SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd admits he has a reputation as a nerd — but he doesn't seem to mind.
The buttoned-down, bespectacled leader whose lofty rhetoric and slight stiffness in public sometimes give him the aura of a schoolteacher was asked on radio Wednesday how he would spend a cash payout the government is handing out to most Australians.
"Some people have accused me of being a nerd from central casting," Rudd replied during a talk radio segment on the youth station Nova.
"What I would probably do is go down to the bookshop and buy some books I've been wanting to buy for a while," he went on. "A bit of music, that sort of stuff."
Cash payouts of up to $640 are being rolled out starting this week as part of the government's plans to combat the global financial downturn. Callers to the radio show talked about buying new big-screen TVs or heading overseas on holiday.
Rudd is not eligible for the handout because he earns too much salary, so the question was rhetorical.
Rudd, 51, a career bureaucrat and diplomat before he entered politics, is renowned for his proficiency in speaking Chinese. He has named the obscure German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a personal hero.
The Times of London last month described him as a "charisma-free zone" when listing characteristics of leaders attending the G-20 summit. In 2007, he was briefly an international YouTube sensation when a six-year-old video was posted of him absent-mindedly probing his left ear with a finger, which he then popped into his mouth.
Not all of Rudd's notoriety is geeky, however. He apologized two years ago for a boozy night he spent at a Manhattan strip club in 2003 — saying it was only second time in his life that he was drunk and it wouldn't happen again.
He made another public apology last week for an angry outburst this year about not getting the meal he wanted during an official flight that reportedly made an air force stewardess cry. The incident reinforced rumors Rudd has a sharp temper in private.
Australians don't seem to mind Rudd's temper or his apparent dorkiness, with opinion polls consistently showing he is just about the most popular prime minister the country has ever had.