Herald journalists show a different side of our politicians in the series Leaders Unplugged. Here, Claire Trevett dines with NZ First's Winston Peters at Wellington's Green Parrot
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is eating buttered white bread with a sprinkle of vinegar and telling us a parable.
The parable of Winston Peters goes like this.
When Peters was in Papua New Guinea once many years ago, a feast was put on at a big sing-sing, a festival.
Peters was given his choice of which part of the pig he wanted.
He asked for the trotter.
His choice apparently caused some consternation and confusion: "They asked me seven times." Each time he asked for the trotter.
Eventually, he was given the trotter, and he ate the trotter.
"It did not matter if it was good or not. That was not the point."
Why would he ask for the trotter?
So he did not look as if he thought he was superior or pretentious, he told us.
And did it work?
"I have got no idea."
We were at the Green Parrot, the Wellington restaurant closely associated with Peters, which he says he likes because it is unpretentious.
It was our second time dining with Peters here. The first time was in 2013 to mark NZ First's 20th anniversary.
The NZ Herald's head was tempest-tossed and sore afflicted the next day.
But tonight, mercifully, Peters was on a health kick.
After a run-in with illness and a surgical procedure, he was on a wee boot camp of his own devising to ensure he is fit and ready for the election. It will not be the first time he is fighting for his party's life.
It consists of drinking less alcohol and continuing his long-standing habit of avoiding carbs and eating protein.
He is eating the white bread solely because it is "the ritual" when at the Green Parrot.
Peters orders the flounder and "five chips".
The plate arrives with 12 chips on it.
Earlier in the day, Peters had the invigorating sport of sparring with Act leader David Seymour and bagging the Greens – two parties he loves to hate.
The list of those Peters loves to hate is, admittedly, rather long and usually includes the Herald.
But on this night Peters was in a good mood.
Given he is a politician, he has a strange aversion to posing for photos – a lifelong affliction, he says.
When he's asked to smile more widely for a photo he says, "No, I can't. I'm not Jacinda."
Otherwise, he was on his best behaviour.
He did not even snarl much when asked about his recent ill health, despite being notoriously private about his health and wellbeing.
He still will not reveal exactly what his keyhole surgery was for beyond saying he ate a piece of rank beef and it did not treat him well.
"I'm a seriously lucky guy because it identified a condition which I had keyhole surgery for and it was a great success."
The nature of that condition was "my business".
When Peters is on his best behaviour, he likes to tell stories.
He told us about talking his way into law school well past the admissions date, courtesy of his prowess at rugby and the dean's love of the game.
He told us about working as a "seagull" at the wharves to pay his way through university, and about getting his first law job by researching the interviewers, discovering they had Scottish ancestry in common and wearing an appropriately themed tie.
He told us about a woman who gave him kūmara bread three times a year, and the last horse he owned.
That was a former racing horse called Electrify, that was prone to reliving his track days if other horses came up behind him.
"I got worried he would electrify my future."
He told us about catching flounder during lockdown, from just outside his house. He sent photos to his colleagues to make them jealous.
I'm fishing he's mowing the front lawn... pic.twitter.com/uvLQvNy0EQ— Winston Peters (@winstonpeters) April 12, 2020
The week before our dinner, the UK-based "Brexit boys", Andy Wigmore and Arron Banks, had done an interview with Newshub.
They are involved in Peters' campaign although the extent of that involvement remains unclear.
Nonetheless, they said they wanted New Zealanders to see a different side to Peters – they wanted people to see his "happy warrior" side.
So the Herald asked Peters what made him happy.
He thought briefly and said when he was young he read Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.
"It was about the philosophy of not living to work, but working to live. Once you realise that life balance, and realise you have got to take time out to enjoy nature – the grass, scenery, beach – you've got to enjoy those things because sometimes you can get so busy you are blinded to the great things around you."
Music also makes him happy. At one point he stopped talking to listen to the restaurant music. It was, he said, one of his favourites.
It was Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. "Seriously inspirational."
He listened to music to wind down. "I'd have some crappy days in my life but if you go home and listen to music for half an hour, it's incredibly good for you."
"If you can't do any more tonight, don't worry about it. Next morning, start it the minute you wake up. But don't agonise and let the wild horse of worry destroy your life."
One of Peters' contretemps with David Seymour was prompted by Seymour's rather ungracious tweet about Peters' anti-immigration policies, and the prospect Peters himself would "soon" need a migrant care worker to "to help him get dressed and go for a walk".
Seymour's tweet provoked Peters to invite Seymour to a boxing match, so the NZ Herald tiptoed into this territory by asking Peters what he would do if he ever retired (or if the voters forced him into it).
He would not swan around doing nothing. "Doing nothing? Well, I'd hate it. Life is exciting. Life should be interesting."
He has a plan.
That plan involves taking about 40 students "on the verge of failure" and forging them into forces of possibility.
"Teach them the rudimentary things that they need to know, and I'd ensure they made it. I think that would be a worthy way to give something back."
For him, this role was played by good teachers.
"I wasn't the best student, but I learned early enough, before it was too late, to do things right. When you're young you have a blinkered view, but time and education gives you a broader spectrum and broader vision. And that's the luck of life."
He pauses here and adds, "I don't know why I'm baring my soul like this. Any more questions?"
He reads books about philosophy.
"A lot of the modern philosophies are like Picasso. Nobody knows what the hell they're talking about. You look at ancient philosophy, going back centuries, and there's a comprehensive capacity about it."
He himself avoids the ancient.
"You've got to think young, and you've got to keep yourself in the zone so to speak."
There is a brief pause and then: "And without being immodest, I have. Thank you."
After a couple of hours, the evening was done.
Peters' flounder was eaten and eight of his 12 chips.
He thanked the NZ Herald for a relaxing evening and left, presumably to listen to a bit of music and stave off the wild horse of worry.