Editorial: The day I was overawed by 'Uncle Paul'

By Julia Proverbs

I will always remember the day I met "Uncle Paul". I was terrified. He was a television media icon and I was a wet-behind-the-ears newspaper journalist.

So, to break the ice and calm my nerves, I opened the interview with a wisecrack.

"Do you get people asking if you're related to me?" I asked him.

"No," he replied, looking puzzled.

I slid my business card across the table of the small Tauranga cafe in which we had met to discuss the launch of his autobiography and he broke into a warm smile.

My maiden name, you see, was Holmes.

"Do you get sick of people asking if you're related to this bugger?" he retorted.

I answered with a grin.

In fact it infuriated me, but I was too young and polite to say so.

However, the ice was broken and I was no longer afraid.

I met Paul Holmes, not yet a Sir, 14 years ago on a warm winter's day.

When he walked into the cafe two things immediately struck me - he was much shorter in stature than I expected, but at the same time much larger than life.

New Zealand's best-known broadcaster - that people loved to hate - had charisma.


What I also hadn't banked on was the honest and open way in which he answered my questions.

It was his pitbull interviewing style, for which he was famous, that had me quaking in my stilettos.

But every question I asked him he answered skilfully and with grace.

From the the break-up of his marriage to Hinemoa Elder and growing up in Hawke's Bay in the 1950s to what he thought of Tauranga's then MP Winston Peters, not once did he say "no comment".

He believed if you were prepared to question other people about their lives, you should be prepared to be questioned about yours.

In his late 40s at the time, he said he had lived a "rich and full" life.

"It's a life racked by near-death experiences and some spectacular failures, but it's not without its successes and it's not without its humanity and its warm friendships," he said.

His sentiments bore a striking resemblance to those expressed in his harrowing final interview with TVNZ's Sunday current affairs programme, which screened a week ago.

An interview that, despite his failing body, he conducted with the same intelligence, wit and strength of character he displayed all those years ago. One of the privileges of being a journalist is getting to meet some of life's "greats".

Sir Paul was one of those.

His contribution to New Zealand print, radio and television journalism was immense and he will be sorely missed.

My own personal keepsake is a signed autobiography that bears the inscription: "Thank you very much for a fun interview."

Sir Paul, it was a privilege.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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