“You’re a man who has never lost sight of where you’re going and most importantly, you’ve never lost sight of where you’ve been.” Paul Holmes, This is your life, October 2010
Sir Peter Charles Leitch was born on 8 May 1944 in Wellington. He was the seventh and last child of Myrtle and John (Bluey) Leitch. Bluey came from the West Coast, where real men were allowed to swear. “I say the ‘f’ word a lot and Dad taught me that”, says Peter. Myrtle had a huge sense of fun and was, in Peter’s words, “a very good talker”.
The Leitch family was a strong unit. Visitors were always welcome at their Newtown house – for a meal or to doss down on the floor if they needed a bed for the night.
For the Leitch kids, the greatest entertainment was an abandoned brickworks near their home, where they built forts and had imaginary wars with neighbourhood kids. They also hung out at Newtown Park, which was a wilderness of pine trees and WWII trenches dug by the Home Guard. Weekends were often spent at the family bach in Tawa, where Peter and his brothers liked to go eeling.
In his teenage years, Peter went through an Elvis phase (some would say he’s still going through it). With every strand of hair oiled into a perfect Elvis quiff, he used to click his fingers and jive-talk his Dad, who wasn’t particularly impressed with rock ‘n’ roll.
School was hard work for Peter. He had dyslexia, a condition that wasn’t recognised in the early 1950s, so was always in the low classes.
“I’m bitter about the education system because it hasn’t changed. The dumb kids still get the worst teachers and the bright kids get the best, where I think it should be the other way round.”
“It would have been nice if they knew as much about dyslexia then as they do today. But I may not have been where I am today, because maybe it’s the battles I’ve had that have made me what I am.”
When he left Wellington Technical College at the age of 15, Peter received this reference from the senior master: “He has behaved in a manner that would bring credit to himself and his school. He is a reliable and responsible boy and, as such, would possess qualities which should be acceptable to an employer.”
While family and friends remember young Peter as a confident, talkative young man, his memory is different. “In my early days I lacked a lot of confidence. I wasn’t a big, good-looking guy. I wasn’t a big tough bastard.”
Peter left school at 15 and began working as a telegram boy. Six months later talked his way into a butchery apprenticeship at Seatoun.
“The butchery was something you learned yourself. You didn’t go to tech – you just picked it up. There was no structure for learning. They just gave you a knife and gave you all the shit jobs. You cooked the fat and made the mince.
“Once I got the chance to get out of the back room into the shop and talk with the customers, I loved it. Working on the counter, dealing with people is something I’ve always loved. To be fair, most butchers then were big talkers.”
When he moved to Auckland, Peter worked for a short while as a grave digger. “It was an interesting job. It taught you humility and respect for life. When you’re a young man, you think you’re bullet-proof, you think you’ll never die. So it was a job that was quite humbling.”
Before too long, Peter was back to butchering. While working at Newton Meats in K Road, he won a boning race against another butcher. “He thought he was pretty good, but then I beat him and was amazed to realise that I was better than him. That boning race turned my life around and I started to get some self-belief.”
Peter’s self-belief saw him start his own business – in Rosella Road, Mangere East – the first step towards the Mad Butcher empire.
When Peter decided to start advertising on radio, his mate Tim Bickerstaff suggested he would need a gimmick. Peter recalled the time a Maori guy had walked into the Wiri pub and said “Hey, there’s that f**king mad butcher”.
“We dropped the first bit, because that wouldn’t have gone down too well on the radio, and we called ourselves “Rosella Meats, home of the Mad Butcher.”