Twelve Questions: Sir Bob Jones

Sir Bob Jones gave up drinking a year ago and says he still feels like a young man. The property developer and columnist won’t confirm how many children he has — though it’s at least nine — including his youngest daughter Amelia, 5.

1. Are you misunderstood?

My friends would say ‘perhaps you’re misunderstood’. People say things about me that are simply not true. Alan Duff used to say it all the time. We became great friends and he said he’d wait for it to come up at the dinner table. “Why are you friends with that man?” It’s a small society in New Zealand. A lot of snipey sensitivity. It goes with the isolation. I don’t snipe. I give full body barrage if I disagree with something. I don’t bait people. I’m saying what I believe. Unless it’s deliberate that I’m being facetious and I don’t do that terribly often.

2. Have you ever cared what people think of you?

Of course but the older you get the less sensitive you get. Everyone’s sensitive to what people think. Muldoon once said to me most politicians make the mistake of trying to win over everybody. You can’t. Concentrate on your supporters.

I gave up on my mother. She was always reluctant to give praise and critical of us. I think she did it to spur us on a bit. The only thing she appreciated, in her own manner, was if I was doing something a bit rebellious. Then she’d quietly indicate her approval. But most of the time it was a state of constant disapproval. No one told her about my knighthood because they couldn’t be bothered with the abuse. When she did find out she said to me: “I hear you’re making a damn fool of yourself again.”

3. Why have you stopped drinking?

I gave up a year ago. I kept feeling bad and I’ve always been a heavy red wine drinker. I’d start at midday, drink a couple of bottles a day, but it never affected me. I’ve never been drunk. I can run really fast. I play former tennis champion players and I beat them. I never get tired. [Ron] Brierley and I started drinking red wine like that in our thirties. It was a regular thing. I’d offer people tea, coffee or wine. It never had any effect on me. But I started to feel generally down. The doctor said ‘I can tell you what it is’. I think it’s just age but I stopped the wine. Never missed it. I have a bit of Bristol Cream Sherry every now and then.

4. How old do you feel?

Same as I did when I was 30. Nothing has changed. The only thing I can’t do any more is long distance running. It hurts my back. Today’s unusual in that I haven’t done any exercise. I play tennis several times a week. I’ll pop down to the golf course for nine or 10 holes. I’ve got a pool but swimming’s too boring.

5. What kind of father are you?

Not a conventional one. I’m not going to watch them play football and go to school plays and that. I didn’t want my parents to do that, not that they ever did. Dad did watch me box once. Thankfully I won. No, I won’t tell you how many I’ve got. Millions of daughters. Frances is my oldest, she’s 47, and the others all end up going to live with her or the others, at some time. All the ex-wives and mothers get on with each other. One of them arrived today from Australia and the gardener is picking her up from the airport. I’ll tell you what gets me – the sight of a little girl. It always puts a smile on my face. I lust after them in the sense that I wish they were mine. Amelia, my 5-year-old, is in Malaysia right now with her mother and another daughter who is 18.

6. What’s the most important thing to teach them, in your opinion?

An inquiring mind. Realising that absolutely everything is interesting.

7. When have you been at your happiest?

Never thought about it. I read that studies show people are at their most content from 60 onwards. That’s certainly true of me. You’re more tolerant, more relaxed, turn the other cheek. You don’t get so angry about things. I can be a bit of a thespian with putting on displays of temper but everyone knows I’m teasing. I reckon 90 per cent of the people I have known are dead. But I don’t feel like dying. I really enjoy being alive. I find everything interesting.

8. Why do you write?

I love it. If you are a reader, and I am, I read for about six hours a day. I keep a log to ensure it’s 50/50 fiction and non-fiction. I seem to be the only man who reads fiction! I don’t understand it. I enjoy both but fiction makes you think more. Talk to any reader and they say they’d quite like to write a book.

9. You’ve been married a lot and had a lot of different partners: how do you charm the women you’ve been with?

I don’t set out to charm women, but I’ll tell you one thing they like laughter, but they don’t like pranks. I quite like women and permanent relationships but it never lasts that long. They last about seven or eight years but we all stay great friends and holiday together. I’ve never understood monogamy. It seems to be unnatural for me. Variety is the spice of life. Blondes. Brunettes. That sort of thing. I’ve had all sorts of races and that. Girlfriends everywhere. Am I good to them? Of course I am. I’m good to everyone. Absolutely, women keep you young. Having it off all the time does. It’s absolutely critical.

10. In what way do you wish your life had been different?

No ways. I mean obviously it would be lovely to be the heavyweight champion of the world or an opera singer. We are on the cusp of the most amazing things happening and it would be lovely to watch. So many astonishing things and I presume I won’t be around to see them.

11. What, in your opinion, is the biggest misconception about the wealthy?

You read about them being tight and the evidence is overwhelmingly that that is not the case. I never set out to make money. I set out never to work for anyone and the money happened very quickly. Anyone can do what I did. Buying buildings is irrational, as my mother said, but we like it. We keep buying more. The difference between successful people in any sense not just money but having an interesting life or whatever is they have an investment mentality. Study. Doing different things. They are not into instant gratification.

12. What would you like your legacy to be?

Nothing. When you’re dead, you’re dead. Foundations, monuments. Who cares. You’re dead. Everyone forgets the dead and that’s right. The more primitive the civilisation, the more they carry on about worshipping the dead. It’s an arrogance to assume that we are that special. What matters is now.

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