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'Wizard of New Zealand' leaving Christchurch after quake

By Ben Smith, For CNN
'The Wizard,' as he is known in Christchurch, holds the Queen's baton following a welcome ceremony as part of the Commonweath Games Queen's Baton Relay January 2006.
'The Wizard,' as he is known in Christchurch, holds the Queen's baton following a welcome ceremony as part of the Commonweath Games Queen's Baton Relay January 2006.
  • "My platform is gone. Without Cathedral Square I can't function," he says
  • Ian Brackenbury Channell had been preaching at Cathedral Square since 1974
  • Channell was about to leave home for the square when the earthquake struck
  • "It felt like being in a cocktail machine," he says

(CNN) -- Christchurch may come back now that the earth-rumbling monster that devoured the city's downtown is gone, but the pointy-hatted, black-robed man who preached almost daily outside the cathedral on his "theory of everything" will not.

The Wizard of New Zealand -- as he is known, and listed in telephone directories -- says he's calling it quits, now that his public stage has been destroyed.

So he is moving down island with his 91-year-old mother to the east coast town of Oamaru.

"Almost every building I really love is gone," he said. "My platform is gone. Without Cathedral Square I can't function. I am heart-broken."

The Wizard, who is otherwise known by his given name, Ian Brackenbury Channell, has been entertaining tourists and fans since 1974. Channell did so first as a wanted soapboxing miscreant evading arrest, and later as an honoraria-paid attraction registered by a local gallery as "living work of art."

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Channell was awarded the Queen's Service Medal in 2009 and, during a chance meeting, told Sir Ian McKellen, the actor who played Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings," how a "real" wizard does the job.

Channell travels with his own special passport that bears the name "The Wizard of New Zealand," according to his website.

Besides being a wizard, the London, England-born Channell is also a comic, teacher and politician with views that are not easily categorized. Soon after arriving in New Zealand, he founded the "Imperial British Conservative Party." Channell, a former sociology professor at the University of South Wales, had previously run three times for Parliament in Australia -- and lost.

At the university, Channell managed to persuade the vice chancellor to declare him wizard of the institution, his website states.

"People think I'm mad, but they can't prove it. They also think I'm evil, but they can't prove it," said the wizard. "So they're stuffed."

Channell said he was headed out the door to make his daily appearance at Cathedral Square when the earthquake struck around 12:50 p.m. Between November and Easter, the wizard makes his daily appearance in the square at 1 p.m.

"It felt like being in a cocktail machine," the wizard said.

Magically, perhaps, Channel's house was largely unharmed by the temblor. The wizard shrugged off the suggestion that had he left the house early, he might have been killed.

Thwarted from his daily wizarding duties downtown, Channell said he went knocking about his neighborhood to offer his help and managed to find a dog in distress.

The dog, a Brussels Griffon named Molly, was drowning in water that seeped up from the ground until the wizard stepped in with a rescue that made headlines.

While Channell may have the power to save a drowning dog, saving Christchurch is beyond his magical abilities. He predicted that the old Gothic buildings in the city center will be replaced by skyscrapers.

"Unless they have a change of heart, the heritage and the image of Christchurch will be gone," Channell said.

The wizard's part of that heritage is disappearing for a different reason, he says.

"Young and old are going to the internet," said Channell. "People don't go to the square to exchange ideas so much anymore."

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