Paul Holmes - That was Holmes

By Carroll du Chateau

It's been a shattering year for Paul Holmes following the breakup of his marriage. He talks about it to CARROLL DU CHATEAU.

Paul Holmes sits in his rented Takapuna flat surrounded by the trappings of material success - and tormented by angst.

The satiny blue-green sea rolls on to the beach out front, the fabulous red XK8 Jag convertible with its walnut dash, and seats that hold you like a hug, waits in the garage below. The coffee tables are carefully arranged with copies of brainy British weeklies the Spectator and Economist.

The walls are thick with paintings -- a Colin McCahon ("the last in his Titirangi series"), two Fomisons, a beautiful Toss Woollaston -- alongside framed photos of his kids Millie (Holmes' 10-year-old stepdaughter by wife Hine Elder) and Reuben (aged 7) in various poses, and, of course, a couple of Holmes himself.

A song-cum-poem by Reuben lies on the table in front of him.

Although the shrieks of kids at play drift alluringly through the open doors, you get the feeling the Armani-suited Holmes doesn't stroll the beach much.

"Yes it is rather idyllic isn't it?" he says, loosening the shiny, fat-knotted tie.

"But it's been a big adjustment to come to live in a little flat when you're used to having a nice big family home. It's a difficult adjustment to make -- to come home to an empty flat with no kids asleep in bed, no one to talk to ..."

Obviously this gleaming dream eyrie doesn't come near making up for the anguish of his separation from Elder and children 15 months ago. Or the public humiliation and betrayal he suffered at the hands of 25-year-old former television journalist Fleur Revell - a person he still can't bear to talk about.

It was an upset that could have cost him his job. A few months ago, admits Holmes, there were mornings when he barely held his Newstalk ZB show together after the late nights, the drinking and emotional exhaustion.

Holmes is more appealing off-air. The spot on his nose doesn't seen so big, his gold-splashed green eyes (one blind after a long-ago car accident) are alternately more mischievous and soft.

The energy that fairly spits off him as he leaps up and down is contagious. He laughs a lot. Despite the ego, he's also got that knack of giving you his total, undivided attention.

And then there's the vulnerability. The need to be liked, to be popular -- which translated into such a readiness to believe that even adulation-cum-calculated love was made so real he risked his marriage for it.

Like Bill Clinton, Holmes made the huge mistake of thinking that his sexual vulnerability and need was safe with a very young woman. And like Clinton, he's lived to regret it.

Listen to him in the Listener of July 18: "I fell in love. I saw somebody walking across the room ... and I knew in that instant I was in trouble. We loved each other in our hearts, in our minds, in our viscera."

Listen to him now after the then love of his life, Revell, sold their story to Woman's Day: "Betrayed, I felt betrayed," he says slowly. You cannot, cannot have a relationship with a public figure and then sell the story."

The young-girl-with-famous-man phenomenon comes with the territory. At 48, Holmes is probably the most identifiable man in the country. At his best he is a first-rate journalist -- unafraid to ask tough questions of anyone from the Prime Minister down.

For more than a decade he has fronted two of the highest-rating news/comment shows in the country. His Newstalk ZB 6 am-8.30 radio breakfast slot rated 19.4 per cent - the most popular in the country - at last count. On television, the Holmes show (TV1 7-7.30 weeknights) scored 10th most popular programme overall (dropping to 60th among 18-39-year-olds).

At the time of his affair he owned a mansion in Upland Rd, Remuera (government valuation $3.37 million). Last year his TVNZ salary alone was $630,000 -- and he earns it.

When TV1 wanted someone in London in a hurry to wangle and charm and talk their way through the palace red tape surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, it was Holmes they sent, even if he was reduced to interviewing children stacking their bouquets outside St James Palace.

As if that wasn't enough, he also writes a weekly column in this newspaper, and a month ago clinched an unheard-of $200,000 advance for his memoirs. Despite the schedule, he's already up to chapter 13.

Today, with his marriage settlement with Hine still at a delicate stage, leaving him "much less money than people think," Holmes insists he's making a new beginning. After a year of partying, drinking, sometimes needing Immovane to get to sleep, he's back on the rails.

"It's been a fairly turbulent year in terms of a whole lot of things I regret deeply," he says. "Lawyers, regrets and loathings -- they tend to close in on you in the late hours with the lights off ... yes, there have been times when I've had far too much to drink, a time when all the crap and blackness has been too much.

"Now it's time to say enough, enough! I've had a blast. There are times in all our lives when we realise we have a finger on the self-destruct button. The thing is to know when to pull right out of that."

What Holmes is referring to is his fall off the alcohol wagon. What Alcoholics Anonymous calls a "recovering" alcoholic, he had been dry for some time before his marriage breakup.

"Now," he says, choosing his words with enormous care, "I haven't had a drink today."

And tomorrow? He lights another cigarette.

"I hope that by following certain processes and seeing certain people, I will have the serenity not to. For years I never went out. Friday nights I was so shattered I couldn't.

"But during the last 10 months I decided I had to live a little and go out a bit. And because of the general turbulence of the year, some of those nights were too late and began to affect my work in the morning. So I decided not to have a life again."

Not to have a life includes taking naps between 10.20 am and noon again; being home when occasionally the nanny brings the kids after school, "for a bowl of strawberries, a bit of talk, a bit of telly, taking his latest relationship - this time with a 27-year-old - very quietly.

"She's smart, she's kind, she's loving and lovely. And she hates publicity." He smiles. "And I love that."

Above all, keeping off the booze.

What about the exhaustion that comes with getting up at 4.10 every weekday morning and finishing at 9.30 at night? Wasn't that at least partly responsible for his lapse in judgment in the first place? Why keep punishing the body and mind -- holding yourself in a state of adrenalin overload both early in the morning, when most people are gently getting into their day, and then again at night when they are settling down to dinner?

Answers Holmes: "The body gets used to it. You can get used to anything. The jobs are what count. In the end these two programmes are two of the highest-performing broadcasting jobs in the country. There's a bit of glory with them.

"People in my industry would kill to have one of them. I'm proud of Newstalk Breakfast, proud of Holmes. I've only got to take a Friday night off and watch it to see what a good programme it is."

In other words, Holmes is hooked on the adrenalin. A couple of weeks back he had them rolling in the aisles at the Silver Scroll music industry awards when he turned a simple prizegiving speech into a standup comedy routine complete with Simon and Garfunkel song, For Emily Wherever I May Find Her. Even his critics loved it.

As Holmes explains it, the urge to perform, to get the laugh, takes over sometimes. He rides his life -- public and private -- like a bucking bronco.

"First I'm a journalist, but a lot of what I do is a performance -- relating to people, amusing them."

The same urge, the same chutzpah, also provokes him into classic jokes -- even at his own expense. Listen to Holmes during a celebrity debate just after the scandal broke. In answer to Ginette McDonald's, "Paul, just think of me as two 24-year-olds," and Jim Hopkins', "From tonight he's to be known as Broken Holmes," Holmes let rip: "I borrowed this suit from Tuku Morgan but I say to you, my underwear are my own ... if only I had kept them on."

He brought the house down. But a Walter Cronkite in the making? Maybe not.

So what next for Paul Holmes, first of New Zealand's big news talkback TV personalities? Will there be a new career to run alongside the personal metamorphosis? What happened to his flirtation with the mayoralty? Does Holmes want to parlay his 11.6 per cent stake in Communicado into a New Zealand media empire.

No, says Holmes, leaping up for another two-teabag shot of caffeine, lighting a last cigarette on the toaster.

"The jobs are wonderful. The jobs are fulfilling. I don't plan to leave them. Things have happened that should have destroyed me -- and the programme -- and they haven't.

"Both jobs have life in them yet ... Paul Holmes will be going strong every morning and every night from here. One of the things I'm proudest of is that through all that bloody silly nonsense I keep doing it. I keep on producing."

And that was Holmes this year.

--Carroll du Chateau, Weekend Life, 05/12/98

PICTURED: Paul Holmes

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