Sir Paul Holmes: Words of wisdom and entertainment

Part of Paul Holmes' rise to greatness came via these pages. The columns he wrote for us offered an insight into his very soul. His columns in the Herald on Sunday earned him Columnist of the Year in the 2008 Qantas Media awards.

Paul Holmes could entertain and enrage. Photo / Doug Sherring
Paul Holmes could entertain and enrage. Photo / Doug Sherring

His winning portfolio prompted one judge to note: "Damn, damn, damn. It must be a bitter pill for some print journalists to swallow that a man better known for his hit TV show and for dragging their butts out of bed with his morning show on ZB can write too.

"And the simple fact is that he can write - with genuine skill, perception and incisiveness."

From his many musings, here is a selection of extracts:

"The other night I put on My Left Foot, for which he [Daniel Day-Lewis] won a best actor Oscar some years back. My Left Foot is a magnificent piece of work, Day-Lewis' performance is magnetic. From the first frames, you are smiling, laughing and crying.

But suddenly, as I watched Day-Lewis, the crying took over and I could not stop for a little while. I told my wife that I now understood why I was watching so many movies. I had realised, at 58 years old, that I had not followed my dream.

That dream was to be an actor, a great actor, one acclaimed by the world, lines around the block queuing for tickets, movies a sell-out, the speech at the Academy Awards dedicated to my mother in Hastings.

But acting kept a man broke and it was this eternal penury and working only if some poncey director decided to cast me that got me down. I was too impatient. So I went into radio to earn some regular money and to save to travel to the West End of London where stardom would instantly embrace me.

So I made a life and a good career in radio and television and I am grateful for it. I hope I have entertained and informed and from time to time, I think, I have been original. Broadcasting has taken me far and wide. I have met wonderful people in all walks of life.

And yet ... sometimes, when I look at the likes of Day-Lewis and other great actors in other great films, when I see the magic in their souls and the way they move people and reveal human truths, I wonder. Did I follow my dreams ... or did I abandon them? Was I frightened? Too impatient? Did I compromise? I know, when I meet the likes of Peter Jackson or Russell Crowe or Nicole Kidman, exactly what they think of the news media. I know my place. I have seen the great stars on the red carpet at the Academy Awards and have seen the media are everything and nothing."

(August 3, 2008)

"We arrived back from Ireland last Sunday morning wrung out after three great hops from Dublin, through Frankfurt and Singapore. Call me old fashioned, but I never fail to experience a sense of wonder at the speed and effortlessness at which we can leap across the world now, 10,000m above the globe, sustained within giant, superbly built airliners supported in the stratosphere by a combination of speed and air pressure alone. But it does knock you about, this air travel, too much of it at once.

There was something to be said for a sailing ship and a three-month voyage and a slow adjustment. It had its pitfalls, of course. If you didn't die of dysentery in the filth of the bilge or were not molested sexually by a demented black-toothed sailor and you did not contract cholera at Batavia, you might just as easily find yourself smashed on to the rocks at Great Barrier and drown.

As the way to go, I would not like to drown. I was always told drowning was painless. (Now I think about it, how anyone knew, I've no idea.) But then a group of us crashed in a helicopter off Anauru Bay one stormy Saturday evening in June 1989. I nearly drowned, submerged upside down in the chopper, trying desperately to get out and get to the surface of the sea and I learned drowning is a slow process of ghastly panic. You never forget nearly drowning. One poor man in our party did drown. Of course, his body [was] never found."

(July 6, 2008)

"Last week, I took to some light reading. I put aside Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which I have just started and is already proving a marvellous, expansive read, and went instead for a bodice ripper. I recently read - and am very late discovering her books, I know - The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, the story of Mary Boleyn, who was given to Henry VIII by her powerful family when at the age of 14 and bore him two children. Then one day he saw Mary's sister Anne, who had been brought up in the French court, and fire exploded in his pants.

Anne had what they called "the ways" of the French court, meaning she was smart, elegant, beautiful, was a little fast and washed her private parts frequently. One forgets this was probably unusual then. Henry was nuts with desire, but Anne was having nothing casual.

Anne wanted to be Queen. She must have had it where it mattered because Anne, this flinty, ambitious, tantrum-prone, game-playing sexpot pulled it off. Ain't that how it goes sometimes. Anne gets the axe too, which cheers you up.

Flash people aren't supposed to read this stuff, I know, or certainly not admit to it. But I mention these books partly because I read when it comes to sales of biographies around the world, the sure-fire winners are Byron, Napoleon and Mary Queen of Scots.

I have a few Napoleons myself. What I can never figure out is how he got the supreme power he did at such a young age. Was it partly because Paris at the time only had 600,000 people? Is there room for a new biography?

(May 25, 2008)

- Herald on Sunday

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