National Party leader Judith Collins talked to the Weekend Herald about being National's nuclear option, her "clean politics" instruction to caucus, and what she envies about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The bomb craters scarring the National Party battlefield are still smoking, but Judith Collins is sitting in a cafe in Remuera sipping Earl Grey tea, the picture of contentment.
She is pondering whether she would be more like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or Nazi Germany Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
In the past, Collins has expressed admiration for both.
Collins settles for saying she would be like neither of those.
Nor does she think she will be like US President Donald Trump. She does pointedly observe that Trump "won an election that most people wrote him off for".
"But he has a unique style and it's not my style."
It is now Collins' job to win an election many have all but written off for the National Party, partly because of the chaos that has beset it.
It seems somehow apt that chaos delivered Collins the job many people said she would never have.
The chaos started with Covid-19. That triggered the leadership change from Simon Bridges to Todd Muller. The dominoes continued, taking down a backbench MP and a long-standing party member, Michelle Boag, over leaked details about Covid-19 cases.
Then came the resignation of Muller, stepping out of that torrid job that so many people seem to want if only because it is the path to the job they really want: prime minister.
Judith Collins certainly wanted it and it seemed as if a storm of fate was hell-bent on creating the exact conditions Collins needed to get it.
Collins had long been talked about as the "nuclear option" for National: the last resort. And, lo, so it came to pass.
Suddenly Collins was a necessity, not a danger, and she certainly knew it.
Even former Prime Minister Sir John Key swallowed his pride and issued a statement in support of Collins. In her book, Collins had had a go at Key for making her resign over Oravida, and for running a "boys club".
Collins says Sir Bill English contacting her was the most gratifying response to her leadership and had surprised her.
"I was flabbergasted, and I was very grateful for his generosity. We were never close."
Collins lists as her "highest high" the night she was elected leader: "It was Tuesday night, the caucus overwhelmingly asking me to be leader and people I never, ever thought would support me saying 'Now's the time Judith.' I was so amazed and so grateful."
That storm of fate had one last gust after Collins stepped up to the job: the resignation of Nikki Kaye and re-resignation of Amy Adams.
That stripped out two of National's best known "liberals" and further dented National's ability to target centrist voters, and claim it was more experienced and competent than Labour.
Collins said she felt upset for Kaye personally.
"I knew the last few months had actually taken an enormous toll on her personally, and she is someone who said to me she just didn't know she could continue. I respect that. She is a good person and I am extremely fond of her."
Collins chooses to see the positive in the gutting of National's ranks of experience.
"It's simply going to be an opportunity for lots of really good people to come in as well.
"You shouldn't be in politics unless you really, really want to win and you really have the energy and drive to do it."
Collins is one of the most recognisable faces in New Zealand politics.
But at the cafe, the man behind the counter looks blank when her name is mentioned and says he does not know who she is.
The other customers have certainly heard of her. One sees her down the road and tells the NZ Herald, "Here she comes, the crowds parting before her!"
She was indeed coming, although the crowds bit was an exaggeration.
She was walking alone, and as she crossed the road a young woman clearly said something nice and Collins smiled and thanked her.
The cafe was chosen for prosaic reasons: "It is between where I was coming from and where I am going to."
Collins has turned her mind quickly to where she is going to: the battle against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the election.
But how can people be expected to believe National can control the levers of the ship of state given its own ship had grounded so spectacularly and so recently?
Collins moved quickly to give people something else to talk about instead: delivering a major transport infrastructure announcement, saying National was reconsidering standing in the Māori seats, and would freeze payments to the Super Fund again.
The first thing she would do as prime minister is "get rid of the Resource Management Act".
She adds a caveat: "That's after I've put the Cabinet together and done the deals to put the Government together if we need to have that.
"We are moving at a rate of knots. We are going into the most difficult economic times people have seen in 100 years, we need a very strong Government."
Asked where she sits on the austerity to big spend-up scale for the economic recovery, Collins chooses "investment".
The first sign comes the next day with National's $31 billion plan for transport. She had no problem with the wage subsidies, but there was no plan beyond that. "I have no problem with investing to keep people in work. People need to be in work."
Collins cannot yet say what else National will "invest" in but she can say this: "We will never outspend Labour."
She has put her deputy, Gerry Brownlee, in charge of the Covid-19 border plan. His job would be to make sure the border was safe – and open it again when and where it was safe.
Collins laughs when it is pointed out Brownlee has experience in slipping through border controls, courtesy of his mini-scandal slip through an airport gate.
"I don't worry about that. Gerry's never done it since and everyone makes mistakes."
That includes Collins herself. "Isn't it only from our errors that we learn? We don't learn much from everything that goes well do we?"
Taking on Covid-19 and taking on Ardern are two different things. At one point Collins inadvertently paraphrases Ardern's "let's do this" line when talking about her chances after Muller stood down.
Pulled up on it, she says "Yeah, but she hasn't done much has she? Where's that child poverty going? What about KiwiBuild? Come on, she's got great aspiration, just no ability to execute."
Collins' statement that she would not be letting Jacinda Ardern get away with any "nonsense" on the economy sparked quite a reaction among the left on social media.
The reaction from that direction to Collins is far more vehement than it was for her predecessors.
She takes this as a compliment. "If the very far, anonymous, left is getting upset with me, then I'm probably doing the right thing. If they want to put their names to things I might take it more seriously.
"The best thing to do is mute and block on social media for anybody who is personally abusive. Don't give up on the social media platform, just give up on the people dealing out the abuse."
A lot of it trawls through her past sins, the communications with blogger Cameron Slater in Dirty Politics, her resignation as a minister over a visit to Oravida, a company her husband is linked with. They are topics Collins has given her own side to in her book.
Collins shelves this all away to past mistakes, trusting the public will see it as just that, mistakes in her past. "I've made lots of errors in terms of politics. Just underestimating how tough it was at times." She had also learned the impact it could have on families.
She had even delivered a clean politics order to the caucus: "I've made it very, very plain to caucus that I do not want anything about any other MP, their personal circumstances ever being used against them. At all. Any of them.
"It's not happening because it's not the right thing to do but also this country is about to go into an economic crisis. People do not want muckraking. They want us to focus on what's important and that's the economy, jobs and their livelihood."
When she last stood for the leadership in 2018, Collins set a threshold of 35 per cent in the polls as the tipping point for stepping down.
She took over when National was below that and thinks the caucus will at least give her a few weeks to try to get it above that point again.
She is not so foolish as to set another target for the election, but does admit 35 per cent "is not a long-term sustainable proposition".
"So I've taken quite a big risk. I have to make it work, and I'm going to make it work."
"Nonsense" is her favourite word. Talking about former Labour leader David Cunliffe, she says "You're never going to see me standing up and apologising for being a woman.
"I'm certainly not going to do that sort of woke nonsense."
Of her foes, she says her favourite foe of all time was Labour's Phil Twyford. "We are great mates and foes."
The request was for an interview at her home, but Collins declined.
Asked why, she said she had not had time to get around to cleaning the house to the standard required.
She admits to a rather unusual way of unwinding. She has a few hours free on Sunday but did not want her office to notice that in case they fill it. She wants a bit of time at home to be sad about the death of her cat Minnie the day after she was elected leader, and to sort out her house.
"You have to have half a day where you do things like the washing. The ordinary stuff. I like doing ordinary things for relaxation. It keeps me grounded."
"Ordinary things" is doing the washing and cleaning the house. She likes to do her own housecleaning but had a cleaner when she was a minister and won't rule out getting one again.
A recent Instagram post shows Collins at her desk applying lipstick before announcing her reshuffle.
Collins clearly does not think femininity should be something that needs to be eschewed or hidden by women in high office.
A few years back, Collins warned Ardern that people would be jealous of her but she should ignore that.
Asked what she is jealous of about Ardern, Collins says it is Ardern's hair.
"I have absolutely been jealous of Jacinda Ardern's hair – it is the most amazing hair – and her ability to communicate.
"And the fact she just seems to keep on going, being friendly all the time.
"I'm jealous of all of that. She just looks stunning. I can't believe how good she looks. It's very annoying."
She can be friendly herself "but not as friendly as [Ardern]".
She is also more than happy to talk about her own new haircut, a tidy bob.
"What you do is you get a very, very experienced hairdresser, because they are the ones who learned how to cut properly in the 80s when it was all bobs and stuff."
That is exactly what the National Party caucus did after its succession of bad hair days.