Bronagh Key sits on a sofa in her enormous sitting room, while her husband ranges round offering the odd interjection. "Hey, Bing, Bing," he calls, checking to see if she's home after collecting Moonbeam from the cattery.
It is an elegant room: velvety dark brown sofas, creamy walls splashed with paintings and sculptures, a massive gas fireplace. And there's Bronagh in her jeans and flowery top looking altogether too casual, relaxed and pretty for the formality of the place.
She is not relaxed actually. As she says, she is shy like her mother. "Mum was like that, a bit shy initially and when she got going you couldn't ... "
It is probably Bronagh who is mainly responsible for the couple's decision to keep their children out of the public eye. Their daughter Stephie is shy too. They want her and Max to be like the other kids at school and live their lives away from the spotlight.
Last week Max Key played for the New Zealand under-15 baseball team in Taipei. He went off without a ripple from the press and that is how his mother likes it. She and Stephie went too, as the support team. Key himself is on his way. As he explains, "I want to be able to stand up at Max's wedding one day in the future and say I was there when he played his first game for New Zealand."
The large house in Parnell and jet-set lifestyle is very different from how both Bronagh and John Key grew up. His mother, Ruth, worked nights to help feed her family. Bronagh's parents, who emigrated from Northern Ireland in 1959, both worked in leather factories. "Dad was a clicker, a leather cutter, at Feltex shoes," she says. "My mum was a machinist. Dad also worked a second job in the evening as a waiter and barman at a hotel in Christchurch. He came home, had dinner, and went to his other job."
It was a simple life, threaded with a strong work ethic and the value of family life. Both mothers were home after school. Ruth waiting with the Krispies for John and Sue, Irene Dougan pulling up on her bike after finishing at 3pm, for Bronagh and her brother.
They played sport and were expected to work too. John had a paper round, picked fruit, and helped on a poultry farm. Bronagh worked in the warehouse at Lane Walker Rudkin, where it was so cold that John, who was working in the Canterbury division, took her Milo to keep her hands warm.
By then he was her boyfriend. They had had that first date when he told her that one day he wanted to be prime minister. And she did not run away.
On Sunday nights, John would skateboard or bike over to Bronagh's place, "he fancied mum's roast dinners". On Thursdays, Bronagh went to Ruth's new unit for dinner with the Key family. They got on well too. "Ruth had staunch beliefs. She was honest and she believed that you get back out of life what you put in. She set high standards and expected her kids to live up to them. She expected them to be honest, work hard for a buck. They all had to go out in their holidays and work." They used to float between the two houses. "It got to the stage where we would be at one or the other's house most nights."
So, when the young couple decided to go on a 10-day Asian Affair holiday to Singapore and Bali, it seemed natural to take Ruth Key, nee Lazar, and her best friend Betty, along too. It was Christmas 1983. Bronagh had just turned 20, John was 22.
"It was my first trip overseas," she says. "I'd never been on a jumbo jet. I didn't ask mum and dad but I think they were happy for me to go because Ruth and Betty were coming."
All four shared a bedroom: "We had to be on our best behaviour."
"Oh yes!" chips in John with a grin.
The holiday went well. The holiday fund was in surplus so John suggested they splash it on a nice dinner at the Chateau on the Park. "It was quite a treat. I was quite intrigued to go somewhere like that," says Bronagh.
As usual Key had a plan. Over dinner he produced a diamond ring.
"Is that it?" I ask.
"No, it was much smaller," she giggles. "But the day he gave it to me he said 'one day I'll buy you a much bigger one'."
Although Bronagh insisted she was quite happy, Key kept his word. After 24 years of marriage, the ring on his wife's finger is the third - and largest - version.
They were poor but happy. They flatted for a while then got married in Hagley Park with photos taken by a friend. When John went to London for Canterbury, he stayed in the cheapest hotel he could find and came back with a microwave. They still have it in the guest room at the Omaha beach house.
The couple are unusually close. John is the romantic who turns up with flowers and Bluff oysters tied in a bow. His weaknesses are decent wine - and cars. One of the first was called The Vicar's Daughter after the woman who sold him a rusted Morris 1000. Then there was Bob the Escort. Later came the BMWs, and now the Commodore with its National signage and Key's face on the side.
Bronagh has a blue Mercedes.
It was John rather than Bronagh who got homesick in London. "The friends I made were those friends you make when your kids are toddlers and babies," she says. "We all had spouses in busy corporate jobs who were away a lot." Obviously the ties between those young mothers who learned to rely on each other in leafy Barnes ran deep - "that's why it was a bit harder for me".
For Bronagh the decision was as much about the quality of life for the kids as John's desire to enter politics.
Today, despite the back to back appointments and electioneering, Key texts, calls and talks to Bronagh several times every day. "He always remembers me, never forgets birthdays or anniversaries. I get a phone call every morning, as do the kids when he's away, plus another early evening and 10 past 10 when he's in Parliament."
Sometimes they snatch mini-dates between meetings, Key discusses his moves with her: "Even if it's just 15 minutes it just helps keep things ticking along. I guess I'm a sounding board - there's probably a limited number of people you can do that to."
John came to both their children's births and Bronagh tells how, after Max was born in Singapore, he would get up with her during the night. She told him that it was one of her loneliest times when Stephie was a baby: "where you felt you had all the responsibility on yourself. And so, when I'd get up to feed Max he'd sit with me. So obviously something stuck in his mind."
Although they have a flat on the Terrace in Wellington, she rarely makes it down because of the children. Max plays soccer and interclub tennis as well as the baseball and is still, at 13, too young for a job.
Stephie who is "arty" like her mum and loves photography, works at the local hair salon. Remembering the work ethic drilled into them they both insisted she get a job. "She was getting to the age where she wanted various possessions and things," says Bronagh.
"Our view was, We're happy to supply to a certain degree but it's not a bottomless pit. At some point you have to take responsibility for yourself."
For the shy Stephie it must have been hell: She rang around, wrote a CV, went for an interview. And got the job.
The decision to send the children to private schools came after living in London. Stephie started privately at four and they were happy. When they came back they decided to take up the St Cuthbert's place they had booked when she was small. Max went to King's School and is now at King's College.
Bronagh has loved the exciting side of being married to Key: "I'm always up for the adventure." She also knows she can veto, as she did when Key was offered a job in New York and she was about to have Max. You get the feeling that political life is more than she bargained for: that she hates people criticising her husband. But then she, of all people, knows he sticks to the plan.