New Zealand Prime Minister John Key publicly apologised to a waitress who labelled him a “schoolyard bully” for repeatedly pulling her ponytail on visits to her cafe.
As women’s groups expressed outrage, Key said he now realised his behaviour was inappropriate but insisted he was merely “horsing around”, not acting maliciously.
“It was all in the context of a bit of banter that was going on,” he told TVNZ, saying he apologised and gave the woman two bottles of wine when he realised she had taken offence.
The unnamed Auckland waitress recounted her story in an anonymous column on left-wing website thedailyblog.co.nz, saying the conservative leader’s actions reduced her to tears.
She said Key persisted in tugging her hair on at least half a dozen separate occasions, even though she had clearly signalled her displeasure and once warned his security detail she would punch him if he continued.
At one point, Key’s wife Bronagh told him “leave the poor girl alone”, the woman wrote, saying that the prime minister gave the impression “that he just didn’t care”.
“He was like the schoolyard bully tugging on the little girls’ hair trying to get a reaction, experiencing that feeling of power,” she said in the blog.
The waitress said Key eventually got the message and stopped tormenting her in late March, telling her he had not realised how upset she was at his behaviour, which lasted for several months.
“Really?! That was almost more offensive than the harassment itself,” she wrote.