'He was, from the word go, brilliant'

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 08:00 02/02/2013

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Friends and former colleagues from Manawatu have paid tribute to Sir Paul Holmes, the "brilliant" broadcaster, actor and personality.

Sir Paul, 62, died at his Hawke's Bay home yesterday, surrounded by his family.

Former Manawatu Standard reporter and broadcaster Dave Mahoney shared a radio show with Sir Paul on Wellington's Radio Windy in 1981.

It was one of the most enjoyable moments of his career, Mr Mahoney said.

In a career spanning four decades, Sir Paul fronted Television New Zealand's Holmes show, the Newstalk ZB breakfast radio slot and, more recently, turned his hand to writing the well-researched expose, Daughters of Erebus, about the 1979 Air New Zealand crash.

Mr Mahoney said he last bumped into his old mate at the Regent on Broadway a few years ago.

"Paul never changed. Whenever I saw him it was very funny. He was a lovely guy. I'm sad he's gone, but I'm pleased he's gone because he was very ill," he said.

"If I was weeping he'd be furious. I was one of the very lucky people that had the opportunity to work [with Sir Paul] on the air.

"The two of us did 10 weeks together and it was just wonderful and magic . . . We enjoyed each other's company."

In 1976 Sir Paul was hosting the all-night show on Radio New Zealand. It followed Mr Mahoney on the Tonight Show.

During his overnight stint, Sir Paul was fired for his casual attitude toward the Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, during a New Year call.

Despite that, Mr Mahoney knew he would find success and said the sacking merely added to his notoriety.

"He was, right from the word go, brilliant."

Initially, Sir Paul's term overseas did not work out that well, however.

"A Brisbane radio station, 4BK, read about Paul's infamy and immediately offered him their breakfast show. It didn't work out and Paul ended up selling oranges at a roadside stall he set up on the outskirts of Brisbane.

"Disenchanted after being threatened by other fruit-stall holders, he headed to Britain and Europe."

Mr Mahoney found no enjoyment in watching Sir Paul's emotional final television appearance at the weekend.

"Paul didn't have the light in his eye that was always there."

Sir Paul also had a few other scrapes in his life, surviving a serious car crash and a crash landing of his vintage aeroplane in 2004.

Mr Mahoney was surprised Sir Paul took to flying, recalling a "very pale" Sir Paul asking him to stop shaking a ferris-wheel while the two were broadcasting from the top of the ride in Wellington in 1970.

Back then, Sir Paul was terrified of heights.

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Palmerston North singer Kathi Craig remembered the evening she spent with Sir Paul in the mid-1990s at the Queenstown Winter Festival.

With the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra playing, Ms Craig performed a dramatic aria on a stage constructed over Lake Wakatipu.

As she sang, the rain poured in, but Sir Paul, compere for the night, was unfazed.

"Paul very quick-wittedly ran and grabbed an enormous umbrella and came to the front of the stage."

As Ms Craig sang, Sir Paul bobbed it up and down.

"He was so lovely back stage. He had me at ease - he was so relaxed. He was amazing, just a lovely witty man," she said.

"That was really special and I got to know Paul that night. I always liked him and thought he was a wonderful broadcaster, and I'm sad we're not going to hear that voice."

Tribune editor Richard Mays also got to know Sir Paul, when the pair acted together on the stage show, Song for Johnny Muscle, in Wellington in the mid-1970s.

Sir Paul was, of course, the lead character.

"Paul was the man that sold the show, because he was big on radio in Wellington," Mr Mays said.

"I can remember everyone had a ball - it was a romp."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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