John Key accepts knighthood in Queen's Birthday Honours

Having brought back knighthoods, John Key is now the beneficiary of one, having been given the accolade in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

The investment banker turned Prime Minister says he's "thrilled" at now being a Sir, but doesn't think it'll make people address him as anything else other than John.

Still freshly out of the political world, Sir John has been recognised for his services to the state.

His official citation solely notes his political career and achievements from his election to Parliament in 2002 until his surprise resignation in December last year.

He told Newshub the recognition needs to be shared among his National team and supporters.

"You have to reflect on why you got it and that's because of an amazing Cabinet, an amazing caucus and millions of New Zealanders who voted for a National government and gave me the opportunity to be Prime Minister," he says.

His leadership through the Global Financial Crisis and the deadly Canterbury earthquakes, his withdrawal of Kiwi troops from Afghanistan in 2013, creating stronger ties with the US and "a range of economic, social and environmental reforms" were all reasons why Sir John was given the nod.

"It was a privilege to be there, and there were a lot of big challenges from economic reforms right through to the natural disasters we dealt with, but the truth is that I would never have been there without that support."

He says the recognition too of his wife, who will now be Lady Bronagh, is tribute to her work behind the scenes.

"You can't do that on your own and she has been a great ambassador in her own right for New Zealand. She's always going to be low key, if you excuse the pun, but that's because she'd prefer to be behind the TV screens and not in front of it."

The legacy of the knighthood

Labour abolished knighthoods and damehoods in 2000, but they were brought back by Sir John nine years later.

Having chaired the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee while Prime Minister, Sir John says he got an intimate knowledge of how the process worked.

There has been criticism of people being honoured for just doing their jobs - including former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, but Sir John says it also recognises those who give selflessly.

"The reality is I was Prime Minister, and I'd like to think I did a good job of making New Zealand a better place, but there are a huge number of people on that list and they all deserve the credit and attention to be frank."

He says he didn't do the job for the accolades.

"When you go into politics, and certainly if you become Prime Minister, if you're there for the money you're there for completely the wrong reasons; you're there to hopefully make a difference to the country - it's a 365 day a year, 24 hours, seven day a week job."

Political leaders are no strangers to honours lists; Sir John says "every Prime Minister in living history" eventually gets some kind of honour - he just didn't expect his so quickly.

"I didn't accept it straight away, I ended up getting a phone call from Bill [English] and he told me the Government was going to offer me the knighthood and I should accept it.

"For my family, and hopefully for future generations of our family, it'll be a nice thing. As the person who brought back knighthoods, it probably would have been a little odd if I said no and in that regard I felt a commitment to take it if for no other reason."

In 2009, former Prime Minister Helen Clark accepted membership of the Order of New Zealand, which is limited to just 20 living Kiwis at any one time.

While she graciously received that honour, she said she "certainly would not" have accepted a damehood.

Former National Prime Minister Jenny Shipley accepted a damehood in 2009, while another former leader Jim Bolger - a well-known republican - turned down a knighthood because he "didn't believe" in them.

Life after politics

Sir John doesn't regret stepping down from the prime ministership in December, nor putting his name forward as an MP and then Prime Minister.

And while he isn't a sitting politician any more, he's still involved with the National Party and will inevitably play some part in their election campaign.

"I still talk to the PM and others, but I'm not a Monday morning quarterback, I'm not there telling them what to do every five minutes and if they need a hand and I can support them, I'm National to the marrow."

Sir John was indisputably National's biggest asset during his time in Parliament, and likely remains so and he's willing to help out as much as possible during the election campaign.    

"I'll play as big or as little role as they want, but it'll be very much behind the scenes. A, they don't need me in front and b, the Prime Minister is doing an amazing job and so is the team around him."

He says his role could possibly be to help raise money or to be their cheerleader.

In May, Air New Zealand announced Sir John, New Zealand's 38th Prime Minister, would join their board effective from September 1.

He'll also be sitting on a number of other boards in Australasia and has some commitments in China, the US and the UK.

"There's been a remarkable number of offers and some of them have been really quite extraordinary, particularly on the international stage where I wouldn't have necessarily thought I would have registered there."

But Sir John says he and the family have committed to living in New Zealand in his post-politics life and turned down big offers from companies which would have meant living overseas.

"It doesn't feel naturally right for me to be going and living somewhere else."