National Party Finance spokeswoman Amy Adams once was the spring salad.

We are at the Backbencher Pub opposite Parliament where the dishes are named after MPs.

Last year, Adams had the 'A. Adams Spring Salad.' Before that, she recalls being the arancini, "in the glory days, Claire".

Now Adams no longer features on either the dinner or the lunch menu. Government ministers dominate.

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All Adams has left is the collective "Tories tasting platter" with the observation "sometimes winning is losing".

Adams orders a syrah by way of consolation. ""I'm going to get over the disappointment quite quickly."

But sometimes losing can also result in winning.

If not for that election loss, Adams would likely not now be spokeswoman on finance.

Adams does not have the attention-grabbing skill or the high profile of Judith Collins, but if the old "what if Simon Bridges fell under a bus" test was to be applied Adams is well-placed to become the next leader.

She would not say anything so heretical, but that is not a bad place to be, given the life expectancy of leaders of the Opposition facing a new first term Government.

Adams has been fairly low profile since becoming finance spokeswoman.

Part of that is because the National's caucus is making room for Bridges to get his mug out there.

It is also partly because because it is her nature to do her homework before she starts talking, and finance is a complex portfolio.

Adams is open about the challenge the job presents, saying the role has been "a hell of a steep learning curve".

She is the second female spokesperson on finance in the history of New Zealand politics. The first was Ruth Richardson, who was also in the National Party and also held the Selwyn electorate.

Adams says the low number is partly because of the ongoing tendency to pigeonhole female politicians into the "social" areas.

"I'm not a fan of quotas, but I do think for every woman who goes into one of those roles that has not been as woman-held before it makes things a little bit easier for women who come after them.

"I look at people like Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley as Prime Ministers and I think they will have had it tougher and had to perhaps be better and run faster at their jobs than the men.

"For Jacinda Ardern, I'm sure she still has to be better and run faster but hopefully a little bit less than them, and for the next one hopefully a little less again."

Adams has always been something of a little-known figure, tending to focus on her ministerial work in government rather than her personal profile.

She began filling in the picture of her wider life during National's leadership campaign when she came second to Bridges.

In June 2015 Adams was Justice Minister and had to respond to the growing calls for euthanasia reform following the court case and death of Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales.

In a Radio New Zealand interview at the time, Adams said she had a great deal of sympathy for Seales' partner Matt Vickers, and her family.

"To lose a loved one is incredibly hard anyway - to have to watch while a passionate, strong, articulate woman fades away in front of you is awful," she said.

What she didn't say was that the previous year she had watched as the passionate, strong, articulate woman in her own life died from melanoma.

That was her mother, Lyn Milnes.

Her mother died from melanoma that Adams said was "literally eating the side of her face away."

National MP for Selwyn, Amy Adams, in a family photograph with her sister Belinda Milnes (left) and mother, Lyn Milnes. Photo / Supplied
National MP for Selwyn, Amy Adams, in a family photograph with her sister Belinda Milnes (left) and mother, Lyn Milnes. Photo / Supplied

The doctors could not operate, so Lyn was sent home.

Adams says she was such an independent spirit that an attempt to put her into palliative care did not work out. "She managed to be expelled from palliative care which I actually respect her for hugely. Mum hated anything institutional or organised, she was very free-spirited and independent."

After two escape attempts, Adams was called to get her and found she had locked herself in a bathroom and was "screaming obscenities".

So Adams went to live with her mother for the final few weeks of her life.

"I said to the doctor, 'I don't know what to expect here' and he said there's a couple of ways it could go. One it will eat through an artery and she'll haemorrhage to death or her heart will just give out.

"I was lucky in the end that her heart just gave out but watching her go through the pain and indignity of that …"

Adams summarises all of this as "a bit tough."

It was not until three years later during National's leadership contest in February that Adams spoke publicly about her mother's death.

The songs that make her cry are Song Bird by Eva Cassidy, her father's favourite song, and Him to Her by the Pretenders which was played at her mother's funeral. Adams said it resonated with her during those last weeks of her mother's life.

She recalls her mother once saying to the doctors that she wished there was a pill they could give her that would simply and quietly end it all.

She says it was still "too raw" to talk about at the time of the euthanasia debate at the time, but her mother had cemented her own views on it. She does support euthanasia, provided there are appropriate controls around it.

Adams' slightly plummy voice and life on the sheep farm in Canterbury lend to an impression that differs somewhat from her upbringing.

Adams and her older sister Belinda Milnes were raised by Lyn as a single parent after their father left when Adams was about 2.

She took them to Wales and then back to New Zealand, where they lived in Wellington while Lyn went to university.

Lyn was a schoolteacher raised by an "authoritarian" father who had strong views about what women did and did not do. They did not get higher education and they did not learn to drive.

After her marriage split, Lyn set about changing that, going to university and getting a masters in psychology. She took in boarders for income and learned to drive.

She was then bonded to the Education Department, travelling around schools, taking her children with her.

"We moved around a lot and didn't have a great deal of money. If we wanted pocket money we would make fudge after school and have a stall at the markets and go and sell our little packets of fudge to make pocket money. We also had quite a good line in coconut ice," Adams says.

Fudge is still Adams' go-to comfort food. "My husband knows when I've had a bad day because I'll make a big batch of Russian fudge."

When Adams was 11 she shifted to live with her father in Auckland for a few years, attending Rangitoto College before going to Canterbury University.

She says her mother had made the sisters learn a musical instrument. Adams took the violin "and I was really bad at it".

"She really wanted us to play a musical instrument and meet a nice boy in an orchestra at some point in our lives. That was never going to happen."

Instead Adams met the boy at university in Canterbury – farmer Don Adams.

"He'd been to a seminar and was all dressed up in his best, which was his rugby club blazer and tie, and I'd been doing mid-sessional exams and was looking pretty scrubby.

"He thought I was a good farm chick and I thought he was a good city dweller and we were both really wrong."

It was not the future she had planned but she's more than happy with it.

She can't shear a sheep but she can rousie, although she no longer bothers.

"Nor do I cook for the shearers. I've outsourced that. My days of making scones for the shearers are over."

Adams was not remotely interested in politics at that time.

Her mother had been quite the political activist and Adams recalls clearing out the house after her death.

"My favourite was this bloody great big protest badge which just said "NO!" which I think was a multipurpose protest.

"She'd been a Greenham Common protestor in her youth and lived on a kibbutz and done all these incredible things."

In contrast, the only protest Adams recalls was a march in Christchurch against then Education Minister Phil Goff in the late 1980s "with F*** Off Goff signs." "I don't actually remember what we were protesting."

She can't even recall who she voted for at that age. It has not always been for National – she voted for Act when Don Brash was leader of National in 2005, campaigning on one law for all and hardline welfare reforms.

"I wasn't so keen on some of Don's stuff."

Three years later Adams quit her post as a partner in commercial law and entered Parliament as a National Party MP.

The rise of John Key helped make up her mind.

"I liked the look of him, politically and ideologically. There's not that many people I go 'I really want to be a part of what they're doing' and I kind of had that sense with John Key."

At this point she drops a pickle, cusses, picks it up and puts it back on her bread with a "five-second rule."

The Selwyn electorate selection came up at the same time.

Adams said she didn't think she had a chance. She had not been a Young Nat and was not well known in the party. She also worried her children were too young at 8 and 10 years old.

Adams was possibly one of the few candidates to be asked what the gestation period of a ewe was as part of her selection process. That happened at a selection meeting at Darfield.

She was a month out "but I answered very confidently and most the room who didn't know probably thought I knew what I was talking about. And I was probably the closest."

For the record, it is five months less five days.

She walked into a firestorm. The local party members were in an uproar after National's head office tried to install David Carter in the seat unopposed over incumbent Brian Connell.

Eventually the party caved and Carter stood, setting up an open contest. Of the five shortlisted, Adams was the only woman and the electorate was split into two camps, neither of them Adams'.

"I got some really good advice from Roger Sowry who said 'you can win as long as you're a lot of people's second choice.

"I had a pretty good idea that if I got through to the final two, whichever of the two camps got knocked out they hated each other more and I could come through that way."

It ended with a six-hour long meeting on Mother's Day. Adams won.

She tried to apply the same Sowry advice to her campaign for the National Party leadership in February, somewhat less successfully. However, she did come second to Bridges.

When she is asked about Bridges' leadership, she says anyone who had taken on the job at the point he did would have to work hard to try to build up public awareness, including herself.

She was particularly impressed that he had managed to strike that balance between over-asserting and under-asserting himself as leader, describing his style as inclusive.

"He's earning a lot of points."

The only points that will matter in the long term are the polling points, and thus far National's have held steady. It is not only Bridges' job to ensure that continues – it is also Adams'.

The economy will be at the centre of National's campaign in 2020 and Adams' ability to blow holes in the Government's handling of it and come up with policy that resonates and is not just a retread of 2017 will be critical.

On Saturday she will deliver a speech at the National Party's first annual conference since going back into Opposition.

Both she and Bridges will be measured by party members used to a decade of John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce. At the moment, Adams is in a period of grace given she is just five months into the role.

She has two critical jobs to do by 2020. The first is to ensure she shores up her credibility in the role.

The second is to build up relationships with the caucus given the role the finance spokesperson has in policy formulation.

In that regard, colleagues describe her as sometimes brusque but well-prepared and thorough. She was widely respected and none of those spoken to doubted her ability to handle the portfolio.

There is a something of a sweet ending for Adams.

A later perusal of the dessert menu at the Backbencher reveals she is still there as the "A. Adams cheese." Beneath the list of cheeses is the observation 'keeping her Machiavellian powder dry.'

Amy Adams

• Age 47

• Married to Don Adams, a daughter and a son

• Lives on a farm in Aylesbury, Canterbury

• Former lawyer

• Selwyn electorate MP

• National Party's finance spokeswoman