On a lonely, wet day, Peter Williams takes his time walking from Mount Maunganui's Twin Towers to Sidetrack Cafe.

Hands wedged in denim pockets, his blue shirt and brushed navy blazer are juxtaposed to the casualness of salt and sand. Even so, this well-dressed, adept showman, doesn't turn heads; or so he claims.

A veteran of broadcasting in New Zealand, Williams is nearing 40 years in the industry, but it's coming to an end. December 2018 is likely the last time we will see him presenting 1 NEWS, as he looks towards retirement.

He's spent his adult life in the public eye, and as his 65th birthday draws near, he concedes it might be time to walk away.

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"I've had a pretty good run. Been to quite a few places and done enough stuff."

This revelation of a break-up with viewers is delivered with little emotion. Those at TVNZ know of his plans, but this is the first time he's talked about them publicly.

Television presenters Toni Street, Simon Dallow, Peter Williams and Wendy Petrie. Photo/Norrie Montgomery.
Television presenters Toni Street, Simon Dallow, Peter Williams and Wendy Petrie. Photo/Norrie Montgomery.

Flying under the radar

There is something very likeable about Williams. He talks with the same distinctive voice as he does on the telly - resonant, powerful, emotive. He's intelligent, humorous, and versatile - something that's given him an edge.

He's never been a polarising figure on TV, nor has he wanted to be. He doesn't get a lot of fan mail, noting no one writes letters anymore, but occasionally he'll get a nice comment on his Facebook page.

"It's just the kind of person I am. I don't like to upset people and I don't make a point of being outrageous in anything I do on-air, or off-air. I just like to do a job. You don't upset bosses, don't upset the public; just fly under the radar."

This toe-the-line diligence has helped spearhead his longevity.

He lives in Mount Maunganui and commutes to Auckland. His wife is Sara Lunam, corporate services manager at the Port of Tauranga.

He bashfully says: "I'm a bit of a handbag. She's more involved in the local community than I am."

They married in 2013. His first wife, Cecile, and mother of his three children: Nicolas, Renee and Reuben; died from ovarian cancer in 1996.

He's a trustee of the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation in honour of Cecile, and for the same reason, a foundation supporter and voice of Waipuna Hospice Foundation Board's Waipuna for Tomorrow campaign.

Life has been tough, but it's also been good.

He has a house in Wanaka and a house in Auckland. He and Lunam are looking to buy close to the Port, once their Auckland home sells.

Marathon shuffler

Down at Latitude 37, his local, and the Mount and Tauranga golf clubs, he's simply "Peter", with a handicap of seven: "Way too low, really," he notes.

He's partial to a cold Steinlager Pure after a few rounds. When down in the South Island (where he grew up), it's a pint of Speight's. "And probably a second one."

He's a runner. Correction: "Shuffler." He'll shuffle through the Auckland and Queenstown half marathons later this year.

He likes to keep his weight around 84-85kg.

He covers up from the sun when outdoors. He's had Stage 0 melanoma (in situ), three or four basal cell tumours (BCTs), basal cell carcinomas, and squamous cell carcinoma. He features in Phil Gifford's new book, Looking after your Nuts & Bolts.

His parents were school teachers in South Canterbury, Southland, Oamaru and finally Masterton. His dad, Allan, died two years ago at 89. His mum, Elizabeth, 86, still gives her celebrity son feedback, but not as much as she used to.

"She certainly gives me her opinion on other TV presenters, but I can't repeat that," he teases. "She was a great fan of Paul Henry's - she wouldn't be alone in that."

Williams isn't particularly close to any of his news colleagues at TVNZ.

"For instance, when Sara and I got married, how many people from work came? None."

He has a little chuckle. "Mind you, we only had about 35 people there." His closest friend in the broadcasting industry is Brendan Telfer.

"It's a generational thing ... Because I'm old enough to be their fathers, I can't keep up. I have had times where I have gone out and there's been a few eyebrows raised."

Newsreader Peter Williams is reflecting on 40 years in the industry Photo/Greg Bowker
Newsreader Peter Williams is reflecting on 40 years in the industry Photo/Greg Bowker

Correcting the record

Known as Grandad by his six grandchildren, he's been working part-time since 2016, after being dumped from the Breakfast show after 17 years. He admits he was "a little bit annoyed" but politely concludes: "That's life. I'd had a pretty good run.

"I'm more than happy to sleep through the night and wake up naturally. It actually makes quite a bit of difference to your body, your lifestyle, the way you feel about life."

Shortly after being axed from Breakfast, he became dehydrated at the gym and was admitted to hospital overnight. Of previous news reports: "I never collapsed for a start; that's a bit of a misnomer." There's been no repeat episode, and he says it wasn't stress related.

He works three days a week, reading the weekend news, and doing a bit of everything else. He recently reported on, and from, Sir Colin Meads' funeral.

He has been on our screens since 1979 since swapping radio for TV.

"I'm more than happy to turn my hand to anything. I like to think I know a little about a lot of stuff, not necessarily a specialist on anything."

He reads widely: "My wife always says I'm reading my phone, reading my iPad far too much, which I suppose is true, but then I spend quite a bit of time by myself."

He claims that TV news is the least "clickbait" of media. "I like to think that the lead story on the 6pm is what old farts like me, would call proper news, serious news."

Popularity surveys at TVNZ with "old farts" have always worked in his favour, although exact results remain secret. He watches himself back on the telly. A classic, well-fitted suit is important.

"People see you before they hear you so you've got to look the part."

Being coiffed by the TVNZ glam squad is a perk of being a presenter.

Recently he was on leave and finding himself feeling scruffy, ventured out to get a haircut in the Mount.

"I finished up paying about 38 bucks!" He quips: "Bloody hell. It wasn't this expensive the last time I paid for a haircut about 25 years ago!"

He has great skin, which prompts digging on what he does to keep it looking that way.

"Well, I suppose the advantages of working in an area where there's beauty therapists or people who know a bit about skin care, namely the makeup artists ... I mean I shouldn't really be admitting this, but they do recommend that you moisturise regularly. There's nothing like a little dab of Kiehl's now and then or Cetaphil. So a bit of that on your cheeks and under your eyes doesn't go amiss."

Career highlights and horror moments

He doesn't get nervous after years staring down a camera barrel. "But you're certainly well aware there's no room for stuff-ups."

He's been an award-winning sports and news reporter, an anchorman on Sport on One, a live cricket commentator on TV and radio, a quiz master on A Question of Sport, a field director, a producer, a line-up producer for sports shows, the face of multiple Olympic and Commonwealth Games, cricket and rugby world cups, a fill-in presenter on Breakfast and elsewhere, and host of revived television quiz show, Mastermind.

With such a long career, the highlights are biggies. Alongside his 2.5 week coverage of the Beijing Olympics, moments of gravity were covering the Pike River disaster and anniversary, and being called into the studio with Mike Hosking on the morning of the September 11, 2001, attacks, to purvey the news.

So many career highlights, but any horror moments?

"Yeah you forget about those don't you. Well, it's mainly in the live sports area."

He tells of broadcasting a cycle race in Wellington around the newly completed Basin Reserve in the early 1980s.

"The bike riders went up and down Cambridge and Kent Terrace ... I referred to the 'big erection' in the background as the new RA Vance stand."

A few guffaws around production followed as well as some sniggering and shaky camera work.

"That's the nature of live broadcast ... once you've said something, you can't really get it back."

Stuff-ups rarely happen on the 6pm news because it's well-prepared, produced and written.

However, at other times of the day, anomalies can happen.

He's been known to send out group emails when somebody gets their punctuation wrong, which Williams says everyone finds "totally annoying and they ignore it".

"I don't actually blame their journalism schools, I blame their primary schools ... When an apostrophe or full stop is missing, it can make a huge difference to the way you are expected to broadcast."

"I've had a pretty good run. Been to quite a few places and done enough stuff." Photo/John Borren

"I think I'll just quietly slip away"

Contemplating life after television is something he's been pondering of late.

A Mount golfing chum advised that once retired, four hours a day should be set aside for doing "proper stuff", and that's not playing golf.

"Otherwise as a retired person, you go to seed real fast. I've never forgotten that. I get the pension in less than two years, which I find extraordinary, but it's going to happen, and I'm going to fill the form in properly too. Ha, ha."

He can't say if he's proud of his career - he's never thought about it that way - but reckons 1 NEWS is probably the most popular news show in the world, per capita.

He muses: "Will people last as long as I have? The whole future of the media industry is an open question really, isn't it? Would I be surprised if somebody starting off in their mid-20s was still working in the free-to-air television industry in 40 years from now? I mean, who knows. I would say the odds are pretty low, but you never know."

One thing that's certain is that Williams has created a legacy. The nation will undoubtedly be sad to hear his final "goodnight".

Of that last TV appearance he notes: "Oh, I don't think I'll make a big song and dance about it. I think I'll just quietly slip away."

If the nation lets this father of broadcasting go so quietly, it'd be surprising.