18 Jun 2015

New Zealander steps into Iron Duke's boots

9:33 am on 18 June 2015

It's 200 years tomorrow since the Duke of Wellington helped defeat Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo - and a New Zealander will be there to star in a reenactment as the 'Iron Duke'.

To mark 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, 5000 re-enactors, 300 horses and 100 cannons will recreate the legendary battle in Belgium.

To mark 200 years since the battle, 5000 actors, 300 horses and 100 cannons will recreate it in Belgium. Photo: Phil Thomason

Alan Larsen, who has been working in reenactments and event presentations in Europe for about 30 years, described it as his "latest and, perhaps, the biggest gig".

To mark the bicentenary, 5000 actors, 300 horses and 100 cannons will recreate the legendary battle in Belgium.

Larsen has played other historical roles, including William the Conqueror during a reenactment of the Battle of Hastings (1066) in 2012, where he commanded more than 100 cavalrymen on the site of the original battlefield. He has also taken part in major reenactments in France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, South Africa and the US.

But the Battle of Waterloo, he said, was his biggest stage yet.

"It's an enormous honour to be asked to portray the Iron Duke at probably the most famous festival of its type, and an event that's gaining worldwide attention," he said.

The logistics required for the event live up to the scale of the original: 3500kg of gunpowder, 100 cannons, 52 nationalities, 3.5km of road barriers, and 100 bales of straw and hay, each weighing 300kg, as well as 200kg of peat to hide the explosives.

'All I have to do is not fall off my horse'

Larsen is a fervent admirer of the duke, describing him enthusiastically as the "great victor of the Battle of Waterloo, who always did his utmost to protect the lives of his men".

"On Friday and Saturday, we have large-scale reenactments of the Battle of Waterloo, and it's gonna be pretty full-on here. I can see, looking around me, it's an incredible atmosphere, as you can imagine."

The 54-year-old historical events consultant now lives in Bolsover, Derbyshire, in England.

But, despite being on the other side of the world for the event, Mr Larsen credits his horseriding skills to his upbringing in the South Island.

"My riding skills began a long time ago back in Southland. My family from outside of Invercargill got me riding when I was young - they know this story began on a farm outside Invercargill about 40 years ago. And I've been riding professionally in events, films and TV work over in Britain, while still trying to get home as often as I can."

Is he nervous about his role?

"The actual direction of the battle itself, as you can imagine, is a choreographed affair, and mine is more of a cameo acting role," he said.

"So all I really have to do is to just not fall off my horse - and point in the right direction at the right time."

Alan Larsen: "All I really have to do is to just not fall off my horse..."

Alan Larsen: "All I really have to do is to just not fall off my horse..." Photo: Chantal Crèvecoeur

The re-enactment will require some of the same logistics as the original.

The re-enactment will require some of the same logistics as the original. Photo: Richard-Yves Storm

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