Helen Clark intervened to get a quickie knighthood for ailing broadcaster Paul Holmes, after discovering how seriously ill he was.
Clark and her once-bitter rival, John Key, came together in unusual accord. Clark's Labour government abolished knighthoods in 2000, only to have Key reinstate them in 2008. But, for her friend Holmes, Clark was willing to bridge any ideological gap.
About two weeks before Christmas, the New York-based former prime minister phoned Holmes' residence, but was told he wasn't up to talking to her. So she asked to be texted when Holmes was "lucid".
The next day, Holmes spoke passionately to her of his desire for a honour. "He did a straight pitch for a knighthood," a source said.
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Concerned at the weakness in his voice and his obvious deterioriating condition, Clark asked those close to Holmes whether he was likely to survive until the next honours list.
"She said, 'I want a yes or no answer, will he last until Queen's Birthday?' The answer was no." So Clark acted promptly. "I'd better make some phone calls," she said.
The honours list for New Year was full, Key's staff said, but an email from Clark to Key apparently made the difference and Key told Holmes on Christmas Day.
Sir Paul, 62, was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours for services to broadcasting and the community, with an investiture four months early at his home near Hastings.
Last night he was being nursed at home, with family by his side.