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PM 'looked white', says restaurant owner

Friday 18 Jan 2013 12:20 p.m.

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By 3 News online staff

The owner of the restaurant where John Key fainted last night says the Prime Minister "looked a little bit white" when he came in for dinner.

Mr Key was dining at Merivale restaurant Tutto Bene ahead of a planned trip to Antarctica today. But when he tried to get up at the end of his meal, his legs buckled and he passed out for a number of seconds, according to witnesses.

"He just fainted in his chair, he couldn’t get up," says Felice Mannucci, who owns the restaurant with his wife Paulette.

"People started to help him, you could see they were quite concerned about it. After five, or possibly 10 minutes he got up from the chair and he went to the carpark and he went away."

Mr Key was taken by police car to Christchurch Hospital, where he was assessed by three specialists for two-and-a-half hours before being discharged.

Mr Mannucci said nothing appeared to be wrong with Mr Key before he fainted, though he did look "a little bit white".

"He sat at the table with his friends, he was quite chatty and talking to them and then he had his dinner and was relaxing, just sitting in a chair… There was nothing you could really see, he just fainted, that’s all."

One diner, who was sitting across from Mr Key, says the collapse created quite a scene.

“I had to get up and move my table and stand watching people fan him with a menu,” he says.

“They brought him water, they opened up all the doors and everyone was looking, and he was just sitting in front of me … with hands on his forehead and looking pretty sick.” 

Antarctica New Zealand has carried out its own risk assessment and is satisfied he can travel to the icy continent today, where he will stay at Scott Base and visit a number of research projects.

A manager at Tutto Bene told Fairfax that Antarctica NZ chief executive Lou Sanson texted her to say Mr Key appeared to be suffering from jet lag after returning from holiday in Hawaii on Wednesday.

"He looked extremely tired and he was perspiring," says Felicity Plummer, who said he was caught by a person standing next to him.

"He didn't actually thump on the ground or anything," she said. "He was assisted and helped to his feet."

Other diners gasped in shock, but let diplomatic protection officers through to take care of him.

"I felt sorry for him – he just looked absolutely exhausted," says Mr Plummer.

After he came to, Mr Key appeared dazed. Another diner described him as "pale and sick", and said he "sat there and face-palmed for about 10 minutes" before being helped out.

It was Mr Key's first meal at Tutto Bene. Ms Mannucci described it as one the most bizarre things she's seen happen at the restaurant.

Mr Key was originally supposed to leave yesterday evening on board a United States Air Force Hercules, but the flight was delayed due to fog.

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