Paul Holmes: of course we'll call you Sir

He wants to be called Sir.

"I'm unashamed, as you would expect," Sir Paul Holmes said on the day he was knighted. The Paul Holmes who tackled Dennis Conner and helped change the face of New Zealand journalism would have been less insistent, if at all. But Sir Paul is entitled to be indulged.

It was evident from pictures this week that his 12-year battle with prostate cancer and a failing heart does not have long to run. That is why the investiture was advanced by several months but then Sir Paul made his name by being first.

It is often suggested, and with justification, that knighthoods are presented as an automatic by-product of some jobs.

Not in this case. He took a punt when he hounded America's Cup skipper Conner at the launch of Holmes in 1989.

He gambled on Conner being too arrogant to apologise for disparaging comments he made about Bruce Farr, and he gambled that a conservative New Zealand audience would tolerate an aggressive interviewing technique which had previously been the domain of overseas media. Conner walked and, by all accounts, still hasn't got over it.

The audience, including the outraged among them, came back for more.

And more was delivered. Sir Paul won the plaudits but his strength was a reporting team which moved with such speed that by 6.30pm on weekdays they were leading the way, running interviews with people media rivals had not reached.

Newspaper editors were frequently left to lament the fact Holmes had come on to their patch and scooped them. Newsrooms had to review their handling of stories as a consequence and New Zealand journalism changed as a result.

This week has given the country another opportunity to review the eventful life of its most famous media man.

Sir Paul has lived through triumph, tragedy and adversity. His profile ensured his own life and relationships became magazine news. He touched hearts with his series on child Aids sufferer Eve van Grafhorst until her death in late 1993, then as a stepfather watched as Millie Elder's life become consumed by a P-addiction.

He survived three air crashes, one which claimed the life of a colleague.

He also survived some gaffes. Calling the then United Nations secretary-general a cheeky darkie was high on that list.

In later years he regularly dropped his guard to show contempt - notably for some unions and Waitangi Day. By then the search for the next Paul Holmes was on - John Campbell has been the only one to come close. Sir Paul is also a gifted orator - and when he shared his passion, knowledge and experience with would-be journalists he inspired the room.

Earlier this week we discussed errors - and bloopers - in the Taranaki Daily News. Sir Paul made them too. He is human, after all. He will be remembered for many stories and many incidents - but ultimately, his career was hallmarked by the way he presented news with personality and injected a greater sense of urgency in looking beyond the headlines.

He can take credit for influencing a major change in journalism in his country. Yes Sir, indeed.

Taranaki Daily News