Bill English poses with a copy of his budget speech during the printing of the budget on May 24, 2016. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Bill English poses with a copy of his budget speech during the printing of the budget on May 24, 2016. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

PoliticsDecember 9, 2016

Is Bill English really the most boring man in New Zealand? A Spinoff investigation into the new PM

Bill English poses with a copy of his budget speech during the printing of the budget on May 24, 2016. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Bill English poses with a copy of his budget speech during the printing of the budget on May 24, 2016. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Superstar of breakfast radio, All Black captain and owner of a world-class duck face, John Key is one hell of a hard act to follow. But is the PM-designate really that boring? Toby Manhire crushes forever the Dull Bill English myth.

Guyon Espiner: Are you excited?

Rt Hon Bill English (most unexcited voice in history of world): Yes. I am.

Espiner: That’s good.

A few minutes later, Guyon Espiner posed the big question on the nation’s lips …

Espiner: Are you boring?

English: No, I’m not, but talking about GDP all the time can tend to give people that impression. I like to think I’m steady, Guyon.

She’s a hard road to find the perfect leader to follow the most laid-back-entertainer prime minister the country has ever seen.

National MPs who have honed their parliamentary craft speaking nothing but Key patois now must prepare to learn – and I’d like to apologise for this, but I’ve started so I’ll finish – English as a second language.

And that language, it has to be said, is kind of dry. The um-ah-ah-um filler, for example, bears an uncanny resemblance to the sound of a corpse being dragged down a gravel path.

But for all that, the “Boring Bill English” refrain seems just too easy. Surely there is more going on.

Today the Spinoff fearlessly bucks the “boring” bores, and unearths evidence that Bill English may not be that boring after all.

He has fathered six children

And that is restrained compared to his parents, who had 12.

He once read a poem aloud in parliament

Including the lines “I suckled you / with potent milk” (yes, it was a David Cunliffe work).

He once got beaten up in a boxing bout

Or beaten, anyway, by an old friend of his. He was nicknamed “Raging Bill”.


He’s a grinder.

In a North and South interview after Key assumed the prime ministership, English said, “I’m a stayer, he’s a sprinter. I grind away, John just bounces from one cloud to another.” He caught a bit of flak for that, but he’s proved a stayer after all, outlasting that cloud-bouncing show pony.

Forgiveness, mercy, sinfulness, worship

Bill English is a Catholic, and say what you like about Catholicism, it aint boring. He once said he likes to spend at least an hour a week in Mass “hearing language like forgiveness, mercy, sinfulness, worship – none of which you hear about in day-to-day political life”. He has refused in the past to say whether he believes in transubstantiation, the virgin birth or the trinity.

He was a member of the Brat Pack

Alongside the likes of  Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald, he starred in a number of seminal coming-of-age films in 80s.

Update: Turns out the Brat Pack he was a member of was alongside the likes of once-young National MPs Tony Ryall, Roger Sowry and Nick Smith, who arrived in parliament in 1990, and starred in at least one homage to an earlier MP posse.


(By the way, of all those actors listed above, only Molly R is younger than Bill E.)

He actually answers questions

One former current affairs producer told me not that long ago that while most politicians were infuriating in their constant evasions, he could listen to Bill English all day, simply because he engaged with the questions he was asked.

He has coached under-7 grade rugby

Mike Hosking really seems to hate him

As in kind of viscerally. I mean, the Hosk is obviously going through the stages, but still that’s exciting.

He and Cameron Slater hate each other

The man who runs the Whale Oil website – anyone know if it’s still going? – used to have a good text-centred relationship with his m8 John Key, but that’s not especially likely with Bill. “I don’t like the guy,” he said, devastatingly, during the Dirty Politics flamenco.

His mind was corrupted at Victoria University

In what may have been an enrolment administrative error, he studied English (honours).

What else?

Um. He likes a mug of Milo!

So there’s that.

And there’s the bulldog home, obviously

Erm, he was integral in the development of the computer mouse.


He has won acclaim as a jazz drummer.

And he played Joel in the American comedy television show Cavemen


Which was named among the “25 least funny sitcoms of all time

Anyway, what’s so wrong with a bit of boring?

OK so maybe Bill English is kind of boring.

But is that such a terrible thing?

After the palpitations of Donald Trump, of Brexit, of our last Peak Cray election, after eight years of bish-bosh honk-honk how’s-your-father leadership, isn’t a bit of boring welcome medicine? If English vs Little scores low on the comedy-revue scale and high on policy debate, shouldn’t we celebrate?

Yes, we should. But first, stockpile.


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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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