"Bob the builder" Clarkson is nearly 80. He's got Parkinson's disease. He's got revolving beef with Tauranga City Council. He should be slowing down but he's firing up.

It's 10am on Saturday and he's skipped work to have me over at his three-storey Pillans Point palace with the "Hollywood" view over the city. He's wearing a cardigan and dress shoes for the occasion.

"I'm going to have to work tomorrow afternoon to make up for this."

Is he a workaholic?


"Yeah, I think I am."

Love him or loathe him, Clarkson - a former National MP, developer, commercial landlord, multimillionaire - is a man who gets things done.

He could've retired years ago but what fun would that be?

Any regrets in life?

"Ahh, yeah, I suppose one is getting old. Why me?" Everything serious is punctuated with humour.

He does his best to stay upbeat when a few things threaten to bring him down. He's had Parkinson's for a few years now and it causes tremors in his hands. He doesn't mind me talking about it but I notice he slips one hand down the side of the couch periodically to contain the shakes.

He wants an operation to stop the tremors. A pacemaker would be fitted into his chest and electric shots fired into his brain. He's having a hard time getting it done though because at 78 he's deemed too old to be operated on. There's only one surgeon in the country who does the procedure.

"They've done in Auckland Hospital. I offered to pay for it ($150,000) so they could get someone else in the programme, but they won't. If you want to pay for it you've got to go to Aussie."

He might still go to Aussie, but he's trying some new drugs in the interim. The risk of the operation could see him bust a blood vessel, have a stroke, and "end up on your back for the rest of your days". He'd take the risk.

His arms get "sore as hell" with the shaking.

Can he still drive? "Yeah. Good as gold."

In his own words, he's having a "hell of a time" slowing down.

"Just at Christmas time I bought a 40-tonne digger. Big bloody digger," he says.

Clarkson's a true Kiwi bloke. "Brand new," he continues. "With a four-year guarantee and I've got to outrun that four years for God's sake. Otherwise, that's a waste. I just carry on and I don't see why I shouldn't."

He continues: "Sometimes with Parkinson's, when you do something else, like driving the digger, the shaking stops but it has intensified a bit."

Clarkson, the rough diamond, admits he's "quieted down" a bit in recent years. Both from Bay of Plenty Times' news pages and public life in general.

"But I'd still like to go and straighten this bloody council up," he says.

His number one beef?

He's just sold his 200-hectare farm beside the Wairoa River in Tauriko West after a 12-year battle with council to allow him to build on it. He purchased the land due to its proximity to downtown's working hub, "for a hellish cost" in 2005 and he sold it a couple of months ago to a business consortium due to his ailing health. He only made a few million dollars' profit.

Clarkson's dream was for 2000-odd houses with 500 "discounted" to be affordable homes for Tauranga families.

Only now are public meetings being held over the farm's urban growth.

Does it upset him?

"Oh, it does. It's on my bucket list if I can use such a word. This," he says motioning to his hands, "has put enough strain on me and I need someone else to do it."

He's committed to doing some affordable homes in the future, but it'll be a different plan and scale.

Why is Clarkson passionate about helping the working class?

"Um, this will sound a little bit soapy . . . It is a lot better feeling giving things away than actually selling things. It gives you a bit of a buzz."

In 2002, he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to philanthropy. Over the years, Clarkson has given to charity and taken on Tauranga's unemployed as labourers.

He's a capitalist with social leanings. His one regret is he left Parliament without getting his progressive home ownership package through. Essentially, he was ahead of his time.

The package would've helped average working families "that haven't got a s*** show in hell" of getting their first home. He suggested the Government buy a section and fix the price at the start, then give it to a family to build on and delay the payment of the section for 10 years while the family gets financially stronger. If the property is sold within that 10 years, money goes back to the Government.

Over the years he's fought for and helped a lot of people?

"Oh yeah. I obviously have."

He's in the process of organising a fairly significant gift for the Tauranga community, but for now, wants to stay quiet on what that is.

He's paid for trips for disadvantaged children and their families. He's got a drawer full of thank you letters he's kept. His greatest gift though is his 17,500-seater, $24 million Baypark Stadium, which he sold to the council for half-price in 2007.

Since then Clarkson has been instrumental in helping Napier City Council establish a stadium via sharing his plans, advice and time.

"I've had a lot of desires in life and I've done them, like building a stadium, which is a bit unusual. Some people buy boats but what the hell."

He claims the council has stalled many of his building plans for Tauranga and it's disappointing. "I think some of them arrive at work in the morning with their little cut lunch and if at the end of the day the pile of paper is higher, they've had an achievement. It's gotta be! Geez, we're getting some hard times now (with red tape). It's not fun building buildings now. Christ, why do I build buildings? You can't tell me it's for more money."

Clarkson is prepared for our interview. He's lined his wooden coffee table with folders, stapled paperwork and magazine clippings. He's got reading glasses perched on his head at the ready.

"I heard a real good remark today . . . Make sure the words you say today are sweet because you might have to swallow them tomorrow. Ha, ha. I think that's real neat."

He admits he's said some things in the past that perhaps he shouldn't have. Comments about Muslims and gays saw him grab the headlines as an MP. As did a comment he made during his election campaign about his left testicle.

If anything though, the publicity helped him unseat NZ First MP Winston Peters. Despite the slanging matches and court dates, he says there's no ill blood, at least not on his part.
Although he notes, Peters never congratulated him on winning.

Clarkson never expected to be an MP from 2005 to 2008. In the "highest court in the land", he felt like a "little country bumpkin". On the day he was expected to give his maiden speech, he woke at 5am and ripped up his speech cards. "I got up and read the bloody thing and thought 'that's not me'."

Parliament was the least place he felt comfortable. He could've been mayor but even that wasn't something he thought too seriously about either.

"I was asked a fair few times," he muses. "I don't know . . . I wanted to deal with the issues but not the public."

He says the statement of his life is based on no regrets.

"Sit in the front of a bus and see where you're going, not in the back of the bus and see where you've been. Plan for the future, learn from the past."

Was he brought up in a wealthy family?

"S*** no. My family struggled. We had a small farm in Gisborne and a dollar was a dollar. "You know, we knew how to work, don't worry about that. My old man (Monty) was a nice enough guy. He was equal dux at Kaiti School in Gisborne. I went down to the 100th anniversary, and his name's up on the board so it's no bullshit. But he was a person, unbelievable, couldn't stand bureaucrats. Ooh, wonder where I got that from? Ha, ha."

Clarkson himself lasted two years at high school before embarking on an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner.

He worked in the family tractor business, before helping to build the Kaimai tunnel and then eventually starting his own business fitting V8 motors in cars and importing motor parts from the States. That's how he made the bulk of his riches.

"I was flying to the states every three months and bringing in about 120 tonne of stuff a time. So I did very, very well out of that and then I had money to burn, so I started building buildings."

Clarkson loves achieving. He played in the backup team for the New Zealand hockey team that won a gold medal at the Olympics in 1976. He did very well in stock cars and drag racing - holding the Australian/New Zealand title for seven years.

He's done a lot and he's proud.

"Someone asked me the other day 'how do you make your first million?'"

Clarkson's answer: "You work! I've never been given a penny. I've always worked hard."

He has a chuckle at that.

"I just believe in trying to make fun in everything. I mean I've had some big loans over time, when I paid for that bloody (Tauriko) farm, I had to learn to laugh for God's sake. I always look for the funny side of things, if you can. There's always a laugh around the corner."

Try not to let life get you too stressed?

"Yeah, and I think that's a fact. I hope I continue to do that . . . Because there's some idiots in the world it's quite easy sometimes. Ha, ha."

Clarkson, a dad of two girls and grandfather of four, is a storyteller. In between facts and figures, he recites anecdotes from the past and key moments of hilarity, much of which is unsafe to print. He's been married twice. His second wife or "missus" (Martha) knows he's "nuts".

He's always been true to himself?

"Yeah, I think that's a fair statement. I believe you say what you think, rather than thinking what you say."

It seems an injustice to Clarkson, with his bulldozer personality, not to be able to fit all his achievements, memories and plans on one page. He has more to do.

He'll keep fighting for as long as he can. A fighter is who he is. It's who he'll always be.