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updated 7/30/2010 7:28:51 AM ET 2010-07-30T11:28:51

Tony Hayward, who is stepping down as chief executive of BP in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, has said that he was turned into "a villain for doing the right thing."

In his first interview since deciding to resign, Hayward told the Wall Street Journal that he did everything possible after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, by taking responsibility for the spill and spending billions on the clean-up operation and efforts to stop the leak.

The newspaper said he was unrepentant about BP's response to the spill and that he resented criticism from the Obama administration, although he also admitted that he "understood their frustration."

"I became a villain for doing the right thing," Hayward said in the interview. "But I understand that people find it easier to vilify an individual more than a company.

"I didn't want to leave BP, because I love the company," he added. "Because I love the company, I must leave BP.

"In America, the road back will be long but I believe achievable when the whole truth of the accident finally emerges and the Gulf Coast is restored. BP can rebuild faster in America without Tony Hayward as its CEO," he continued.

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Hayward, 53, also told the paper that some comments he had made — which earned him a reputation for being gaffe-prone — were "wrong," particularly his infamous "I'd like my life back."

However, some critics remained unimpressed.

"Mr. Hayward should be less concerned about his vindication, and more concerned about what BP will do to end the victimization of families and businesses in the Gulf," Rep. Edward Markey told the Journal. "It will take years of continued commitment to the restoration of the Gulf before BP has the legitimacy to engage in historical revisionism."

Richard Charter, senior policy adviser for maritime programs at conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, added: "No one in his right mind would characterize BP's effort as successful."

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Video: BP sheds gaffe-prone CEO Hayward

  1. Transcript of: BP sheds gaffe-prone CEO Hayward

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Now to the fate of BP 's embattled CEO Tony Hayward . Overnight BP announced that Hayward will step down on October 1st and be replaced by an American, Robert Dudley . NBC 's Michelle Kosinski 's in Venice , Louisiana , with details on this story. Hi, Michelle.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Good morning, Matt. With BP 's board meeting in London , they made it official. And though Tony Hayward 's been with the company nearly 30 years, after three terrible months of the oil spill , costing the company some $30 billion in the end, he will be reassigned, saying in a statement that he'll always feel a deep responsibility regardless of where the blame is ultimately found to lie. On the bayou, a world away from the corporate boardroom, fishermen head back to work, not fishing, but cleaning up oil on the BP payroll, and openly reacting to the news of Tony Hayward 's ouster echoing his infamous own words.

    Mr. TONY HAYWARD: You know, I'd like my life back.

    Unidentified Man: Now he gets his life back. Every time he opened his mouth he shoved both feet in it.

    KOSINSKI: They've known the loss of livelihood, working in oil under broiling sun for months. So word that the CEO would soon find himself out a job spread like dispersant from Plaquemines Parish ...

    Mr. BILLY NUNGESSER (President, Plaquemines Parish): I wish him well in his retirement. I hope he'll donate some of that money to the Gulf Coast .

    KOSINSKI: ...to Pensacola.

    Unidentified Woman: Bye, Tony.

    KOSINSKI: Hayward , though, is now expected to take a position on the board of BP 's Russian joint venture with severance and pension worth reportedly up to $18 million. Tough to hear for those toiling now for BP but unsure what next.

    Mr. ANTHONY ZUPANOVIC (Fisherman): I just want to hear about rotations because I just, you know, softly saying I'm about to be laid off.

    KOSINSKI: Only hours ago in London , BP 's chairman sat down with CNBC .

    Mr. CARL-HENRIC SVANBERG (BP Chairman): Tony Hayward has done a great job for the company through his almost 30 years. He's also led an unprecedented response in the Gulf of Mexico , but it became obvious to him and to us that in order to rebuild our position, in order to rebuild our brand and reputation, we needed fresh leadership and that is why we're doing the change.

    KOSINSKI: And a mile under water, progress. Right now the well is being readied for a static kill attempt as early as Monday. The final bottom kill expected several days after that. On the surface, there's less work to do with less oil out there to skim. However, that great clear view from above isn't necessarily what those on the front lines, like fisherman Brian Scherrman , now tasked with saving pelicans, are seeing.

    Mr. BRIAN SCHERRMAN: When we're out chasing the birds, we're kicking up oil and dispersant underwater everywhere. We see dead mullets on the beach, dead birds . I think it's only going to get worse from here on.

    KOSINSKI: Well, officials say, too, just because you don't see oil in a particular place doesn't mean it's not there. There seems to be a lot of oil that's unaccounted for. It's under the surface, it's in hundreds of thousands of smaller patches and sheen that can't be easily skimmed, and it's going to continue to impact shorelines for at least another month. Matt :

    LAUER: All right, Michelle . Michelle Kosinski in Venice , Louisiana , for us this morning. Thanks very much.

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