Coddington now a lover, not a hater

By Michele Hewitson

Just look at Deborah Coddington giggling away like a love-struck teenager, showing off her engagement ring. "I said to the jeweller, 'I want it to look like stars had fallen down from the sky. Beautiful, isn't it?' "

Oh, probably, Deborah. But I wanted to know what she'd done with the ring He Who Cannot Be Named bought her when she became an Act politician. This ring had Act engraved on it and it meant she was married to the party. "Oh, look," she says, "that was just a joke."

She is not, as everyone knows, going to be married to Act, even as a joke, for much longer. She is now married to Colin Carruthers, QC. Or "Mr Carruthers" as Ms Coddington decides, for another giggle, to call him during the interview.

This makes us both laugh immoderately. This is good because I had thought she might be prickly. When she said she'd talk to me, she sounded, I tell her, as miserable as somebody agreeing to a knee-capping.

After spending an hour with her - this curious chameleon - she tells me she won't be doing it again. I wonder whether she's done the interview to be nice: because she is so smiley and nice now she is married to Mr Carruthers, QC.

She's agreed, she says, because she thinks politicians should do interviews if asked - although I was nice enough not to point out that she hadn't talked to me when He Who Cannot Be Named got into bother, as did she by association.

Still, she said then she would later and now here she is.

The not doing it again is nothing personal. She is the journalist who, surprise, has not much enjoyed being the stories. She says she thought she could slip away from Parliament quietly, "because I've only been there one term and I'm in a small party. I suppose my naivety continues to surprise even me." Now that is funny. Because, goodness, what stories she has generated.

I ask whether she feels badly about the publicity and she says, "No, because what could I do about it? I didn't behave badly." And "the time when Act went up in the polls was when I was in the media for ... He Who Shall Not Be Named". She admits that her colleagues were "probably, sometimes, grinding their teeth when I was getting headlines and they weren't".

She had said to me, on the phone, that she wouldn't talk about anything personal. She will not talk about Alister Taylor, her former partner of more than 25 years, or Roger Kerr, the Business Round Table bloke who we all thought was a dry old stick until he chased Coddington at Parliament.

But they did, inevitably, come up so I settled for calling them both He Who Cannot Be Named. Which, as you can see, she then adopts. "If you're after the juicy stuff, you're not getting it," she said.

This is good, because I don't want to even think about the juicy stuff. As for the personal stuff: you try stopping her.

She says she's leaving politics because she's not angry enough any more. That she no longer sees things in black and white; that this has to be your way of seeing if you are to be a politician.

"I just felt that as time went on that I was losing my fight, the fight was going out of me. I would go down to the House and smile at everyone." This is because "I am just so much in love and so happy and I'm just too relaxed to give the job everything".

I don't see why she couldn't be a happy, smiling pollie, doing good in the world. The Greens seem a jolly lot. Perhaps she could join them. She retorts that "not in the House" they're not. And she no longer has the stomach to deal out the verbal biffo.

She'll be campaigning for Act but if I was Rodney Hide I'd have her locked up somewhere secure - on Mr Carruthers' vineyard, perhaps - until after the election. In the space of an hour she tells me how sorry she feels for John Tamihere, how she felt "terribly emotional" about the effect Act-led allegations about Te Wananga o Aotearoa had had on "some absolutely dedicated people there", about "some really good things" Phil Goff has been doing "to protect children from child abuse ... and he's a Labour MP, he's the Left, you know".

Quite possibly it is Mr Carruthers who ought to be locked away. "This is what Mr Carruthers has done to me." I would quite like to meet him because I have never met a saint. "He's the most wonderful person ... and he has this wonderful humanity, it is a humanity deep within."

When she first met him, in Bob Jones' office, she thought: "This is the kindest person I've ever met in my life."

I hazard that it is possible that this is not quite what Mr Carruthers immediately thought of Ms Coddington. This is not a rude thing to say, or not very rude. She didn't get to be a crusading journo, or a politician, by being kind.

She tells me that she "feels the hard edges have been rubbed off". She sent, as an example, a letter to Alan Duff apologising for the hurt she caused in a damning story about him.

At certain times during this interview - and this is one - I find my jaw dropping.

She knows what she sounds like, " ... absolutely corny but, I don't know, I just see things differently because I'm so happy".

She insists, against all speculation to the contrary, that she is not leaving Act because she was to be dumped down the list. "If that was true, I would have been better to stick around and be a martyr because in all the polling ... I come out in the top four or five."

She's a lover now, not a hater. I ask if she's on pills and she laughs and says: "No. No, ha ha, I'm not on pills. I'm not on Prozac. I'm on life.

"I'm 52 and I've been given another chance. Not many people get one chance at true love. I've been given another chance at it and I'm not going to let anything jeopardise that."

I wonder why she was so angry before Mr Carruthers and whether she was angry because she was unhappy. To which she says: "I told you I didn't want to talk about personal things". And just as I'm about to say, "Well, you started it" she launches into a spiel how it was "too hard and too stressful to deal with the way Alister [Taylor] handled his business and I tried hard to cope but in the end I couldn't and I was unhappy, very unhappy".

She says that yes, she thinks humanity was lacking in her life. And although "I'm not a psychoanalyst" she thinks the reason she wrote "such hard-arse stories", and then went off to Parliament is "maybe having to prove myself. I don't know. This is getting all very navel-gazing."

No, I don't know either. This is all very odd. It's as though aliens have taken the real Coddington away and replaced her with this giddy, giggly imposter.

"You're going to send me up, aren't you, Michele?" she says at the end.

Just a bit, Deborah. And she's had - by the look of disbelief on my face for the last hour - fair warning. The old Coddington would probably have had a hissy fit.

This one, I think, is more likely to giggle.

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