Prime Minister John Key wanders into his office talking cheerily about a golf game he played in Paraparaumu the day before.

A few hours earlier, Key had announced he was changing his status from Prime Minister to Outgoing Prime Minister John Key.

His usual iron grip on his emotions threatened to cave while he was delivering the resignation speech, his voice cracking.

He says he had written the speech himself - he had to because he had not told any of his staff of his decision until that day. But it still came as a something of a shock to read it out loud.

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"I hadn't read it out aloud and you're reading it out and all of a sudden it hits you in terms of the enormity of it."

His announcement is a bit like a ballistic missile for National, but Key goes to great lengths to try to insist National can still win another term without him.

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Key has always thrived on people and admits popularity was a factor in his decision.

"I looked over the years at leaders that didn't quite make the decision I've made. You've always got the feeling they just regretted it a bit, that somehow the public that had supported them all of a sudden turned on them and they felt angry about that.

John Key stuns the world as he announces his resignation from politics

I didn't want to define, in my own mind, my political career by somehow feeling as if the public had been ungrateful to me or something."

He insists he was not chickening out because he was afraid he would win.

"It wasn't a fear of losing. I'm not fearful of losing. And I've made lots of tough decisions and not all of them have been popular so it wasn't that."

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Key has a competitive streak and the prospect of a rare fourth must have been tempting.

"In many respects I would love to go into the election next year and I feel very confident that we would do well - I feel confident we will do well whoever the next PM is. But the question is did I want to do another two years beyond that. You can't do this job without 100 per cent commitment."

Australia's line up of former and current Prime Ministers had sent him messages, including Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

He is also pleased by a "really lovely phone call" from Labour leader Andrew Little. Asked if Little had thanked him for going, he says no.

His children, Max and Stephie, were probably just as pleased as Little to hear he was leaving.

Max Key, Bronagh Key, John Key, Stephie Key. Photo / Instagram
Max Key, Bronagh Key, John Key, Stephie Key. Photo / Instagram

Stephie was back in New Zealand from France for a visit. "I don't think Stephie was surprised. They were both fantastic. They were both really mature about it. I think they wanted to make sure I felt I was making the right decision.

They've had a degree of pressure and intrusion your average kid doesn't get. They are not silly. They understand on the one hand while that's difficult for them, on the other hand the job has afforded them as well as us as the whole family remarkable opportunities.

I hope they are proud of what I have done."

Max does not plan to follow in Key's political steps. "He has no intention of retiring from social media, I think," Key jokes.

"He was never off it, that was the problem sometimes. But he'll be carrying on," Key laughs.

"I think Max will have a much higher profile than his Dad in months to come.

The man who has handed out knighthoods like Santa doling out the Parade lollies is rather more coy when asked if he would take one himself.

"I've kidded around about it for years but it's not something I've sat there and ... they'll decide if they're going to something or not. In the end I'm a former Prime Minister, like a lot of other former Prime Ministers the advice will be to do something. That doesn't mean they will. I'm happy, I don't need a gong to feel as if I've made a difference as PM."

The gong, he says, will depend on Prime Ministers Future. He is told his preferred Prime Minister Future, Bill English, has just described Key as balder, fatter and "not the athlete he thinks he is."

John Key and his wife Bronagh. Photo / Supplied
John Key and his wife Bronagh. Photo / Supplied

Key giggles. "Did he? Jesus. He's right about putting on weight."

He says what he will most are the people who arrange his days - his staff, his colleagues.

He does have one treat waiting. After eight years of having his assets in a blind trust, once he leaves Parliament he will be able to peek inside it.

As for his post-politics plans, Key laughs when a consultancy with outgoing US President Barack Obama is suggested. "I wish."

The famous house that John built in Parnell will also eventually go on the block, traded in for a smaller house in a few years, once Max leaves home.

He does expect to spend more time overseas, in Maui and in Australia.

After the interview proper is over, Key stands there with a smile back on his face as if he can not believe his luck.

He says while he did not feel the sense of a burden lifting, he did know how lucky he had been to do the job he had and have such a long a golden run at it.

"I've had a dream run," he says as if he can not quite believe his luck.

"No one gets to do what I do."

One thing is certain. There will be a lot more golf.