When I phoned Paul Goldsmith three weeks before the election he said he couldn't possibly talk to me then, but he promised he'd talk to me after the election.
What he couldn't say was that he couldn't possibly talk to me before, because that would look like campaigning and his was the campaign that wasn't. It was all very silly, and the non-campaign got even sillier, but as we all now know he did his duty and duly didn't win the seat.
So he can now stop being the invisible man and, you would think, could start talking himself up. He sounded less than delighted, when I phoned this week, to be offered the chance to do just that. Bad luck for him: We had a deal. And good on him: He honoured it. But, honestly, if somebody could manage to sound green around the gills over a telephone at the prospect, he managed it.
Why, he suggested, didn't I interview Banksie? "He won the seat." You don't say, I managed not to say.
Later, I said "You can stop now," meaning he can stop not campaigning for himself. You'd have thought that would be a relief. He could stop being the patsy. He was, I must say, most agreeable about being called a patsy. He just said, mildly, that he wasn't one. He may have said it twice.
He does like to repeat things, for emphasis, I assume, and possibly for gravitas. As in: "There's a lot to do, a lot to do," about being an MP, or, about not being embarrassed about that farce of a non-campaign: "Not at all, not at all."
I don't know why he talks like that. He sounds 50, looks about 25 (to me, anyway), and is only 40. He reminded me, a number of times, that he's only 40, and that he's not "perfect", but has plenty of time to learn. I said, goodness, imagine how pompous you'll be at 50. He said, sounding more bemused than offended, that he'd never been called pompous before.
And, really, why would he be offended? He's been called much worse things. Paul Henry, who is hardly known to be a Pinko, called him a "twat" and a "complete nong". That was regarding an interview in which he was asked, repeatedly, if he wanted to win Epsom and managed to avoid saying he either wanted to win, or wanted not to win Epsom. He said, "I don't know what a nong is". Well, I said, helpfully, I'd say it's related to a twat. "Ha, ha! Well, I've had all sorts of people goading me into trying to react ... They're just trying to goad me into saying something silly. A big part of politics is about discipline and working out what you want to say. And sticking to it." You do have to give him marks for sticking to the message that could not be relayed: not a bad skill in a politician.
Still, it must have stuck in his craw, or in his ego, all that not campaigning. He says he's a team player. "A disciplined team player." He says he had a "very busy campaign. Very busy". Doing what? There were plenty of jokes including one about how he'd walked one block of Broadway.
He says he was busy doing debates, for one thing. During one he said it was hard to be a man and that he wanted to be a "man's MP". I wondered: Did he find it hard being a man? "No". He was being funny. I wonder how often people who don't know him realise he's being funny. You might say there's a long fuse between his delivery and the laugh. I didn't realise quite how funny he was until I transcribed the interview, and the laughs are not the sort that translate to the page. You'll have to take my word for it. (Another journalist, who admittedly deals exclusively in politicians, told me he's the funniest person they know.)
I'm not sure how funny he found my bit of whimsy about how he could share an Epsom office with John Banks. And he could have a really tiny little desk and a tiny little chair and so on. "If you think so. If you think it's funny. I've been goaded for the last two months now. I can handle it."
He says he did find the campaign funny, at least bits of it, including those fake Vote for Goldsmith signs he was papped removing. That's rather big of him because he looked like a right ninny having to go and remove the signs, but then he didn't know he was being papped, obviously. He did grumble a bit about the sign story being treated as a serious story. I wonder how he'll get along with the media (he was a PR consultant and press secretary to three MPs and later a city councillor so he's had experience, which doesn't always help.) He thought he had one over me - he is nothing if not competitive - because he knew I'd approached the PM for an interview first. How did he know? The PM, the rotten squealer, told him. How, exactly, did this come up? Because he told the PM he was going to be talking to me and he says the PM said: "Oh, she's doing you. That's just because she couldn't do me. Ha, ha." Yes, ha, ha. That's not the interesting bit of the story, which is that he dobbed the PM in as a squealer. But the really interesting bit is that this conversation took place because he had been at dinner with Key and the other MPs the night before. And "I for some reason, was sitting beside him". For some reason! I hesitate to suggest he put himself there, but he does have very pointy, ambitious elbows. I tried to wind him up about Maggie Barry, who beat him in the candidacy for the North Shore seat. I said she was much more ruthless than him. He said, "you think so? Time will tell. It's very easy to make these sweeping judgments so early in the piece, isn't it?"
Oh all right then, he's much more ruthless than Maggie, if he insists (he's even competitive about being seen to be the more ruthless.) He is also, and these things are possibly related, a Tae Kwon Do black belt. Can he break bricks with his bare hands? "No, I don't do bricks but I can do wood." He really can, which is not the most amazing thing, which is the idea of him in that silly pyjama outfit doing the "flying, spinning hammer kick. That's my favourite". He looks like he was born wearing a good suit.
The one thing I knew about his time as an Auckland city councillor is that he got into some strife about bums - as in wanting them removed from Queen St. I said: Have you ever given a few coins to a bum? He said: "I don't know about the line of questioning I'm getting here. It seems hostile." Well, has he? After a fair bit of not answering he said the answer was that he had. Oh, he had not. He's given buskers a few coins which is not the same thing at all.
He says he buggered up what he'd meant to say about the bums - he wouldn't put it that way of course - and that he was trying to find a solution to a problem and "you live and learn". Did he learn that he looked like an uncaring person? No, he says, he learned how to be more careful with words. He later said, very carefully, that as I gave coins I was obviously a better person than he was. So he's learned how to say sarcastic things and sound as though he means them.
He told me I had adopted a "mocking tone" with which to conduct this interview. Well, yes, as it turns out but that was in response to his tone. He does mocking at least as well as I do. He also mock-complained I had the story written before I went to see him. I could have pointed out that I didn't write the script for this particular farce.
And, as I did point out, he was still at it, with that: Why don't you interview Banks? I'd suggested we have champagne and when it arrived I said: "Do I say congratulations? "Yes, you do." What was I congratulating him on? "Entering Parliament." Not on not winning the seat? "It's a great honour and privilege to be elected a member of Parliament in any form."
Seriously, his ego must have taken a battering. "No, well, that's all part of the game." What is: playing the patsy? "Some people can't move past the old first past the post mentality," he said in what might have been a mocking tone.
He has a very odd way of talking. I thought he talked like John Banks, in those staccato sentences. He says he certainly doesn't but that "great honour" quote certainly could have been constructed, and delivered by the member for Epsom. But I now think he talks like a combination of Banks and Don Brash (his "aahs" remind you, in a bad way, of Brash's "eehs") which is rather unnerving, and some other person - possibly himself. He wrote the official biographies of both Banks and Brash so perhaps he's picked up some verbal tics.
I asked, by the way, whether Brash was a "strange fellow" and he said, while managing a poker face that: "He's not your typical chap."
Is he? He comes from a middle-class Baptist family. He hasn't been to church for 15 years and baulked a bit at being asked whether he's still Christian. "I'm a doubting Christian, I suppose is what I'd describe myself as." He's the youngest child of three; his brother is a psychiatrist, his sister is a commercial lawyer. At Auckland Grammar he made his way from 3C to 7A - but he says a lot of the brighter boys had left school by then. He is a very good pianist but not "freakish" enough to become a professional.
He worked hard and steadily and developed his "moderate" habits. His wife, he says, would say that he's "a cheap drunk". He said he'd never smoked dope but then, "actually, somebody did give me a puff once, now that I remember it". He means he once took a puff. "Yes." And what happened? "Nothing."
At least he owned up. At least he honoured the deal and must have known what he was in for. He is very good company over dinner and a few glasses of wine, but I suspect he's an acquired taste. I enjoyed him, but if I was a bum I'd trip him up as he strutted, possibly ruthlessly, on by.