Sir Paul Holmes made his own rules

16:00, Feb 01 2013

The last days in the life of Sir Paul Holmes were lived as he lived much of his life - with a flourish of showmanship.

Just 16 days before he died the veteran broadcaster accepted a knighthood. As he entered the ceremony, before 100 family and friends, he swung his leg around a marquee pole. This was his day and he knew it.

Yesterday, Holmes was again surrounded by those he was close to, but this time they were there to say a private goodbye to a man who has lived much of his adult life in public.

Indeed, even his final days were something of a public event. In the last week of his life, he was seldom out of the news. Just days ago, he met with another great show pony, Kim Dotcom. The German internet millionaire flew by helicopter to Holmes' Hawke's Bay home where the pair posed for a photo in the sun.

Then there was the final televised interview, a confessional style affair broadcast on TVNZ's Sunday programme. A reflective Holmes spoke of his fear of death, his relationship with his family, and the highs and lows of a career that has spanned many years.

The eulogies had begun well before his death and he knew the Sunday story, as well as a string of in-depth interviews he gave in his final months, were his chance to have his own say before the obituary writers got to work.


Holmes started his career in broadcasting in Christchurch, joining the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation after graduating from university. Over the next three decades his voice and face became a familiar presence in Kiwi homes, including more than 20 years as a NewstalkZB breakfast host and 16 on television.

Cheeky promotions run through the 1990s for the eponymous Holmes show - Holmes in yours - placed the man on the couch with everyday New Zealanders. His combative interview style and irreverent monologues, which at times flowed from a stream of consciousness, endeared him to a generation previously familiar with a formal tone in current affairs.

Then there were the controversies. Some intentional, some not. The Dennis Conner on-air walk-out. The "cheeky darkie" description of Kofi Annan, alcohol abuse and adultery.

He has admitted to treating some people in his life badly. He famously, again publicly, had an affair while married to Hinemoa Elder, the mother of his children.

Evidence of his thespian bent, meanwhile, is peppered throughout his life: The self-titled easy listening CD, the appearance on Dancing with the Stars, spirited weekly newspaper columns.

A 1992 photo of the broadcaster with Elder shows him wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the Playboy bunny and the words "livin' large". It could have been the motto for his life.

But Holmes used his influence, sense of occasion, and common touch to positively affect the lives of many. He forced the stigma of HIV/Aids into the open when he championed the cause of Aids sufferer Eve van Grafhorst. He later described her story as among the most powerful he had covered, and yesterday her mother went as far to say "he'll be with Eve now".

He was on the charity board of Auckland's Westpac rescue helicopter and a patron of Paralympics New Zealand. He also publicly supported his troubled adopted daughter, Millie, when she used methamphetamine. This led to his support of the Stellar Trust, which works with P users.

He married his second wife, Deborah, in 2000 and the pair had an apparently loving relationship, sharing a home in Hawke's Bay, where he had grown up the son of a mechanic.

Sir Paul Holmes was an at times polarising figure, with a taste for the limelight that was not to the taste of some, but he was also a man who should be a role model to many.

He was a man who lived by his own rules, who was unafraid to challenge authority, to question, to live. For this, Sir Paul Holmes deserves our respect.

The Press