Home' The Wellingtonian : November 10th 2011 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, NOVEMBER 10, 2011
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A press gallery
Joseph Romanos talks to veteran political reporter
Barry Soper about prime ministers, bow ties and
not becoming a policeman.
Barry Soper: ''I started as the young buck. Now I'm the old, grey bugger.''
Photo: JOSEPH ROMANOS
You started here in 1980. Did
you imagine you'd be here in
Never. I thought I might be
here two years. That was about
my span for previous jobs. I
started as the young buck. Now
I m the old, grey bugger.
The press gallery has a dif-
ferent look these days.
When I began it was more like
the RSA. There were only two
women in the gallery. Now half
the press gallery are women.
Is there enough rigour in
the political reporting, or is it
all too chummy?
I d strongly defend the
reporting here. Sometimes the
public get the wrong impression,
because they see television foot-
age of the scrums , with the
reporters gathered around an MP.
The suggestion is the reporters
hunt in packs. But each office is
fiercely keen on breaking stories.
I understand you and Jenny
Shipley were born in Gore
within a few days of each
Yes, our mothers shared the
same maternity home. My mother
has referred to me as her bassinet
Didn't you set out to be a
After I left school in Gore I went
to police school at Trentham in
1969, but it wasn t for me. I lasted
So you decided to become a
I returned to Gore, where my
mother had lined me up a job sell-
ing tractors at Wright Stephen-
son. That didn t appeal and I
applied for a job on the Southland
Times. At police college we d had
it hammered into us never to trust
journalists, and there I was danc-
ing with the devil.
Did you go from the South-
land Times to the press gal-
There were several stops on the
way . . . Mataura Ensign, Otago
Daily Times, Truth in Hamilton,
England for a while, Waikato
Times, then with the Wool Board
in Wellington -- speech-writing
and PR. Then I got a job with TV2
and did the industrial round. The
next stop was the press gallery.
Who did you work for?
Initially it was as political edi-
tor for an organisation called
APN, which supplied the private
radio stations. The job has
morphed as the owners have
changed. It became IRN, which I
helped set up, then Newstalk ZB,
and now there s a television com-
ponent, too -- Prime, which is now
Let's talk about some prime
ministers you've reported on.
He became very unpredictable,
and clearly had a problem with
liquor. There has been no-one in
Parliament since nearly as fer-
ocious. He was great to report -- he
was so obnoxious.
Colourful and entertaining, but
very immature, especially at the
start. I think he felt increasingly
isolated in Parliament and took
solace with Margaret Pope, whom
he eventually married.
An easy-going bloke. He loved a
Scotch. In many ways he was a
good prime minister. He
addressed the Treaty issue
seriously and appointed a Remu-
era lawyer [Doug Graham] to be
his Treaty Minister.
She was not that engaging
when she became Prime Minister,
but grew into the job and loved it
with a passion. She d always pick
up her phone and was a great gos-
sip, very candid with people she
If Helen Clark was teflon-
coated, Key is armour-plated.
Nothing dents him. The man of
the people description amuses
me. He lives in a $10 million
house in Parnell, he doesn t live in
his electorate, he s worth tens of
millions of dollars. But the public
see him as one of them.
You used to be close to Win-
ston Peters, didn't you?
We were close for a while.
Sometimes he d come round to my
place in the evening and end up
singing Cheryl Moana Marie.We
fell out over John McCain. He was
set on forging a closer relationship
with the United States and didn t
want journalists getting in his
way. He tried to deny us access on
one trip, even when the Ameri-
cans were perfectly happy to talk.
Then he put out a statement that
was simply untrue. I called him on
it, and we fell out.
You've been insulted by
some of the best in Parlia-
ment. Does it offend you?
No. You take it on the chin. If
you dish it out, you have to take it.
Did you ever want to be an
I was asked once. I thought
about it briefly, but realised it
wasn t a life I d enjoy. It s easier to
be an observer than a participant,
living in a goldfish bowl.
What do you think of MMP?
When it was being talked about,
it was as if Armageddon was
coming. MPs were afraid, but it s
undeniable we ve now got a true
House of Representatives.
You're nearly 60. You have a
reputation as a bloke who
enjoys the social side of life.
Are you slowing down?
three times a week. I still like a
party, though the long lunches
And the bow ties?
They ve been phased out. It s
like any fashion trend. You d be
amazed how many MPs said they
wished they could wear bow ties. I
used to tell them it wasn t that
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