The reason for going to see Melissa Lee was, rather obviously I'd have thought, to talk to her about Melissa Lee. "It's not about Melissa Lee. It's about the people of Mt Albert," she said, a number of times.

You might think she could do with a bit of a sales pitch. I read a selection of quotes: "the blunder-prone Melissa Lee; Sarah Palin without the charm; Melissa Lee's gruesome week".

She said, airily, "Oh, really? Is that what they say? You know, I haven't really had time to read the papers."

To be charitable, I invited her to have a go at describing her campaign. Really rather swimmingly, you'd think. She is a relentlessly positive thinker. "Apparently the name recognition is up to 85 per cent! That's a good thing!" she said.

I said, redundantly: "You're an optimist." She was out campaigning over the weekend, in foul weather and "it was so fun! Even in the rain! We were on the street corners, it was pouring down with rain and we were dancing on traffic islands! But the thing is, you get toots and people waving at you and it just gives you a natural high."

I thought that, given the sort of press her campaign has produced, she'd have to steel herself to go door-knocking. But, "Oh, I love it!" She had "a massive bruise" from people shaking her hand. She should learn to shake hands like the Queen, I said, not entirely seriously. I showed her how to shake hands like the Queen. She said, seriously, "I don't like that. I don't like that dead fish handshake." She likes shaking hands, even if it's bruising.

"I think it's really nice! And they come and pat you on the back and say, 'Good on you!' and, 'You go girl!' And that gives you a real high!"

She said: "I can't believe the kind of support I'm getting! I'm sure you get a couple of fingers here and there but ... I don't even notice. I'm oblivious, probably. I just go, 'Yeah! Whatever!"'

She probably is oblivious. Interviewing her is like reading a self-help book - in which the author has underlined favourite phrases and marked the margins with multiple, cheery !!!s. She says affirming things like: "Whatever mistakes you've made in the past, you've just got to grow and learn from it and actually become better as a person."

I'm not sure how much, or what sort of advice, she's been given. To sound like a self-help book, possibly. But surely somebody must have mentioned the remote possibility that certain things might be raised in the course of an interview. I can think of, oh, just a few.

The comment about the motorway allowing crims from South Auckland to bypass Mt Albert; then the grudging-sounding apology. The helpful volunteer who offered the quote to student media about the usefulness of a big diamond ring ... "to knock some sense into the media (although a gun is tempting)" ; saying coming second in the by-election was the best she could hope for. That sort of thing.

I did ask about those sorts of things. I might as well have been attempting to interview some other candidate altogether. The one who had been enjoying a brilliant campaign and who had heard, in passing, that these other events had happened to some other candidate.

The one I met said, when other certain things were raised, such as what the perception of her might be: "The people of Mt Albert see me every day. On their doorsteps, at their shops, on street corners, at traffic lights, doing human hoardings ..."

She does look just like one of her hoardings come to life. She's wearing a National blue jumper, an enormous National rosette, a National name tag. To be fair, she will be off on another door-knocking, hand-bruising round after she's seen me, but it doesn't hurt to present a picture that she and her team would dearly like to convey: of the candidate on message.

But it was a little disconcerting to be interviewing a human hoarding who looked like Melissa Lee but who kept saying "it's not about Melissa Lee".

So when I asked, for example, whether she got a bollocking from the PM over the crims from South Auckland comment, I might have been asking the wrong person. "No. I think I got one from the media though. I mean, the Prime Minister doesn't give me a phone call every morning to tell me anything ... I don't know if he phoned me on that particular comment."

This was the wrong question. What she really wanted me to know is that John Key has been "very encouraging and I've had a lot of support from the party and also volunteers. I've had 85 year-old ladies baking me cakes and little nibblies! And I've had Indian ladies making me curries to make sure I have something for lunch ... And on Saturday I had Korean ladies making me sushi for the volunteers!"

This is all very nice - she makes her campaign sound like a village fete - but has she been given advice? I wondered, because you really do have to. I asked twice. The first time the answer was that she got lots of support: "I got a box of chocolates the other day: 'Keep up the energy girl!' I got a bunch of flowers ..."

I said, "So, you haven't been given advice on how to run your campaign?" "Oh, lots of advice. There is a strategy but I'm not going to discuss it with you. Ha, ha, ha."

I said, rather rudely, but there is a limit to how much of this flowers and chocolates stuff anyone can take, "and does this strategy involve you putting foot in mouth, removing foot from mouth, apologising for putting foot in mouth?" She just laughed and said, "Ha, ha. There is a strategy."

This doesn't involve any examination she's willing to admit to about what the perception of her might be. No, because, "seriously, it's not about Melissa Lee". And, "I'm not too worried about what people sort of say."

Because she'd gone on about how lovely her volunteers were, I asked about the one who had so helpfully given the quote about the gun. "Oh, I think that was supposed to be a humorous thing."

So she did think it was funny? "Aah, it's probably very silly ... No, I certainly wouldn't say things like that."

But privately, come on, she might have thought it was a bit funny. "No, I didn't actually. It's not something you should take lightly." She can't afford another gaffe, I can see that (although she wouldn't admit to gaffes) but I don't think it would have done her any harm to have had a bit of a giggle. And I do think she's got a sense of humour, but that's a hard thing to get across on a hoarding.

She says, and she's right, that people make mistakes, and politicians make theirs in public. But, I say, the perception might be that she's too inexperienced; that she's out of her depth and if it is, that would be a problem. "If I worried about what people say about me and started to go, 'Oh, God', then I'm not going to be the person I am now and I always try to stay positive and look forward."

She is big on learning from mistakes, so what has she learned? "Aah, obviously that I need not to be so free with my comments."

This makes it sound as though she just won't say what she thinks. "No, I think I need to be focused on my message ... So I'm not rattled." Was she rattled? "Perhaps. I don't know. I don't go back and analyse it. I just need to move on ..."

But surely her team analyse how well or otherwise she's been doing. "They might analyse it."

And they don't tell her? "Oh, they have told me things ... The thing is we need to focus on the issues that matter to Mt Albert."

That was a fairly typical exchange. She used variations on "I just move on" and "why can't people move on?" 11 times in an hour. She was, I noted, sounding like someone else whose mantra this was: that woman who once held this Mt Albert seat.

"Oh. I sound like Helen Clark?" She looked briefly horror-stricken but she does rally quickly. "You know what I think? A lot of people tell me that Helen Clark was very focused, very dedicated to Mt Albert, and that kind of passion is what I would like to emulate. Our politics are very different but that's what I'm like. I'm committed to Mt Albert."

At about this point I found myself entirely in agreement with her. So, moving along, here are some other things you might like to know about Melissa Lee - had this been about her.

She likes knitting and crocheting and cross-stitching. She likes reading murder mysteries and the gossip in women's mags. But she doesn't have any time to do any of this. She loves dogs and children. She has a 10-year-old son. She is divorced and lives with her parents. She hasn't got a bloke.

"No, I haven't got a bloke. I'm definitely interested! But I haven't had time." She believes in God: "Of course I believe in God." She was head girl at high school. She was a journalist. She has a black belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art. But she hasn't kicked anyone, not even a journalist, in the head for years. (I made that bit up, just to liven things up.)

She has, I remind her, an MA Honours, first class, in communication studies. She said: "What are you saying, Michele?"

She gave me a rather promising mock glare and giggled. She hauled, inelegantly, at her knee highs, and giggled some more when she saw I'd noticed.

This was right at the end, and I thought it a shame, for both of us, that Melissa Lee hadn't turned up earlier.