Labour leader Andrew Little grew up in a right-wing family. At 18 he discovered his father had two earlier marriages.

1. What's the biggest misconception about you?

That I don't have a sense of humour, because I know I do. Someone recently described it as arid, which is about right. I'm probably ironic more often than not. Who's to judge, I guess, but I'm satisfied that enough people laugh at the right time, and it's not just my wife and son. Actually, they tell me I'm corny. Why don't people think I'm funny? I guess because I built my media profile through union work and they're pretty serious issues. You can't laugh and giggle your way through that. I don't really care what people think, though. I'm confident and relaxed with what I believe in and who I am. I see people writing stuff about me who I've never met, and it doesn't affect me. People might not warm to [me] straight away but if they spend enough time with me, they do. I'm a slow burner.

2. How did a Labour leader spring from Tory parents?
There are two views on that " one is I never grew out of my teenage rebellion but I think I just formed my own view. I was fortunate at high school to have some left-leaning teachers who were an influence on me and I was 16 at the time of the Springbok tour. That's where my parents' and my view on the world diverged. They were supporters and I wasn't. It was New Plymouth, so you didn't really protest but there were some conversations at school which was a pretty heavy scene. A couple of boys put their heads up, a debate where we took the opposing view, and it was made pretty clear that wasn't acceptable to the other boys. That just made me more determined.

3. Were your parents proud of your union work?
Dad died 12 years ago but they have been, were and are proud of what I have done. My dad liked that I was fighting for the underdog. He was a funny Tory because as a British Army officer in the Middle East when the British mandate was lifted he took the view that the way the Palestinians were treated wasn't right. He could see oppression and unfairness there but he couldn't see it in other contexts. There was an inconsistency in his views. Debating him was never very satisfying - he wasn't a good arguer and he was quick to temper.


4. What did your parents teach you?
Mum was very big on being true to yourself, and taking responsibility for things. Courtesy and respect. They never got that Kiwi thing of popping in to see people. It was always ring in advance and best tea set. Conservative values. My son, Cam, is of an age now where we can talk about issues and he's curious about the rights and wrongs of things but he has to make up his own mind.

5. What didn't your parents teach you that is important to pass on?
Openness about the family. I was 18 before I found out I had four half-sisters. My father had had two previous marriages that we weren't told about. I got home from university one Christmas and there was this card with some names on it I didn't know and I was like "who's this?" [It was his sisters]. At the time it didn't really register with me but after dad died there was a trust that his mother had left to his children and by then there were nine of us. It was a long exercise to track down the daughters of his middle family. My elder sister asked if they were keen to catch up with us, and they were, so they came to New Zealand for the first time for Christmas 2005. We hit it off the minute we met.

6. Has your father's secret life had any impact on you?
Oh yeah. That's the thing about taking relationships seriously. You're determined that wouldn't be you. Dad was 49 when I was born. He had three marriages and nine children. There was a sense, with all due respect to dad, about being somewhat distracted. He was supportive and stuff but probably a little self-absorbed. Then you realise what his life had been. As an adult you relate to your parents having the same flaws and failures as everyone. I got together with Leigh in 1998 and we married in 2008. We were engaged for six years - got married when we got around to it. It became important to Leigh [marriage] and I respect that. I'd been a bit of a commitment-phobe but I got over it.

Andrew Little and his wife Leigh - their first date was a Keb'Mo' concert. Photo / Mark Mitchell
7. Are you romantic?
Yeeeeessssss. I have got a romantic streak in me. I can do flowers and an intimate dinner for two. Florist flowers. Leigh and I met through friends. Our first date was a Keb'Mo' concert. She was a registered nurse at the time but stopped working when Cam came along. Now she's got a part-time job in the school office. She's a pretty amazing woman. Being union secretary there was a lot of interference in personal time but she knew when she met me I was politically oriented and motivated.

8. When have you been at your lowest and how did you pull yourself out?
It was during Pike River. I'd thrown myself at that issue, got down there straight away, got alongside the [union] members dealing with issues, dealing with the families, working long hours like everyone was. It was very hard, the grief people were feeling, thinking what could we have done. One Friday night I had to come to Auckland for a function because I was party president at the time and it was the night of the U2 concert at Mt Smart. My wife had very kindly got on to Trade Me and bought me a ticket and said 'just go'. Bono did a tribute to Pike River and it all just washed over me. I burst into tears. It was partly exhaustion, and the sense of tragedy. When I look back at 2011 now, I can see I was buggered.

9. Who, in your opinion, is the nicest person in the National Party?
There are some. A person who is very friendly from my intake of 2011 and who I've got to know is Mark Mitchell. He's a very nice guy and always asks after the family. He didn't come out of [the book] Dirty Politics too well but I enjoy his company when we catch up. Coming from a union background you're used to dealing with people of all different persuasions. Instinctively I enjoy people. I'm passionate about my politics but that doesn't mean I don't get on with those with different views.

10. What are you afraid of?
Ummm. I'm not sure. I can get into some pretty tight spots but whether it's because I've learned to control my fear or what, I don't know, but I can't really think of anything. Failing? Oh no. I've lost enough times not to worry about that. I probably did take it quite hard [losing his first electorate race] but I was realistic about what I could achieve looking back on it. I'm happy to take on fights, even fights it's pretty obvious I'm going to lose. Sometimes just putting up the fight is important. Oh yes, I think John Key is beatable. I think people are tiring of the flippant and cavalier approach to issues. I've got my own style - it's pretty blunt. Honest and unvarnished.

11. What do you do when you get home?
Home is pretty important to me because you can just kick back. If I'm not running around with Cam or going for bike rides with him I'll be reading, listening to music, pottering around in the garden. I'm not a big drinker. I enjoy a craft beer or a glass of wine but I've been through the getting drunk stage. I just don't enjoy it now. Everyday is valuable and I don't like wasting it with a hangover.

12. Do you think you stayed in the union too long?
No. I had a job to do there. There's a thing about labelling me as the union bogeyman but I won't be frightened off by that. Unions are a right in a civilised society and you'll hear me talking about workers' issues. People think unions are all table-thumping and narrow-minded but the modern union role is nothing like that. Someone did say to me, because I didn't stand [for Labour] in 2008 "you'll never lead the Labour Party now". I haven't had the chance to go back to them yet.