Key Points:

Three years ago, Rodney Hide was on the brink of losing his MP job, his health and his marriage. He was so depressed, he says he didn't care whether he lived or died.

Now, he has a poll showing he could win his Epsom electorate by a landslide, he is training to swim across Auckland harbour a second time, and he is seen out and about with one of the country's top young squash players.

The Act Party leader, known for his hot rumba in TV's Dancing With the Stars, is coy about his relationship with Louise Crome, but confirmed he sees the 30-year old when she is in town.

Hide, 51, met Crome two years ago, after donating his personal fee for appearing in the TV show to the Remuera Rackets Club. They used the money to launch a fund to support its top players, of which Crome was one.

She is the third-ranked women's squash player in New Zealand, and 26th in the world. Last week she competed in the World Open squash championship in Manchester, losing to Australia's Rachael Grinlam.

Hide watched her compete in August at the NZ Nationals in Auckland and introduced her to his parents.

It is a turn-up for the MP, whose roly-poly ebullience once hid a grim unhappiness.

After Richard Prebble retired from politics in an unsuccessful bid to save his marriage, Hide took the the Act Party's helm in a bitterly-fought leadership contest. But he was unable to improve the poll ratings, and looked set to lead the party into oblivion.

"I remember, I didn't care if I lived or died," he now confides. "We were failing in a very public way."

Was he clinically depressed? "I didn't take any medication," he responds. "I probably should have."

His lowest moment was alone in a hotel room, one night, and he received a text message from TV3 political reporter Duncan Garner. "Congratulations," it read. Delighted, he replied to ask what he was being congratulated for. Garner messaged back: "Sorry, wrong number."

In a bid to distract himself as much as anything, Hide threw himself into a seemingly vain attempt to wrest the blue riband Epsom electorate from Richard Worth, a National Party frontbench MP.

To his surprise, he realised only a week out from the election that he was actually going to win. "It's the best feeling in the world, when somebody introduces you as 'our MP'."

Now, a poll commissioned by his party shows him on track to remain as MP, leading Richard Worth by 56 per cent to 27 per cent in Epsom.

"I had always thought being an MP was about Parliament and the media. But Epsom didn't want a gunslinger. They wanted someone they could respect. That meant radically changing my behaviour - and that's what I've done." Door-knocking the streets of Epsom had made him realise how fat and unfit he was, so after the election he joined Remuera Rackets Club and began working out at the club's gym.

Dancing with the Stars in 2006 changed his life for good: "I had been so low - and here I was dancing. Since going on the show, I've never been insecure."

It was not enough to save his marriage. Early last year he separated from his wife of 23 years, Jiuan Jiuan, and has since been living at home with his parents.

But at the squash club, he met Crome. Sources in squash circles say the two have become close friends and he will regularly watch her play when she is in Auckland.

Hide would not confirm or deny they were romantically involved, however.