Twelve questions

Sarah Stuart poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions: Sir Bob Harvey

Sir Bob Harvey, the chairman of Waterfront Auckland, is releasing an autobiography this year detailing his colourful life, years with the Labour Party and as the long serving mayor of Waitakere. He was knighted last year.

Bob Harvey says he is fitter than he's ever been, and slimmer, having left the 
Waitakere mayoralty overweight. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Bob Harvey says he is fitter than he's ever been, and slimmer, having left the Waitakere mayoralty overweight. Photo / Sarah Ivey

1. In the current issue of Metro magazine, you write about being reincarnated from a Greek man you have seen painted on a tomb in Italy. Are you kidding?

I'm telling my own truth, as I see it. It doesn't matter if people believe me or not. I've always felt that the truth only belongs to you. I think (the man in the frieze) and I are absolutely connected somehow. Not reincarnation exactly. It doesn't work like that. But the mystery is that I do think I am him or he is me and I haven't worked that out yet. He is Greek and he is a rower I think. Probably all the men in the painting are rowers. They are champions or heroes from the war, the 300 Spartans against the Persians. And he just resonates with me. No, it doesn't freak me out. It's an extraordinary coincidence to find someone you think relates to you. I must tell you I have never seen a ghost or a UFO. I can't recall ever having deja vu. So I'm a very practical man.

2. How old are you, and how old do you feel?

I am 73 and I feel 73. I don't buy into this feeling 23 rubbish. I'm extraordinarily fit. I think I've never been fitter. I swim and I go to the gym four times a week. I can lift more than I have ever done. I'm focused on extreme exercise. I can lift 300 to 400 pounds (136kg-180kg) but don't put that. It's a bit of a skite thing. I left the mayoralty overweight and with a leg injury. I've lost the weight and the injury is nonexistent.

3. What do you know about love?

Bugger all. I've been married 43 years, yes, and I know not to mess with it. Relationships, like friendship, need constant nurturing and you never take anything for granted. Marriage is a very complex relationship between two, well I was going to say spirits, but people and you have an investment in that relationship. I think it has to always be fun, and conversational. I can't remember when Barbara and my relationship hasn't had an enormous number of jokes. Normally about each other. In our house we have never discussed divorce. Only murder. I think you can pass love on to your children and I think we've done that. They are very close siblings, and I watch them together in conversation. It's wonderful. They'll have that conversation together for the rest of their lives.

4. Did you empathise with (Auckland mayor) Len Brown?

As a human being, all it showed was how small, mean, racist and petty we are as a country. New Zealand, because of its isolation, is brutal and cruel and unforgiving and unforgetting, if that's a word. New Zealanders in the main are very judgmental. I work very closely with Len and in politics an ounce of loyalty is worth a ton of talent. I think his first term was extraordinarily successful and difficult. And he'll be a good second-term mayor too if society lets him.

5. What is the most odious aspect of modern life?

Dealing with liars and cleaning the juicer. There's a whole culture of not telling the truth or living the truth. I'm not saying I'm some kind of saint but I think because I have spent a long time in politics I know the thing that brings people down is not sex and drugs but lies. Traceable lies. Yes, I have always told the truth. I couldn't think past the age of 6 or 7 when I haven't told the truth, if someone has asked me.

6. When are you at your darkest?

At night. Darkness at night is when your fears always seem to be at their worst and the next day you realise that nothing is as bad as it seems. I don't think I've had an easy life. Quite the opposite. I've had a complex life. All I'll say is like all adopted children, it's never what it seems. And it never will be.

7. When did you find out you were adopted?

When I was 50. I was adopted at 6 months old but I never knew. Oh yes, it was a huge shock. It explained everything, and nothing. Did I have a good childhood? Well, you can't have two childhoods. You can only have the one that's there. You can only have the one you've had and not a day can be changed or be recovered. In a way I wouldn't change a moment. I felt strange, yes. I felt there were things in life you needed to do, and I still do. I'm driven. As a statement, I'm driven.

8. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Oh, I'm an introvert absolutely. Karekare [where the Harveys have a beach house] gives me the chance to be that. To have a corner for writing and for swimming and it's a very precious space as a retreat and a place to recharge. I'm an introvert and a reader and a writer.

9. What is the best, and worst, of ageing?

Tomorrow.

10. Who are the New Zealanders you admire most?

Norman Kirk and Te Rauparaha. They were extraordinarily charismatic leaders who believed in powerful, strategic change. Te Rauparaha particularly was a towering figure in this country's history and Kirk was taken too soon by death. How do I think the Labour Party is going now? I think it's the calm before the storm. As the Chinese would say, he who rides the tiger is terrified to dismount. Am I nervous for them? No. A leader is never nervous. I've never been nervous in my life. I'm a void of nervousness, guilt and indecision. If I stand on a cliff, I jump. I never hesitate.

11. Have your political beliefs changed over the years?

No. I started as a communist, moved to being a socialist, moved to Labour and have stayed all three.

12. Write your own epitaph:

On the tomb of Tacitus "Capax imperii nisi imperasset". It means he would have been an ideal ruler if he had not ruled. It sums up why I never wanted the job as mayor of the Super City.

- NZ Herald

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