where my husband’s building was. The CTV building was between us. It was on fire, all I could see was smoke and dust and I immediately thought it was his building.”

It wasn’t, and the couple found each other in the chaos of Latimer Square before her husband realised that his scooter could be useful and started ferrying rescue workers where they needed to go.

“I had a colleague who was a volunteer ambulance officer. As soon as we came out of the building, he took off to the CTV building and worked till 3am pulling people out of the rubble.

“I thought, I would have liked to help people in a better way than dealing with their insurance claims.

Steele, now 33, graduates on Saturday with a nursing degree from Manukau Institute of Technology.

It is her second degree. Her first, from Canterbury University, was in English and history, and she walked straight out of that into her “first grown-up job” at Buckingham Palace. She was 22, freshly arrived on her OE.

“I saw it advertised and applied. I thought even if I don’t get it, just going for the interview will be an amazing experience,” she said.

She was hired as one of four people managing 450 to 500 tour guides, wardens and other staff for Royal Collection Enterprises – the palace’s “business arm”.

The job involved recruiting and training staff and organising events such as charity fundraisers, often attended by the royals.

“I’ve met all the royal family. If there were charities that they were patrons of they would be there, or sometimes you would meet the more junior royals in passing,” she said.

“To meet the Queen, you would be invited to a reception or a cocktail party – they take really good care of their staff.

“You got to go to the Queen’s box at the Royal Albert Hall, and tickets to Wimbledon, cocktail evenings with the Lord Chamberlain, all sorts of wonderful things.”

But Steele had left her husband – then still her fiance – back in Christchurch, doing his doctorate. After three years at the palace, she came home.

She got a job at AMI, rising to be its training and development manager. She and her husband both transferred within their companies to Auckland six months after the quake, and Steele kept working for AMI part-time right through her three-year nursing course.

This week she is working night shifts in a general surgical ward at Mercy Ascot Hospital at Greenlane.

“I did have that nagging doubt about what if I get to my first clinical placement and find it’s not for me,” she said.

“After my first day I thought, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I was really relieved. I felt very strongly that this is what I should be doing with my life, and I kind of haven’t looked back from there.”

By Simon Collins


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