At the end of our hour together, Phil Goff said, "Do you think you covered everything you wanted to cover?" I asked if he had covered everything he had wanted to cover. I was genuinely interested in his answer because I would have put money on him saying "no".

He said, "No, I think we probably got sidetracked on the more immediate role, rather than the background." He said this a little plaintively. I don't share his optimism in the matter of sidetracking. His great skill is not being sidetracked, although I tried my best.

Perhaps he thought we might talk about his early childhood and end up 55 years later in his Mt Roskill electorate office.

Later I said, a bit rudely, that we didn't want to go back to childbirth, thank you. He said, rather archly for him, that he didn't actually remember childbirth. This came as a tremendous relief, I can tell you.

We were in his electorate office and I mentioned the Ranfurly Veterans' Home just up the road, because I know he pops in all the time to say hello. So it was my fault, but he said, "I grew up on Warren Ave [around the corner] and it was just a dirt road ... The last survivors of the Boer War and a lot of the World War I vets were there then ..."

Having raised the home, I'm really not being rude about his reminiscences, but I know better than to let him go on with them.

One thing he is known for is giving horribly long answers to questions, even to questions that haven't been asked. There is an old joke about him in the Radio New Zealand newsroom which goes like this: Phil Goff has never missed a deadline. "Ha, ha, I haven't heard that one. I've always fronted up to media."

He has always been tremendously good at what he calls "staying relentlessly on message". At one point he says "now, where was I?" and I say "that's not like you, Phil, to lose track".

"I'm trying to escape from elements of being too on track." And how successful has that been? "I'm joking," he said, but he shouldn't have been.

He's been the leader of the Labour Party for seven months now and I wanted to know how he thought he was doing. He says the Mt Albert byelection was the first big test of his leadership. I say the handling of the Richard Worth issue was.

We got into a circular argument over why he called the Labour Party woman at the centre of the row "strikingly beautiful". I want to know why on earth he said it; he can't see what my problem is. He says it was absolutely relevant because "that was one of the things that made her attractive to Dr Worth". It still seems to me to be a peculiar thing to say, and I say I can't imagine Helen Clark saying it. "She might have."

That was the shortest answer (and possibly the best) he gave to anything. I asked whether he thought he'd handled the Worth case badly, and we went around in circles again. I kept asking the question in different ways and he kept giving the same answers, in different ways. I'd asked him what the difference was between his leadership and Helen Clark's, but I think I know the answer: She'd shut you down with a look; he just wears you out.

He suggested I go back over the whole affair and examine it, which was like being told by the university lecturer he once was that I needed to be better prepared for a forthcoming test. I said, "Clark would have just said 'no' to the question."

"You asked a question; I'm giving you an honest answer." He was, and I'm pretty sure it was 'no'. But I was by then wishing we'd stuck with the Boer War. Towards the end I interrupted him to point out that by interrupting, I was only trying to help and he thanked me effusively, and almost convincingly. "Thank you, Michele. I'm deeply grateful for that."

What I was getting at about the Worth affair was perception, and he might not have given himself 100 per cent on that test. "Yeah, perceptions are important, but that doesn't diminish the overriding importance of realities."

What a smiley fellow he is. He used to be compared to Tony Blair because, according to him, some people thought he looked a bit like him. According to me, it's because he might have been thought a bit smirky and slick. And Scoop journalist Gordon Campbell observed: "Goff hasn't banished that fatal air of superiority from his ... delivery."

He spluttered a bit, but managed to keep smiling at all of this. "I've never been a smirker! I don't think I'm an arrogant, superior person! I don't think that's part of my image!"

He says I'm branding him, which is an interesting choice of word. Well, what does he think his image is? "Well, okay, then, let's go through it. My image is of a serious politician who's been here a long time. I'm regarded as somebody who has handled responsibility competently and effectively ... I'd say as much by the people ... as by the departments I've worked with and my colleagues, even by my opponents ..."

This might be a long way of saying he's a nice bloke. That's mostly what people do say about him. "Nice is a bit bland. I'd rather be regarded more as decent than nice."

I tell him a press gallery journalist told me he can be "sweet", but that I wondered whether that was a helpful observation about the leader of a political party.

"Ha, ha. What gender journalist? I'm not sure I've been regarded by another guy as sweet." No, that wouldn't be very macho. "I'm not macho!"

Oh, I don't know. He is quite keen to tell me that people are surprised to hear he rode big motorbikes "for most of my life, and that's still a passion".

He has a gun and shoots rabbits and possums on his Clevedon farm. He also shoots sick sheep or cuts their throats. But he is very fond of animals and has two dogs and when his old cat got sick he took it to the vet to be put down because he couldn't bring himself to shoot it.

"You have to be respectful of animals. We farm them to make a living ... because that's how the country is made, but in terms of animal cruelty I feel strongly about that. I don't believe any animal should be subject to cruelty."

So he might be a bit macho and nice, at least to animals that aren't pests. This might not be a bad image, but it came packaged as a little lecture.

In his youth (he has been called a communist and a right-winger) he was, I say, a long-haired hippy. "I was never a hippy. Ask my wife." A dope-smoking hippy. "I've never been into smoking per se." This might be a bit slippery. "I've been around long enough to know precisely how to see when I'm being set up with a question."

I'd asked a perfectly straightforward question: Was he a dope-smoking hippy? And the rest of his reply was: "I was a child of the 60s and 70s."

I said that of course the answer was "yes", and he said "I've given you the answer" and I said "yes", and so on. As I say, he wears you out. And he should have worked out that I really didn't care, one way or the other, but he does like to hammer a point.

He said, as though it might be a revelation, "I'm pretty conventional, actually." In truth, he's about the only politician about whom you could almost believe that the answer is: "But I never inhaled."

He has been around so long he can see a question coming a long way off. I said: "What leaders had charisma?" He said, "Josef Stalin. Adolf Hitler."

On the wall at his offices are the ancestral photos of former leaders, of the Labour Party. But where's Helen?

"I've only got the deceased leaders." The dead ones are safer.

"That is most unkind."

He has said he'll have to develop "other dimensions" now that he's leader. This is a funny thing to say and what he means is that "leaders ... have to be multi-dimensional ... You've got to be a human being". This is an equally funny thing to say because it sounds as though he means he'll have to develop a personality. "I have a personality! I'm quite sure about that!"

I have a message from a former press secretary for him which, paraphrased wildly by me, is, why does he look like a robot on the telly? He says, and anyone would, that he's never heard himself described like that before. But he knows what I mean. "It's automatic. What you're doing is communicating a message ... What that means is you stay relentlessly on message."

Now he has to make the giant leap from robot (he teased me by asking how I voted in the byelection, so I'm teasing him back) to human being. Because, I say, staying on message is used as a criticism of his personal style.

"That's one of the challenges of moving from being a member of caucus to leader - people want to know more about you." He has to make himself interesting. "I have to make myself more public. People are asking of me: 'We want to see the full human being ...' I've never felt I've had to go and sell myself as a fully rounded person that people want to know about."

He did look a bit peeved when I called him robotic but, honestly, that is both a perception and a reality. Because the minute I turned the recorder off, he became a human being. He told a funny story about how he used to lecture Mike Moore on smoking (I can imagine) and did a decent impersonation of Moore saying: "Leave me alone. I'm a f***ing addict."

And at the door he gave me a little peck on the cheek which was, I'm afraid, rather sweet.