Jo Black on working in the Beehive


For me, working in the Beehive was a great privilege. But for MPs and ministers, the price of having their work as well as their lives under relentless scrutiny is a high one. A trivial mistake can be a headline. I was always anxious. When I look back on working for English and assisting Key’s office from to time, it is not the satisfaction of getting the share offers completed or even getting back to surplus just after I left that are memorable.

I remember such things as the winter my elder daughter had a lengthy bout of illness and the morning I was at work when Key walked in. I asked what I could do for him. “Nothing,” he said. “I’ve come to see how your daughter is ­getting on.” His neighbour’s daughter had the same ­illness. We talked for 10 minutes until, knowing his schedule was always booked within an inch of his sanity, I said, “You’d better go.” He looked at his watch. “Oh,” he said, “there are people due in my office. They won’t mind waiting,” and we talked on.

When he emerged, his office had been ringing around the Beehive, desperately seeking him. I said, “Sorry, I’ve made you late.” “Well,” he said, “some things are more important than others,” and he scooted off.

There is a reason so many staff have stayed on for so long.

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