Millie Elder-Holmes has been to hell and back over the past decade, losing her father and boyfriend, and battling a much-publicised P addiction. But the future looks bright. Feeling stronger, and with a new focus, she talks exclusively to Greg Dixon about growing up famous, dealing with the upcoming court trial over her partner’s death, and her new venture.
"Hello, how are you!"
Millie Elder-Holmes has stepped out the front door of Auckland's Stamford Plaza hotel and has been greeted by - well, accosted by, actually - a woman in an astonishingly bright red pant suit.
"I'm good!" Elder-Holmes says to the beaming woman.
"I knew your father. I didn't want you to leave without me saying hello."
As Elder-Holmes and I move off toward the Herald for her photo shoot she admits that, though she certainly remembered the woman's friendship with her late father, Sir Paul Holmes, she's not entirely sure what it is she does or who she works for.
Michelle Boag, I tell her - for the redoubtable, unforgettable Michelle Boag it is - is a PR maven, a National Party insider and a mate of the Prime Minister. While Elder-Holmes and I had been chatting over tea in the foyer, Boag had been at the Stamford for the big news story of the day; she'd been supporting John Banks at his post-Court of Appeal press conference in a meeting room. She's a big noise is Boag. But obviously not so big and so busy a noise that she can't make the effort to say hello to an old friend's daughter and wish her well.
This it is how it is when you're Millie Elder-Holmes. When you are the daughter of the most famous and arguably most influential broadcaster this country's ever produced, you are, even after his death, well-connected, whether you know it or not. The affection for her father - and the dislike, too, of course - has been, at least in part, bequeathed to her, it is her inheritance from him, whether she knows it, or likes it, or not.
But as we all know, there's more to her than that. There is the notorious Millie Elder-Holmes whose sad, public dramas were a $1000 a day P addiction, court appearances and a conviction, failed rehab and gang affiliations. There is the tragic Millie Elder-Holmes who, not long after the public reconciliation with her father, faced the public grief of his death at just 60 after a battle with cancer. And then last August there was the public, and violent death of her partner Connor Morris in an alleged late night assault. The trial of the man accused of Morris' killing is just weeks away.
"It's my life," she had told me before she'd even bumped into Boag. "It's like 'f**k this is so shit'. It was cool when we were kids like, 'oh dad's famous'. But it's shiiiit. I know people who, like, want to be famous and I'm, like, 'no you don't want to be famous - you don't.'
"When Connor was alive, I would say 'no' to so much media stuff, so much. I refused to talk about my private life. Now, because of this [Connor's death], my whole f***ing private life is in the f***ing media! It's just like how do you get away from that? But it's also like I have to speak about it because it is this big thing that has happened and I'm not going to not speak about Connor. He's my life. But ... it's like a cascade of events has led up to this and it's just like: F**K!"
This is the life of Millie Elder-Holmes then, her weird world, a place where she's either known for all the wrong reasons or she's Paul Holmes' kid. No wonder she'd rather talk about almost anything else.
"I just f**k around with food. I eat what I want to eat, what I like that day."
As food philosophies go, you'd have to say this is more Gordon Ramsay than Nigella Lawson. Don't be surprised. If there's one thing that becomes abundantly clear when you sit down for tea with Elder-Holmes, it's that the 27-year-old might look a little like a young Nigella, but she swears like a goddamn Gordon.
Yet it is food and wellbeing that are the two passions - besides her three dogs - of her life right now and the reason that, at Canvas' request, she has reluctantly agreed, after considerable coaxing, to talk again to the media at all.
This month is Junk Free June, a new fundraising event for the Cancer Society of New Zealand which is encouraging New Zealanders to sacrifice junk food for a month while having their friends and family donate money in support, with all proceeds going to the society. The idea, it seems, is to encourage people to cut the rubbish out of their diets - a healthy diet obviously being a factor in cancer prevention - while raising money for a good cause. Elder-Holmes, along with some well known faces like Amber Peebles and David Farrier, have been signed as up as Junk Free June ambassadors to raise the event's profile, as well as a bit of money.
"My grandmother died of breast cancer, my dad had cancer," Elder-Holmes says. "It [the cause] is something that is very dear to my heart and I like to be able to give back. That's something that is really important for me. Like when I did Fight For Life [last year], they donated $100,000 to Hospice. Hospice helped us so much with dad and I think the Cancer Society is like another pillar of New Zealand society that if you can give back to, why wouldn't you?"
If you think it's just a little weird that she was asked to take part in the event, well it's not been because she's Paul Holmes' daughter. Since March last year, Elder-Holmes has been blogging about food and wellbeing on her Clean Eatz website as well as on social media. She has done "Girl on a Journey" health and wellbeing seminars with fellow bloggers, Makaia Carr of Motivate Me and Libby Matthews of Julia & Libby. And people are listening: she has the equivalent of a provincial city following on on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - over 80,000 people combined - and her monthly reach on Facebook, she was recently told, is something like a million people.
"My website girl told me that [the million plus figure] and I was like 'that's crazy'. That just blows me away, I don't know what to say about that. It's scary."
Her website and social media form a kind of diary of what she's thinking, where she's been and what she's been eating - with recipes. It's a "progressive lifestyle blog", she says, which means it's like her, free-form. "I don't plan anything. I'm not planner. I don't do good with time management."
The blog was Morris' idea. The healthy eating was something - post-addiction and after the death of Holmes - that she and Morris took up with the alacrity of people who had been given a second chance.
"There was a long period where I didn't eat" - rueful laugh - "any sort of food," she says. "But I think growing up and travelling as much as we did, I got to see a lot of different types of food. I sort of really got inspired into cooking after dad passed away, and just about really looking after myself."
However the food philosophy behind the blog is still, it seems, a work in progress.
"I'm still figuring it out. But I can guarantee that if you cut sugar, if you cut the majority of white foods - like pasta and potatoes and bread - and try to eat more meat and vegetables and good fats ... you are going to feel good. It's really common sense. It's not hard. You don't need to go a specialist organic shop and spend $500 on cupboard staples. It's really very simple."
Simplicity, it hardly needs saying, hasn't exactly characterised the prime of Ms Millie Elder-Holmes. Her early life, of course, was largely one of privilege. Born in 1988 to Hinemoa Elder, now a doctor based on Waiheke Island, her biological father is Greek tour operator Stratis Kabanas. However, the man she knew as Dad for almost all her life is Holmes. The broadcaster and Elder, then a children's television presenter, married in 1992 after having a son, Reuben, in 1991.
For Elder-Holmes, life with Holmes, already a media titan in the early 1990s, meant a posh home, private schools and holidays around the world, including Africa, South America and the Galapagos Islands. And, of course, her father's fame meant attention. "When I was younger, I was sassy. I'm not going to lie. I was sassy as f**k. And I baited the media a lot - but what 18-year-old in the public eye isn't going to do that?"
Much of the decade since then, however, has been as awful, sad and tragic as it has been widely reported. She refuses now even to talk about the worst times during her addiction to methamphetamine. However she is more than happy to talk about the person who got her through it - not Holmes, but Connor Morris.
"Like we've been through things that some people can't even imagine. Things I would never speak about again. Lots and lots of crazy, crazy shit.
"He was my rock, like in all senses. He was my support. He was my best friend, my soul mate, all of those things. I think that is really important when finding a partner: you want someone who is going to be on your team, the person that you lean on. How do you think that any one else could ever come close to that?"
Yet her life after the chaos of addiction hasn't been as settled as it might have been. In the past few years she has worked for the Chamber of Commerce where she began studying for a diploma in international trade. Last year she was studying nursing, but gave this up after Morris' death. "After what happened to Connor, like I literally couldn't look at blood. I just had real bad, I don't even know what to call it, post-traumatic something, so I want to do something more healthy where you don't have to cut people and all that sort of stuff."
And now this year she has enrolled in a three-year course at the Southern College of Natural Medicine in Ellerslie with the intention of qualifying as a naturopath.
Why naturopathy? "I think it just went along with my food blog and it interests me a lot. I really want to be healthy. I would like to live a long and healthy life and have children and live long and healthy for them. Having my dad pass away at 60 years old, I mean that's young. 27 is also young, but 60 ... from his body pretty much just f***ing out?"
The move from trade studies to nursing to naturopathy in three years does rather suggest she needs focus. Does she feel like she's been searching for something to do with her life?
"Yeah. But I'm constantly changing my mind. Like I'm a Gemini, like I just can't ... something will interest me for one week and then I'll be like 'Oh but [what about] this!' I'll find something else that's so amazing to me the next week. I need to be constantly stimulated but then I find myself in disarray, you know, like I'm obsessed with all these things and then it's like, oh f**k there needs to be some sort of structure because I'm all over the place - but in a good way, in like a creative way.
"I feel like I get my life on track and then something f***ing happens and it gets thrown into disarray."
The trial of the man accused of killing Morris - 33-year-old Michael Murray - will begin at the High Court in August. And all the good food, wellbeing and happy thoughts can't stop her life being thrown into disarray once again by it. She can't talk about the court case - she will be a witness during the trial - but she does say she's already fretting about it.
"It upsets me because [the trial] is on [Connor's] one-year anniversary. So a time when we're all supposed to be coming together and remembering him in like an amazing way is going to be completely overclouded by this ... intense situation. Yeah. It's pretty scary."
It becomes clear as we talk that the nine months since Morris' death have not been as bright and cheerful as many of her blog entries and delicious-looking meals might suggest. Which is why, about a month ago, she moved home to her mother's place on Waiheke Island, after living since last August at the home she and Morris shared.
"I felt like he was there and I didn't want to leave there. And that was like a safe place for me. But it started to get really toxic and really depressing for me. So I just had to leave. So my mum was like 'please come and stay'.
"It was like this huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My mum built a massive run for my dogs. She did all this stuff to accommodate me. I'm living in the most idyllic place on earth. It's amazing. And I think it has done so much for my mental and emotional wellbeing. I was like in a bad place before living at home by myself, like it wasn't good. I was crying every day. I wasn't leaving the house."
Perhaps the most positive thing about the past nine months is that she hasn't fallen back into old, bad ways.
"I just don't think situations in your life are an excuse to completely lose yourself. I did that the first time with addiction and that really taught me a lot about situations. Just because something bad happens to you, does not mean that gives you license to go and f**k up your life all over again. That's not helpful for anyone. Connor would literally come down here and kick my arse if I took any steps backwards.
"I do everything with him in mind. Like I hear him in my head. I know exactly what he would say about situations and I'm not going to change. I'm not going to start doing things different. I am just acting as I would when he was here. I just need to be strong for him."
But surely, I try to gently point out, she will, in time, want to move on; after all, she wants children.
"I really hate when people bring this up to me. It makes me angry. I don't know why." She laughs. "But a couple of people have said that to me. I'm just like 'what the f**k? It's like it hasn't even been a year!'"
True enough, but then her life is, as she says, "like some kind of f***ed soap opera."
The question is, then, can she move on from that, change the story? Can she become another, happier kind of Millie Elder-Holmes, one who isn't defined by people and events outside her control?
"I think my life has made me grow up so quickly which is good, but it's also kind of shit. But it's my life. And it's been a pretty amazing life. I'm not the kind of person to dwell on the negative. I actually speak about this in my Girl On A Journey seminars. I don't give time to negative situations in my life, but I use them to reflect. I'm really happy with the direction I'm going - and for me that's a daily achievement."