First-term MP Nicola Willis had a meteoric rise on the National Party list after her hand in the recent leadership coup. While she might not yet be a household name, Willis has been in Parliament since before she was born, writes Amelia Wade.
The National Party leadership coup has worked out quite well for Nicola Willis. Her new office on the top floor of the historic Parliament building is the one Todd Muller vacated after the takeover.
From her old much smaller office on the second floor Willis could watch her daughter play on Parliament's grounds, but her new one is undoubtedly nicer and looks out to the Beehive.
It's one of the fruits of her part in rolling Simon Bridges , running the numbers, planning Muller's speeches and orchestrating the coup behind the scenes with her old Victoria University debating mate Chris Bishop.
The 39-year-old doesn't like talking about the coup and sticks to the party line that it was a "caucus decision". Regardless, it's seen Willis, a first-time MP, rewarded.
She climbed 31 ranks on the list to sit at 14, got the office and was entrusted with the hefty housing portfolio while staying as spokesperson for her beloved early childhood education.
It was a major promotion and show's Muller's belief in Willis' talents. Housing is a key battlefront for the two parties. The Government blames National for creating the housing crisis while the Opposition blames the Government for failing to deliver on promised housing projects, such as KiwiBuild.
This is where Willis believes being a new MP plays to her favour as she doesn't need to be defensive and can challenge the Government on its actions - or rather lack thereof.
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In the two weeks she's been on the front bench, Willis has twice needled Housing Minister Megan Woods on the troubled Monark housing development in Wellington's Newtown.
"I think the problem of underdone housing supply has occurred under successive governments. It's not a National or Labour thing. Actually, when you look back over the last couple of decades, this problem has been allowed to occur. So I'm going to be relentlessly forward-looking."
Willis - who likes bright pant suits as she always ladders her tights and says colour lifts her mood - is yet to be a household name but her old mentor, former Prime Minister Sir John Key, reckons she could soon well be.
The MP has, quite literally, been in politics since before she was born. Her mother Shona worked in the press gallery and was pregnant with Willis for one of the annual gallery photos which still hangs on its walls.
Her great, great grandfather, Archie, was an MP who voted for women's suffrage in 1893. In her maiden speech, Willis promised to follow in his "feminist footsteps".
Despite the political bloodline, Willis said becoming an MP never occurred to her growing up. She had a comfortable start with her mother stepping back to raise the children and her lawyer father doing very well in oil and gas.
It was an earlier National Party coup that got Willis her first start in Parliament as a policy researcher. She was assigned to work for the recently rolled Bill English, who was education spokesperson at the time.
"To be honest with you, my view was this was yesterday's man and it was going to be awkward as a working relationship. And he must have sensed that … he just addressed the elephant in the room.
"He said, 'Look, Nicola, I may have lost the confidence of my caucus, I may no longer be the leader of the National Party, but let me tell you politics is not about personal ambition, it's about making a difference for other people."
Willis was later a senior advisor to Key, a role that included preparing him for election debates in 2008. Her "debate-nerd" background saw her play Helen Clark.
Her CV includes a a stint as a Fonterra executive, where she worked with Muller. Prior to the 2017 election, Willis helped English, who had replaced Key as Prime Minister, prepare for the election debates. Willis played "Jacinda." Her impression is rumoured to be cracking but she didn't indulge the Weekend Herald .
She was National's candidate for the Wellington Central seat in 2017 and 58 on the party list. Based on preliminary results, it seemed she was heading to Parliament but lost out when special votes were counted.
She had to wait until the following when Steven Joyce retired to get in.
"It's a lesson I've learned in life again and again and again, which is: You get a knock, you get back up. It's the getting back up that counts."
Key once tipped her for leader and still rates his former staffer and says he'll be "amazed" if she doesn't become a household name.
Though she'll need to watch being too tough on herself, he told the Weekend Herald .
On her first day after the coup and her huge promotion, Willis slipped up on camera and called Bridges leader - forgetting her hard work to oust him.
"She'll be mortified and beside herself that she's done that, but I almost rang her to say I once said I wanted to be leader of the Labour party or something," Key said.
The 39 year old mother of four tends to worry about how things come across. She's recently lost a lot of weight after deciding to cut out carbs and pick up running but explained in earnest it wasn't conforming to societal standards.
"It's about mindset and being prepared to take time to look after myself and prioritise personal health."
And at one point during the interview, she listed a number of colleagues as trusted advisors, almost instantly wanting to include others then later telling the Weekend Herald she gets advice from every one of her co-workers.
Willis is also very conscious many didn't have her silver-spooned start, opportunities or secure family unit.
"That's what I would like all people growing up in New Zealand to have - to have a sense of family. Whatever the family, I don't care, whether it's one parent, two parents, gay, whangai, adopted - that doesn't matter.
"What does matter is that you have a family, a sense of belonging."
But does she worry that she got Muller's office and promotion because she's his old friend? Bishop doesn't think so.
"That'll be for others to judge. I think Nicola's a huge talent for the party and she brings perspectives to the caucus and to the parliament that we need," Bishop said.
"She's also got a huge work ethic and is just a person of substance."