Paula Bennett explains why she never tried to become Prime Minister, responds to Tom Sainsbury's latest parody

Paula Bennett says she never tried to become Prime Minister because her skills in organising and strategising were best suited to a deputy role. 

The former National Party deputy leader announced on Monday she will retire from politics at the September election to pursue a career in the private sector. 

"I feel so incredibly... I don't want to say lucky because you make your own luck, but I do feel like I've been surrounded by some of the most talented people and I include people who have worked for me," Bennett told reporters in Auckland. 

"I've had John Key as a mentor, I've had Bill English who backed me and believed in me, and Simon [Bridges] who trusted me and gave me a massive job to do. How can I not just be filled with pride and also gratitude for the people and the party?"

Bennett, who is currently MP for Upper Harbour, had already announced in August 2019 her intention not to seek re-election for the electorate seat because she wanted to focus on her new role as National's campaign chair. 

But Bennett lost that job after a National Party leadership takeover in May. Todd Muller took the leadership from Simon Bridges, while Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye replaced Bennett as deputy. Muller appointed senior National MP Gerry Brownlee as the new campaign chair. 

Bennett was subsequently pushed down the National Party's ranks to number 13, but she held on to her drug reform and women portfolios. 

Muller has thanked Bennett for her service to National.

"I want to thank Paula for everything she's done, not only for the National Party but for the country over the past 15 years."

The 51-year-old, who served as Deputy Prime Minister between December 2016 and October 2017, said she never had ambitions to become National leader or Prime Minister. 

"Never - absolutely never," she said. "I probably had times when I could've put my hand up and stepped up and into it."

Bennett said the reason she never pursued the idea is because the deputy role suited her. 

"Sometimes you can make a bigger difference to the role that is suited to your skills, and for me that was in a deputy leader role," she said. 

"I love the organisation, I love the hands-on and I like the detail behind it all. I am very much a people person, organiser and strategist, and I think those skills were and are best suited to a deputy role."

National hasn't had a female leader since Jenny Shipley who stepped down in 2001. 

Bennett said she would like to see another female lead the party - but not just to fill a demographic. 

"It's not about just gender - it's about talent and merit. I think that of course we'll have a female leader in the future and so we should, but it will be the right person at the right time and they will be chosen as the best person for the role."

'If you can't laugh at yourself'

Bennett appeared to be in good spirits as she announced the end of her political career, laughing off the latest impersonation of her by comedian Tom Sainsbury. 

Boasting more than 90,000 followers on his Facebook page, Sainsbury is known for his impersonations of Bennett and other characters using Snapchat photo filters. 

Sainsbury's latest video pokes fun at Bennett being rolled as deputy leader. The comedian sports a grey wig and a kimono in the video, before finishing with a scene where he dances around a room with the real Paula Bennett. 

"He's already put it out, has he?" Bennett laughed when asked about it. 

"If you can't laugh at yourself... I think we get to a point where people are taking themselves so damn seriously and Tom is a very funny guy - I think actually a comic genius in this country and he's managed to take the mickey out of me for years," she said. 

"As I say Tom, he's also actually almost opened me up to another generation where young people will sidle up for a photo and I'll say, 'you are a Tom Sainsbury fan I think - not a Paula Bennett one', but it means I can then engage them in conversation.

"Hopefully he retires me - which is a weird statement to make."

Bennett admitted in January to binge-watching Sainsbury's parody videos of her in an interview with LGBTIQ+ magazine Express