New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern says the Queen was an inspiration to women

Speaking exclusively to ITV News' Mary Nightingale, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Queen was like "everybody's grandma" as she paid tribute to the late monarch.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says no-one could ever tell her she couldn't be a woman in power - because she had grown up with the Queen as a role model.

Speaking to ITV News exclusively, the prime minister said the late Queen gave New Zealanders a "sense of familiarity" as she was like "everybody's grandma" who was present in the country during one of its worst tragedies in history.

While some Commonwealth countries have signalled their intent to hold a republic referendum following Her Majesty's passing, Ms Ardern ruled it out for New Zealand.

She said there isn't a sense of urgency from New Zealanders right now - but she believes "there will be a natural evolution over time" that the Queen would have accepted.

The Queen and Jacinda Ardern in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, 2018. Credit: AP

Ms Ardern is one of thousands who have flown from all over the world to pay their respects to the late Queen in Westminster Hall and filed past her coffin, dressed in black, earlier on Friday.

She has become one of the first world leaders to land in London for Her Majesty's royal state funeral on Monday.

Ms Ardern paid her respects to the late Queen at Westminster Hall on Friday afternoon

Speaking of her personal connection to the Queen, Ms Ardern told ITV News' Mary Nightingale how the late monarch was a powerful female role model to her growing up.

She said: "I feel very lucky in the sense that I have grown up never knowing anything other than a Queen - and also in New Zealand's case, having not one but two female prime ministers that have gone before me.

"There was nothing ever that suggested to me that I couldn't be a woman in leadership because I was a woman.

"And I do put that down collectively to the fact that there were all those role models around me, some at a further distance than others, but nonetheless role models."

The PM said she "can't imagine what it took" to make the "huge sacrifices" the Queen made throughout her life - particularly balancing being a mother and a Head of State who regularly travelled across the world for work.

The Queen at a garden party in Auckland during her first visit to New Zealand in 1953.

"When I think about, though, a life in leadership and a life of service, it's hard to look past the Queen because, of course, politicians - we come and go. We're there at the will of the people," continued Ms Ardern.

"And I know that for however long I'm in politics, there will be a time when I'm not. And in some ways you can think about how then you'll be able to spend more time with your family in particular.

"Her service was a constant, and I have no doubt in my mind that she sacrificed a huge amount to do that."

'She was a mum and a grandmum... she was a very thoughtful person'

She recalled how nervous and anxious she was to meet the Queen for the first time, particularly trying to remember all the royal protocols.

"As soon as I walked into the room I forgot everything that I was meant to be doing, but she still had a way of putting you at absolute ease," she continued.

"This thing that stood out to me was that, in a conservation, you were having just that - a conversation."

"She asked questions in a level of detail that showed me she was keeping a very, very close eye on affairs. But at the same time, she was also a mum and she was a grandmum," she added.

"I just asked her a little bit about life... and she was always very forthcoming."

The Queen, in 1977, receiving a traditional Maori welcome at the opening of the Royal New Zealand Polynesian Festival. Credit: PA

And Her Majesty brought comfort to New Zealanders "through times of great sadness", said Ms Ardern - a connection she believes was anchored by her very first visit to the country in 1953.

The Queen was visiting New Zealand during the first, long Commonwealth tour of her reign when the Tangiwai tragedy happened on Christmas Eve of that year.

Out of the 285 passengers and crew on board the Wellington–Auckland night express, 151 people died after the train plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai.

"To be present in New Zealand during one of our greatest tragedies, I think really cemented that connection that New Zealand had with her," said Ms Ardern.

She would go on to visit the nation nine more times and it was the first place she carried out an overseas Christmas broadcast.

'During Covid we spoke twice - you know, just checking in, seeing that we're doing okay - it really did feel like someone was looking out for you' - Ms Ardern told Mary Nightingale

When more tragedies rocked the country, including major earthquakes and the 2019 Christchurch mosques mass shootings, the Queen would contact Ms Ardern to ask how different communities were coping.

During New Zealand's Covid lockdowns, the Queen also spoke to the prime minister twice to "check in".

"It really did feel like someone was looking out for you," said Ms Ardern.

"For us, she was less on the day-to-day and more bringing heart and care for how we were."

Looking forward to the future of the country, the prime minister said becoming a republic is not something she believes is in New Zealand's "immediate" future.

Ms Ardern appeared to rule out a republic referendum in New Zealand

But the leader has previously said she would not be surprised if New Zealand became a republic in her lifetime.

"The sentiment in New Zealand has been fairly, fairly consistent in this regard," she told ITV News.

"For us, it's a very complex consideration and I've never sensed there is an urgency for that debate or conversation.

"But I do believe there will be a natural evolution over over time. And I think Her Majesty would have sensed or accepted that over time as well."

She believes the new King will be received well by New Zealanders because they share a mutual passion for the environment and the collective responsibility needed to protect it.

"He's already known to us. He's a friendly and familiar face who shares a passion for things that New Zealanders are passionate about," she said.

"We're passionate about our land, our environment, the place we place to call home.

"We're worried about the future of all of those things. He understands us well."

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