Celebrity mates recall 'cheeky whitey'

Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013
Fairfax NZ

Sir Paul Holmes is farewelled by hundreds gathered to remember the veteran broadcaster.

Hundreds farewell Sir Paul Holmes
Grahame Cox Zoom
Millie Elder-Holmes, right, and Lady Deborah, centre.

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Adam Dudding reports from the celebration of storytelling and celebrity that was Sir Paul Holmes' funeral.

By half past midday, most of the 1000-odd seats inside Parnell's Holy Trinity Cathedral were taken. There was a big screen erected in the courtyard outside so all-comers could watch the funeral of Sir Paul Holmes, but the area was occupied mainly by photographers and reporters anxiously comparing celebrity identifications.

"Is that Hinemoa?" "That guy with the glasses is Simon Dallow isn't it?" "Has Millie arrived yet?" and "Hey, isn't that guy with the orange hat over there the oddball who threw horse manure at Prince Charles years ago?"

The answers to which were "No, she must have sneaked in a side door", "Yes", "Erm, not sure", and "Crikey, yes it is".

Septuagenarian protester Sam Bacanov was planning to launch an anti-monarchist protest against the knighting of Sir Paul, but was arrested for trespass before anything much happened.

The names started arriving. Jonah Lomu. Len Brown. Political junkies Duncan and Guyon over on the courtyard's edge, lurking dangerously. Lucy Lawless chatting with Bob Harvey. Some Cabinet ministers. Mike Hosking in possibly the sharpest suit in the southern hemisphere. Kate Hawkesby towering next to him in short skirt and extraordinary heels. They kept coming: Ralston and Sainsbury and Dallow and Bagust and Gunn and Mau and more.

This was an Anglican prayerbook funeral, with Elgar's Enigma Variations thundering on the pipe organ, censers swinging and candles around Sir Paul's flag-and-flower-draped coffin. But for all the ceremony, the heart of this funeral wasn't in the prayers and hymns, it was in the performances by Sir Paul's raconteur mates.

School friend Peter Beavan's speech was a graceful and affectionate biography, skipping from Sir Paul's childhood as the son of a tomato-growing Hawke's Bay war veteran, through school days and school plays, to exciting times at Victoria University where they all discovered "girls in short skirts, cigarettes, drinks and hangovers".

The secret to Sir Paul's success, Mr Beavan reckoned, was that underneath he was always an actor, bringing a sense of theatre to his journalism.

Mike Williams, another schoolmate, built his tribute on Sir Paul's love of words, especially short direct ones: "Good." "Grief." "Love." "Girls."

Sir Paul had been blessed with three girls in particular, said Mr Williams: his first wife Hinemoa Elder, his step-daughter Millie, and his widow Deborah.

At times, Mr Beavan and Mr Williams veered into best-man-speech territory. Mr Williams recalled Sir Paul in a Wellington hotel lobby in 1999 "loudly and publicly denouncing the quality of the pornography on offer" in the rooms.

Mr Beavan noted that Sir Paul didn't start life in a Ferrari body, but made the most of what he had. There was the time Paul received a postcard from an old flame from Germany, addressed to "Mr P Holmes, Wherever you are, New Zealand". The card read: "Dear Paul. Last night I dreamed of you and had a nice orgasm. Thanks, Heidi."

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Brent Harman and Bill Francis filled out the story of Sir Paul the showman and broadcasting powerhouse. Duane Kale gave thanks for Sir Paul's huge contribution to boosting the status of Paralympics in New Zealand. And then John Hawkesby took the podium. His was a flashy performance from the plangent opening line: "With the sudden lack of future comes the silence, that achingly awful vacuum, where once there was so much, now there is nothing."

He traced the pair's journey from grudgingly tolerant rivals to warm friends, and went further than anyone in taking the piss out of his old mate. He got his biggest laugh with his closing line: "So long, you clever, sharp, charming, courageous, cheeky little whitey."

Sir Paul's children spoke last. Millie was tall and sad and beautiful, wearing flowing black with a skeleton pattern. Reuben looked young and long-haired and never took off his sunglasses. Millie read tearfully from one of her father's columns, and Reuben growled out a quotation from angry American satirist Bill Hicks about life being a fairground ride. The readings were all the more moving for the lack of practised polish of the speakers before. There was more: family snaps over a Velvet Underground song. Beautiful songs from Dame Malvina Major and Helen Medlyn. Hymns and Anglican ritual.

But the best bit was when the coffin reached the courtyard, and students from Sir Paul's old school Karamu High performed a lengthy, powerful haka.

The coffin was placed in the hearse. Sir Paul's closest friends and family hugged and wept in the centre of the now-crowded courtyard, and photographers took thousands of pictures of their grief.

Then the hearse pulled off with a bagpipe wailing, and mourners wandered off into the hot, steamy Parnell afternoon.

As the hearse rounded the corner and inched through near-gridlock, a shiny Porsche SUV swung out from the cathedral grounds and slipped behind it. Deborah was in the front seat. You could just see Millie in the back seat as the darkened window slid up.

At a pedestrian crossing, Jonah Lomu was chatting to a woman half his height.

"It's an interesting day," said Lomu. "This is sad. And now I'm going to my son's birthday." Fairfax NZ

- Waikato Times

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