A fight to the death

'FINAL DAYS': Sir Paul Holmes.
'FINAL DAYS': Sir Paul Holmes.

Dennis Conner, the legendary American sailor who launched Paul Holmes' TV career by walking out on an interview in 1989, has refused to make peace with the dying broadcaster.

A spokesman for Dennis Conner, Bill Trenkle said Conner was still angry with Holmes and didn't give "a rat's arse" about him.

"All he's ever heard whenever he goes to New Zealand is people apologising for what a jerk Holmes was," Trenkle said.

DENNIS CONNER: The American sailor launched Paul Holmes' career after storming out of an interview.
DENNIS CONNER: The American sailor launched Paul Holmes' career after storming out of an interview.

Holmes was recently knighted and his investiture ceremony was brought forward because he is expected to soon pass away.

Conner was offered an interview in order to pay tribute to Holmes. Trenkle put the offer to Conner and said he received a reply stating Conner saw no benefit in his making any comment other than he was "surprised" Holmes had been knighted.

"So he's not going to participate in any kind of interview," Trenkle said.

Conner, known as "Dirty Dennis" was a four-time winner of the America's Cup. He walked out during the first Holmes TV show in 1989 when Holmes asked if he would apologise for calling New Zealand yacht designer Bruce Farr "a loser" and "full of shit" after Michael Fay's failed big boat challenge in 1987.

Holmes was roundly criticised for the show, but it launched a stunningly successful programme.

In an interview with the Sunday Star-Times late last year, Holmes admitted he'd watched the full interview with Conner just 18 months ago. "I got so much flak for that interview. I never really watched it until 18 months ago when I sat here at home in Hawke's Bay and watched the whole seven-and-a-half minutes. It was the first time I watched it. Even until the very end of the Holmes era, we would only play parts of it very cautiously. It was so inflammatory to people. [But] if you don't mind my saying so, this is very good work.

"He [Conner] has never, never forgiven it. He'll tell anyone he's sitting beside on a plane what an arsehole Holmes is. But it was 20 years ago. I think people have to get over stuff, don't you? Also, all's fair in love and war too, eh?"

Others have been more gracious towards the terminally ill Holmes.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters remembers Holmes doing "a damn hatchet job on me without putting me on the programme" and another time Holmes put a drinking allegation to Peters.

"We might have had a ding-dong on TV, but we had a good social time. It is like rugby, you have got to get off the paddock but you will enjoy the game more if you associate with the enemy."

Peters said he had an immense amount of time for Holmes even though he "pissed me off frequently" and wrote a foreword to one of his books.

"Unlike many, Paul knew there had to be blood on the floor and he was modest enough to know that sometimes it was his."

He had spoken to him a couple of times recently.

"I've a high respect for him, because he was hugely talented, creative, and hard working and one of our best."

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said she has forgiven Holmes for offending people with his controversial Waitangi Day column last year.

Holmes referred to Waitangi Day as a "repugnant national holiday" that had produced hatred, rudeness, and violence.

He later told Turia he was sorry for offending so many people, but not sorry for writing the opinion piece.

Turia said she recalled thanking Holmes and responding that sometimes things just have to be said.

"The only people who suffer when you cannot forgive somebody else is yourself. I think that he has had a great career and is really a great person. While I may not have agreed with him at times, I've had a great deal of respect for him."

Turia said Conner's refusal to let go does not reflect well on him.

"Paul could be extremely challenging but to still hold a grudge after all these years? It says more about Dennis Conner than it says about Paul Holmes."

The Sunday Star-Times attempted to contact former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, who was called a "cheeky darkie" by Holmes.

A spokesman for Annan, Declan O'Brien, said Annan was travelling but he would ask him about the Holmes slur "and I shall be in touch should the response prove favourable to your request".

Sunday Star Times