Paying tribute to Sir Paul Holmes


Friends and colleagues pay tribute to Sir Paul Holmes. Readers can also leave their tribute to him at the bottom of the article.


Paul Holmes was a gentleman broadcaster. He conducted his interviews with intelligence and insightfulness, and while he never suffered fools, his interviews were never without kindness and empathy.

He was a trailblazer in New Zealand journalism with a style that was all his own.

I also counted him as a friend and I want to personally acknowledge the pain Deborah, Lady Holmes, Millie and Reuben are now feeling and offer my heartfelt condolences,'' says Mr Key.

Paul has been part of New Zealanders' lives since the 1970s. For more than a decade he was compulsive viewing at 7pm and, up until very recently, he was still on Q&A and his radio show. It is hard to imagine a broadcasting spectrum without him.

It was a privilege to be with him last month as he received his Knighthood for services to broadcasting _ I cannot think of anyone who deserved this more.

Farewell Sir Paul, you will be missed.'


Labour Leader David Shearer described Sir Paul as a true professional who was hugely respected not only by his peers, but by New Zealanders across social and political spectrums.

"A pioneer of the talkback radio format, he was at the forefront of current affairs television and never shied from controversy.

"He had a fine sense of the 'ordinary Kiwi', along with an uncanny understanding of the issues of the day.

"What always struck me was his enthusiasm for his country. He was a passionate New Zealander who stood up for anyone willing to have a go.

"I got to know him a bit more personally in recent years. I saw him as a friend and frequently enjoyed a robust debate with him.

"Paul's contribution to New Zealand's media landscape was significant, and he will be deeply missed.

"My sympathy and thoughts are with his wife, Lady Deborah Holmes, his children Millie and Rueben and other family members."

Mr Shearer said he remembered being with Sir Paul at Great Mercury Island as a rocket was being launched.

"We ended up having a long chat about New Zealand and he was there because he loved the idea of New Zealand being able to fire off a rocket and compete with NASA.

"We sat out under the stars with a bottle of wine into the small hours talking about New Zealand - that's a memory I will always have."

Mr Shearer said he had been in phone and text contact with Sir Paul until his death.

He said Sir Paul was a broadcasting pioneer.

"What made it work was he really was passionate about New Zealand and willing to stand up for Kiwis.

"We had some pretty robust debates at times, he was a really good guy - I always enjoyed his company."


A close friend of Sir Paul and the head of talk brands at the Radio Network, Dallas Gurney said Sir Paul was the greatest broadcaster of our time.

"He doesn't leave a gap, he leaves a chasm, I don't think we realised at the time just how lucky we were to have a broadcaster of his ilk on the television and on the radio."

He remembered Sir Paul as a cheeky and funny man.

"He'd often have the newsroom in fits of laughter and I'm sure that Sir Paul's presence will be felt around this place for many years to come."

Everybody knew how good a broadcaster Sir Paul was, "but more than that he was a good person".

"The thing about Paul is no matter who you are, be the most lowly reporter or the CEO of the company, he had time for you and people say the greatest gift you can give people is you're time, it's very true for Sir Paul."


Mark Sainsbury said there would never be anyone else in broadcasting like his "extraordinary" friend Sir Paul.

"He was just so totally unique. Everything he did he threw himself at 100 per cent. He was just brilliant," he said.

Through his dedication and hard work Sir Paul altered the face of radio and television, said Sainsbury.

"He just so radically changed everything."

His friend was a professional who cared passionately about people, which was reflected through his work, he said.

Sainsbury described Sir Paul as a "very, very emotional" man, who at times found criticism difficult.

"Like anything in this business, you're not everyone's cup of tea, but Paul would take that and that was the good thing - he knew that. It didn't go without people criticising all the things that happened. It hurt Paul. He would accept it professionally but he never liked to upset anyone unless they were bastards."


TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick acknowledged Sir Paul's "long and illustrious" career with the broadcaster and said he had many friends there.

"He's been part of the TVNZ family for so long - from our family to his we extend our deepest sympathy.

"Sir Paul redefined current affairs on New Zealand television for a generation and has been a leading light in the world of journalism in this country.

"His legacy will be remembered within TVNZ and across the industry for many years to come."


Journalist Fran O'Sullivan, who knew Sir Paul well for 30 years since starting her radio career in the early 1980s, said he had an incredible life force.

"I liked his sense of outrage and I liked his occasionally outrageous behaviour, because he had a life spirit that wasn't easily quelled. That's something to be admired.

"People have always said he should have slowed down. He lived life at both ends of the candle. But in fact he lived a life, and it was with a great life force and to me that's something to be admired.

"He wasn't easily put down, he had his setbacks, he had the accidents, he had the terrible move to Prime, which was an incredible misjudgment.

"That was a regret, but he bounced back, he pushed back, and that's what I liked about him. He would have a defeat and he would rise again."

O'Sullivan said Sir Paul had been "a good gladiator".

"There have been times over the years when [we were] poles apart on various issues and views and opinions.

"But you could have a good stoush with him over something and then go and have a drink or a durry [cigarette], as people used to do in those days ... and a thoroughly amicable chat.

She said there were episodes when Sir Paul's mouth ran away with him.

"But he liked danger too, so he liked to take things to the wire. And he realised that in media, particularly if you're going to keep an audience over a very long period of time, which he did on both radio and television, you need to have an appetite for that once in a while.

"And occasionally he jumped over, and good producers reined him back and then put him on the horse and got him out again. He was a very good act."

O'Sullivan said his legacy was one of "challenge and humanity".

"I think he was incisive. He had much more intellect than people gave him credit for."


Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss said Sir Paul was a "remarkable man" who would be remembered as an acclaimed figure in New Zealand broadcasting.

"He will be sorely missed by his media colleagues as well as viewers and listeners around the country.

"For many decades, he changed the face of broadcasting and will be remembered for his passionate, skilled and insightful interviews telling the stories of New Zealand," he said.

Mr Foss expressed his deepest sympathies to Sir Paul's family.


New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said he didn't always agree with Sir Paul Holmes during their long professional relationship but he held him in high regard.

"He was hugely talented, creative and hard-working, and one of our best journalists.

"Sir Paul was one of a rare breed who was modest enough to know that sometimes you win arguments, and other times you lose.

"He will be sorely missed and we wish his family, friends and colleagues all the best in these trying times."


Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Sir Paul Holmes challenged politicians in a way that made his interviews interesting to the viewer and listener.

"His focus was on the people listening and watching, not on making life easy for the politicians. Over many decades he helped shaped political discourse in New Zealand through his TV interviews, newspaper columns and radio shows.

"Our thoughts are with Sir Paul's wife Lady Deborah, his children, family and friends," said Mrs Turei.


Media commentator Jim Tucker said the media world owed Sir Paul for his work.

"It's marvellous when someone gets knighted who's in the media ... we're hated, there's no recognition for what we do, we plug on with our jobs driven by altruism and bugger-all pay, when a media person is accorded that sort of accolade then we all win, and we owe him."

Mr Tucker said he regarded Sir Paul as a genius.

"He drew people in, that to me is the legacy he's left. He leaves a legacy of a kind man, who like all geniuses had his flaws and foibles.

Mr Tucker, the head of journalism at tertiary institute Whitirea, remembered a time when Sir Paul was meant to speak to his journalism students but did not make it.

"Someone turned up from TVNZ and said Paul has had a helicopter accident, but he'll come next year. And this is the trouble he took, even though it was a terrible accident ... that says such a lot about the man. And he did come the following year."


Broadcast media personality Brian Edwards said Sir Paul's death was not unexpected, but came too soon.

"I look at someone like Paul, who obviously had potentially years and years and years to do a lot more broadcasting - his death is just too soon, I suppose, it's just too early."

Edwards said Sir Paul had shown tremendous courage in the face of death, citing an "admirable" recent interview with TVNZ's Sunday programme.

"I thought that demonstrated such tremendous courage and honesty in the face of what he obviously knew was his impending death. I thought it was quite typical of the man. So it's a hugely great loss."


Radio Broadcasters Association chief executive Bill Francis was general manager of Newstalk ZB for 16 of Sir Paul Holmes' 22 years at the radio station.

During that time the pair developed a close professional relationship and personal friendship, he said.

"My most enduring memories of Paul is the amount of fun we had working together because he was a such a buoyant, uplifting character. He was a great person to be close to," he said.

"That sort of thing is established through trust and you never have to raise your voice and do anything like that and we just had a fabulous relationship."

One of the broadcaster's biggest strengths was his ability to make news and current affairs accessible to everyone, said Mr Francis.

"He thought that the way it was conducted in broadcasting should be reflective of good communication that everyone understood."

The pair shared a love of news, books, history and Mr Francis said in particular he would miss Sir Paul's abilities as a "wonderful storyteller", who could entertain a crowd with his tales.

"[It is] a very sad day for his family and for his friends and colleagues but I also think for New Zealand too, who will really miss what was a unique person."


There are many moments in my memory that belong to Sir Paul.

Some are historic, some funny, some off the wall, some personal and will stay that way.

But one very recent conversation in the NewstalkZB newsroom means a great deal to me. Sir Paul (he was still just Paul that day) was in prepping his Saturday morning show and I was preparing to do the drive programme. We had a chit chat, he was complimentary about my radio work and then he gave me a look and said: "I've got a special technique for radio, something I worked out myself. Did you know if you smile when you are talking that people can hear it?"

I didn't know that. It had never occurred to me. And I realised I had just been given a piece of gold by the country's finest broadcaster.

And every time I smile on radio I think of him.

Susan Wood was Sir Paul's longtime stand-in on TVNZ's Holmes show and now fills in on the NewstalkZB Breakfast radio show that Sir Paul pioneered.


I worked with Paul on the Holmes programme for three years from 1998 to 2001. Paul was an incredibly generous mentor, and I quite simply would not be the story-teller or presenter I am today without his influence.

When I left TVNZ in 2001 to join TV3, the management told me I couldn't have a farewell.

But Paul wouldn't have a bar of that and took the entire Holmes team and their partners to dinner.

He taught me many things over the years, and that night's lesson was all about dignity. I'll never forget it.

3 News anchor Mike McRoberts previously reported on TVNZ's Holmes show.


I first got to know Paul when he arrived in Wellington in the 80s. He stood out with his afro hair and overlarge spectacles.

Not long after he got the talkback slot on NewstalkZB in Wellington we were driving out to The Hutt in his contra car which I believe was a Citroen and driving it quite badly he was. He was talking about being a talkback host and joked that he felt like a fraud. Well for a fraudster, which of course he wasn't, he carved out a career that defined broadcasting.

In his Wellington talkback days he was different, lasciviously reciting excerpts from Mills and Boon novels which caused a great deal of mirth.

Paul has lived life to the full, loves nothing more than getting together with mates over a meal, washed down a glass or three of wine.

He is an actor in the nicest sense of the word, keeping his dinner guests entertained regaling stories with great aplomb.

Paul also had a great deal of compassion for those less fortunate than himself. Few who have followed him over the years will forget his campaign on behalf of Eve van Grafhorst, the HIV victim of a blood transfusion who was shunned by Australia but welcomed by Hastings. Paul did so much in broadcasting to dispel the notion that Eve's condition was highly infectious and was extremely upset when she died aged 11.

As NewstalkZB's political editor, veteran journalist Barry Soper became close friends with Sir Paul.


Paul of course is mad, but then the best broadcasters are.

He's the best sort of mad, the try anything, push the boundaries, not afraid to make a dick of yourself sort of mad.

Without being mad you don't make a difference, and Paul made a difference ... a massive difference.

Broadcasting is often a business of specialists, but Paul did it all, had all the skills.

I love his brain, his sense of history, his ability with the language.

I love that he loves his success.

There's a photo in my offices, both at home and at work, of me and him on the night of his 20 year celebration at ZB. The mantle being passed, arms around each other, laughing our heads off.

He is the benchmark we all aspire to.

Mike Hosking has followed in Sir Paul's footstep, both hosting the 7pm current affairs show on TVNZ and taking over Holmes' morning radio show.


Sir Paul Holmes' love and passion for radio is inspiring.

I think his greatest gift is his ability to relate to whoever he is speaking to: old, young, rich, poor, across cultures. Paul has an amazing ability to connect and communicate with people. Whether it be Dame Vera Lynn, who is 90-odd and lived through WWII, Harry Styles from One Direction or Natalie Murphy, a 35-year-old dying mother, Paul is able to interact and connect on many levels.

Paul has never been afraid to show emotion. Of course he can do a hard-nosed interview, but very few broadcasters can show empathy and sympathy like he can. I think this is why he has always stood apart from the rest.

As his producer, I miss his colourful language, wonderful story-telling, making him endless cups of tea and his welcome when I walked into the office ... "Dearest Heart, how are you?"

Helen McCarthy was Sir Paul's producer at NewstalkZB for the past four years.


Paul has had a bigger impact than any other media personality in NZ because of his wit, energy, diligence and willingness to go to the very edge. Others have had these qualities but have not had Paul's soul, his ability to say what most Kiwis were thinking or his willingness to laugh at himself. At the same time he loved being number one and jealously guarded his position.

I remember him being ignored by a couple of junior news reporters shortly after he'd left breakfast one Saturday morning. He dismissively remarked, "I feel like telling them the Emperor is still in the house."

Murray Deaker, a veteran sportscaster, worked alongside Sir Paul at NewstalkZB.


Paul World. That's how I've always described it to other people. When you're around him, you're visiting Paul World; a place where reality isn't nearly as important as having a good time.

I started working with Paul in August of 2001, around the time Christine Rankin lost her big case and I almost lost her big interview seconds before we were due to go to air.

I was panicking. Paul wasn't. He would have found something to say - he always does.

Then September happened and the attacks happened and we rushed in early to broadcast the fall of the Twin Towers to the nation. Steep learning curve ... for all of us.

For the next 8 years, it was my privilege to visit Paul World for three hours or so each morning, watching the master at work, learning from the man who turned New Zealand broadcasting on its head.

He never looked at things through the eyes of a journalist, or a presenter, or a celebrity. He only ever saw things as a human being. So he made human mistakes from time to time, but they were far outshone by the human emotions he shared with us every day.

If Sir Paul taught me one thing, it's to be silly whenever possible. If you thought the radio shows were entertaining, you should have seen our debrief meetings afterwards; daily laugh-fests featuring opinions, language, jokes and impersonations we could never have broadcast but I'll never forget.

Glenn Hart was Sir Paul's technical director on radio.


Over the years I having worked alongside many high profile and often-controversial people, and on a regular basis am asked what are they "really" like? With Paul Holmes I always played for the laugh, I'd quip: "I could say he's my bro but you'll just say I'm a cheeky darkie".

Always worked, however on one occasion I was asked if I would follow him into battle.

To be honest, no way, the bullets would just fly over his short-arse head and I would be in the firing line.

Seriously though, the man is a battler. Hell, the fight he took on (he did have support) with NewstalkZB and then the 7pm spot on TV One was huge.

Forget the initial knockers out there, he had to get up at around 3am each morning, head into the radio station, engage in many and varied interviews. Debrief after the show and begin preparing for the next day. Grab a bite to eat then head off to TVNZ for preparation for the evening show.

It's a bit like fighting in the trenches, there are some lulls between the battles however the grind is continuous. He did this day in and day out five days a week. On top of that he would move around the troops, give them a nod a pat on the back, encouragement to the new guys. Out there on his own, yet still very much a team player.

Driven with a passion. In fact if you are looking for one word to describe Sir Paul, the word is passion. Passion for his work. Passion for his close companions and work buddies. Passion for the causes he supported, and passion for his family.

During the toughest of times as the media dug and ferreted for any news on his daughter, we shared a breakfast in a cafe on a Sunday morning. Sir Paul had come into town for a fitting at RJBs on High Street. First I spotted the orange Bentley, and there he was pacing up and down in his almost manic way. The store wasn't open. I yelled out and asked what he was up too. The tirade that followed can be precede as; Shop closed, no breakfast, didn't have any cash on him. Not happy. "Shit happens".

I took him for breakfast and over the next hour he unzipped and shared it all. The pain, the angst, the fear of being hunted down by those looking for the dirt on his family. The years of hard work and hard play. The tall poppy. The illness. His tired eyes said it all.

Through the role he's played in our daily lives, here was a man that we had grown to know intimately, yet how many of us really know him; very few. What did I learn that day? He is a man. A very good man. He is a father, a husband, a friend. A man with a huge heart and passion not just for the underdog but for us all.

Sir Paul you are one of a kind. I salute you and yes I may not follow you into battle but I am damn sure that if we had to, I would proudly stand side by side with you in the trenches.

God bless this wonderful man, a man with passion. Sir Paul Holmes.

Danny Watson shared a radio microphone with Sir Paul.


The history of NewstalkZB is well documented. Paul's arrival on the Auckland airwaves for the stations reformatting on 16 March 1987, led to a flight of listeners to other stations. Equally it was Paul who led the station in clawing them back.

In what was a most fractious time, tensions were high. Paul and I had a legendary verbal stoush in the corridor. People were hiding under desks. It took some time for relations to improve. Like years!

I learned one major lesson from him. You could get it wrong, make a major misjudgement, even be ridiculed, and come back the next day like nothing had happened. It's called tenacity and Paul had it in droves.

Our lives ran some parallels. He followed me to Wellington in '85 and Auckland in '87. We both divorced about the same time, bought country properties, and developed prostate cancer. His was the first advice I sought. I am so sorry that his was not detected early enough.

We worked the same microphone for 22 years, him on breakfast and me following. Our offices were side by side.

His talent is unquestioned, his Knighthood thoroughly warranted.

Circumstances mean we have all been short-changed.

Leighton Smith worked with Sir Paul at NewstalkZB.


Paul has been a teacher, a mentor, a friend. Together we travelled to New York for the aftermath of 9/11, Australia for the Rugby World Cup and the Academy Awards where Sir Peter Jackson won three Oscars.

In the past 13 years Paul taught me the art of humility, when he helped build a brand new house for a Tongan family flooded out in Onehunga. Paul taught me that journalism should be fun and not to take yourself too seriously, when he got Botox injections on camera in Hollywood before the Oscars. Paul taught me that the television won't lie about who you really are, when he apologised live on air for the cheeky darkie comments. He was truly sorry.

Paul taught me to be passionate about people and their stories like aids sufferer Eve Van Grafhorst. To take risks, when he asked Dennis Conner to apologise to Bruce Farr for calling him a loser on the first Holmes programme.

Yes, Paul could relate to everyone from Prime Ministers to All Blacks. Yes, Paul wanted the scoop of the day. But most importantly, Paul loves people, ordinary people, people he can help and care for, stand up for and help make a difference to their lives. That is the most important thing he taught me.

Hamish Clark worked as a reporter on TVNZ's Holmes show.


Paul always stressed it was about people, people, people, people. I've never forgotten that. He was the people's broadcaster. He told me to write how people talk. He was a truly remarkable, edgy, watchable broadcaster. He set the standard and completely changed the game. He rewrote the rules and it's all still relevant today. He's a true giant. I feel immensely sad about what he and his family are going through.

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