Peter Williams on why the next chapter of his career may involve offending a few people

''If I've developed a persona over time as the straight-up news presenter, then this year I might upset a few people.''
Peter Williams Mt Maunganui

He’s been a fixture on our screens for almost 40 years – an unwavering, unflappable beacon of class and professionalism, reading us our news and sport.

But while TVNZ legend Peter Williams has now disappeared from our screens following an emotional farewell from the station, this year you’ll be able to get to know him in a way you never have before.

Following years of fair and balanced reporting and presenting, the time has finally come for Peter to enlighten the country with his own point of view.

Yes, he has opinions, and boy, does he want you to know about them!

“If I’ve developed a persona over time as the straight-up news presenter, then this year I might upset a few people,” Peter (65) tells the Weekly with a wry grin.

“I might offend a few people – they might say, ‘Oh, that Peter Williams isn’t as nice and balanced as I thought he was!’ Well, I’m sorry. That’s just too bad. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve never been scared to voice an opinion.”

This year Peter is embarking on a new journey. It sees him returning to his radio roots – where he started his media career as a teenager on Radio Otago (now More FM).

He’s hosting a show on new station Magic Talk, broadcasting from his adopted hometown of Tauranga. It’s a huge change for the sports stalwart, who admits to some apprehension around the new gig – after all, starting a new job the same year he’s received a SuperGold card takes a bit of adjustment!

“I guess I won’t be taking those free ferry rides to Waiheke,” he laughs. “And that’s another thing we should be talking about – should people like me in a high-end profession be able to claim a pension? It’s an interesting discussion,” he enthuses.

Peter’s got a few more “interesting discussions” up his sleeve for his talk show. As well as pension eligibility, he’s keen to talk more about proposed education reforms, capital gains taxes and, perhaps most passionately, the state of the nation’s roads.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve driven between Tauranga and Auckland, and the condition and time it takes them to fix and build the road is appalling. Why is it that State Highway One has had major road works on it every day for the last 30 years?” he grumbles.

Peter will being returning to his radio roots

But of course, Peter no longer has to endure a weekly commute from the warm, inviting home he shares with wife Sara – situated just a couple of streets from Mt Maunganui beach – to TVNZ’s studios in central Auckland.

After 10 years of fronting the weekend bulletin on One News – plus countless other special events, Breakfast newsreading and sport tournaments – Peter decided two years ago that his time in television was to come to an end, citing that he’d “done enough stuff” to comfortably close the book on his TV career.

However, it seems TVNZ didn’t agree.

“They wanted me to come back in 2019, but there were a few issues because I’m going to work for the opposition,” he says.

“But the deal was done with TVNZ in 2016, and it sort of slipped out in 2017.

“I’d not so much been preparing for it, but I knew it was coming, so I had a lot of time to get used to it. It came around very quickly, much quicker than I expected. In the end, it felt pretty natural. Although I’ve just realised that for the first time in 40 years, I’ll have to pay for haircuts!”

That was once the job of TVNZ’s make-up department.

Peter bowed out following his final bulletin, surrounded by his colleagues, most of whom had come into the studio especially to farewell their friend after 39 years and eight months.

“I would have liked to have done 40,” he admits, grinning. “But then, why? What’s a number?”

He continues, “The moment on set was pretty humbling. It was really cool of them all to be there. They don’t work Sundays, so they made an effort.”

While most of the people who are important to Peter professionally turned out to say goodbye, forming a guard of honour down TVNZ’s corridors, one very significant person was missing – Sara, who proudly watched his last programme from their Mt Maunganui home.

“She has a very private profile. She’d rather not be a part of anything publicly,” Peter nods.

While he’s excited about his new role, Peter admits he’s been a bit reflective over the last few weeks, and looks back on his career with great fondness.

He started at TVNZ in 1979 as a fresh-faced rugby league commentator – “no-one else wanted to do it!” he laughs – before trying his hand at reporting other sports, including darts, synchronised swimming and his great passion, golf.

Eventually, he left the sport world behind in favour of news presenting, but always found ways to dip his toe back in, most notably with his coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, an assignment he accepted at the last minute.

“I did that job in interesting circumstances. I picked it up from [Tony] Veitch, who was moved on for reasons we all know about. To have an opportunity to be back in sports and prime-time presenting the Olympic Games was something I never thought I’d have again. It was really cool – quite demanding, but good fun.”

Peter was a fixture at TVNZ for almost 40 years

Peter’s other most memorable assignment also occurred almost by accident, but its story couldn’t have been more different. Covering the Pike River Mine disaster of 2010 is still vivid in Peter’s memory.

“It happened on a Friday, and I was down there on the Saturday – Simon [Dallow] couldn’t work, his mother had just passed away. It wasn’t something that I would normally do, but it turned out I was down there reporting for a whole week. Both of those were television occasions I’ll remember for very different reasons, but at the same time, with everything you cover, you have the same job to do.”

While he won’t be in front of a camera again anytime soon, Peter will still be at the forefront of news and current affairs with his show on Magic Talk, which will cover everything and anything newsworthy going on in Aotearoa.

The basic mechanics are the same, he concedes – knowing what’s news and finding out from those in the know what’s going on. But spinning those yarns on the radio is going to be a very different experience.

“The people at Magic have been pretty courageous putting me in there,” he tells.

“It’s still the broadcasting industry, but there’s a myriad of skills in that one industry and here’s me going into it after 40 years, never having done talkback or talk radio.”

The best part, he says, is that he’ll be able to broadcast the show from Tauranga, meaning he gets to spend a lot more time with Sara in their little piece of paradise.

“We actually ended uphere by accident really. Sara got a job at the port,” Peter says. “We probably would have stayed in Auckland otherwise. But we love it down here.I’ve lived in a lot of places in New Zealand – I grew upin Invercargill,then it was Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, as well as Masterton and Blenheim. This one seems to get the mix right.”

Indeed, Peter and Sara seem right at home, having just finished a major interior “tart up” of their seaside home.

“The woman who lived here before us seemed to like pastel colours,” grins Peter. “Pinks, greens… all together.”

The outside still needs work, he reckons, but 2019 is shaping up to be even busier than usual for the broadcaster – and he’s adamant there’ll be no “slowing down”.

Peter Williams will be hosting weekday mornings on Magic Talk, 9am to midday, starting Monday January 21.

Related stories