Jacinda Ardern got engaged to partner after Easter proposal. New Zealand almost didn't notice
WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is engaged to be married, and it took a sharp eye for New Zealand to find out.
Ardern, 38, and her partner of more than five years, Clarke Gayford, 41, became engaged over Easter weekend, a spokesman for Ardern confirmed Friday.
The prime minister made global headlines last June when she became the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth while in office, and she has since received widespread praise for her response to the Christchurch terrorist attacks in March.
There was no public announcement of the engagement, and neither she nor Gayford has commented.
The news emerged only because a reporter - a student journalist on an internship - spotted a ring on Ardern's middle finger at an event on Friday and asked her office about it. Ardern had apparently been wearing the engagement ring since Monday.
Since Ardern announced her pregnancy in January 2018, she and Gayford had fielded repeated questions about whether they would marry. Last year, when Ardern was seen wearing a band on her ring finger, she fended off speculation that she had gotten engaged, saying the ring was on that finger because of skin irritation.
At times, such questions were criticized in New Zealand as invasive or gendered. Some viewers voiced outrage at a BBC interviewer who asked Ardern about future engagement plans and whether she would consider proposing to Gayford.
Ardern and Gayford met while attending a restaurant awards ceremony in 2012 - she in her role as a lawmaker, and he as the event's host. They began dating after Gayford approached Ardern with a constituency issue.
Ardern's rise to power was swift; she became leader of the center-left Labour Party just weeks before New Zealand's 2017 election, and is now the country's youngest leader in 150 years. Her youth, charisma and progressive policies have stirred fervent admiration among her devotees - a phenomenon called "Jacindamania" by the news media.
Ardern's quest to balance leadership and motherhood have generated discussion throughout her tenure; before she became prime minister, she also made headlines for chiding interviewers who asked her whether she would take time off from work if she had a baby.
At the time, she said that asking a woman in a professional context if she planned to get pregnant was "totally unacceptable."
Ardern ultimately took six weeks off work after the birth of the couple's daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford. Gayford then became a stay-at-home parent.
In the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks in March, in which 51 worshippers were killed at two mosques, Ardern again made world news. Commentators praised what they deemed her compassion, her decision to wear a hijab when comforting survivors and the families of those killed, and her swift action to ban most semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand.