Helen Clark was the first elected female Prime Minister in New Zealand's history, leading the Labour Party to three consecutive election victories for the first time ever over nine years (1999 - 2008). She is now the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, the UN's third-highest position, and lives in New York.
Aside from her achievements in politics and international relations, Helen is also known for climbing mountains and skiing cross-country for holiday relaxation. She also enjoys opera and theatre.
Under her leadership New Zealand enjoyed solid economic growth, low unemployment and an investment in health and education. She successfully navigated several decades of working in a male-dominated arena, and during her political career had to endure countless comments and speculation (from both sexes) on her looks, her clothes, her lack of desire to have children, and her marriage to Auckland University professor Peter Davis. It caused an international scandal when she greeted the Queen wearing a designer trouser suit. ("It's 2002, not 1642," was Helen's response to the outcry from British media.)
Helen Elizabeth Clark was born in 1950, the eldest of four daughters, and grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in the Waikato area. Her move to urban Auckland as a teenager was an eye-opener for the young Helen, and at university she protested against the Vietnam War and foreign military bases in New Zealand.
She joined the Labour Party while studying for an MA (Honours) in Politics and entered Parliament in 1981 after winning the Mount Albert seat in Auckland, which she held until 2009. She became the Leader of the Opposition in 1993 and has been Minister of Housing, Minister of Health and Minister of Conservation, and also Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage while she was Prime Minister, boosting arts funding nationwide.
Her government was responsible for introducing Kiwibank, KiwiSaver, the NZ Superannuation Scheme, the Working for Families benefit and increasing the minimum wage. It also introduced interest-free student loans.
In 2009 she was made a member of the Order of New Zealand. Her work for the UN has been applauded and she is considered a serious candidate for the next UN Secretary-General. Go, Helen!
For more of Helen's story, read Helen Clark: A Political Life by Denis Welch.