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Auckland funeral for Sir Paul

NBR looks back on the broadcaster's life and times.

Caleb Allison and NBR staff
Sat, 02 Feb 2013

UPDATE / Feb 2:  Sir Paul Holmes' funeral will be held at Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral next Friday, February 8, at 1pm.

It will be followed by a private cremation, his family said in a statement today.

"Lady Holmes and the Holmes family would like to thank Sir Paul's friends, colleagues and the public for their overwhelming support throughout his illness and since his passing yesterday morning," the statement says.

The family has been "truly touched by the outpouring of love for Paul".


Feb 1: Broadcasting knight Sir Paul Holmes (62) has died. 

He died at his home in Hawke's Bay surrounded by his family, a statement released by the Holmes family this morning confirmed. 

For more than 40 years, Sir Paul Holmes informed, entertained and infuriated generations of New Zealanders.

An often polarising figure, his comments attracted controversy, but he will be remembered as a broadcasting institution.

As he rapidly approached his final deadline, his contribution to broadcasting and the community was recognised with an eleventh-hour knighthood in the New Year's honours.  Even the investiture was hurriedly conducted at his Hawkes Bay farm.

Since 1972 Sir Paul maintained an almost constant presence on the air waves, most recently as the host of TV One's Sunday morning current affairs show Q+A.

Born on April 29, 1950, he grew up on a tomato farm in Hawke's Bay where he developed a passion for radio, falling in love with serials and Parliamentary broadcasts.

He was heavily involved in theatrical productions while studying arts at Victoria University in Wellington, acting alongside the likes of Sam Neill, Ginette McDonald and John Clarke.

His first broadcasting job came in 1972 on Christchurch's 3ZM, the same year a car accident left him permanently blind in one eye.

His knack for stirring up trouble was honed early on; he was famously banned from Radio New Zealand in 1976 after phoning the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking him to put down his sherry glass for a chat.

He left New Zealand in 1976, working in radio in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands before returning to Wellington in 1985 to join Radio Windy, and then take up the morning slot on Wellington's 2ZB.

Two years later, he was offered an opportunity which would mark a defining moment in his career; the chance to take over from radio legend Merv Smith on Auckland's Newstalk 1ZB.

It was a disaster; listeners despised the shift to the new Newstalk format, and the show dropped from number one to ninth within three months.

But by 1989, after much persistence and some tinkering with the format, the Paul Holmes Breakfast Show clawed its way back to the number one spot, where it would stay until the show's end in 2008.

Also in 1989, he began what would become a nightly current affairs institution in New Zealand.

'Holmes' – originally broadcast at 6:30pm, shifting to 7pm when the nightly news was extended to an hour – offered a mix of news commentary and entertainment, a format which proved hugely successful.

Notable interviews include Dennis Connor's 1989 walkout and Jonah Lomu's tearful post-wedding breakdown in 1996.

Newsmaker til the end: Holmes on Tuesday, reading a story about his Monday visit from Kim Dotcom.

By the late 1990s, he was a broadcasting powerhouse with a top-rating radio breakfast show and nightly television programme, for which he was paid as much as $750,000 per year before it ended in 2004.

Early the following year he made an ill-fated shift to Sky TV's free-to-air channel Prime for a three-year, $1 million per year deal.

The nightly show only lasted six months, being re-formatted to an hour-long chat show in 2006.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, he was almost a weekly feature of media columns and the gossip mags, both for different reasons.

While he was an influential, powerful figure in New Zealand's broadcasting landscape, his personal life also attracted a great deal of public attention, not all of it unwanted.

He reportedly sold the rights to his 1992 wedding to Hine Elder to a magazine for $5000, and went public with the break-up of their marriage five years later.

The following year he publicly discussed his relationship with then-junior television reporter Fleur Revell.

In 1999 he published an autobiography detailing his marriage break-up and the ensuing, ill-starred relationship with Ms Revell, which received wall-to-wall national media coverage.

However, his most famous stumble was his on-air reference in 2003 to then-UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as a 'cheeky darkie' on his Newstalk ZB radio show.

The comment drew the rage of many and he was was forced to apologise, but it wasn't enough to end his career.

While his Holmes Show on TV One would end soon after, he remained at the helm of Newstalk ZB's breakfast show for another five years.

But since he left TVNZ in 2004, he never returned to be the formidable force in New Zealand media he once was.

His work at Prime, while a critical success, never delivered in the ratings.

He returned to TVNZ to front the Sunday-morning current affairs show Q+A in 2009, but more recently his appearances were hindered by heart problems.

Life outside of broadcasting
But his life was not defined just by his broadcasting controversies; he got himself into a fair bit of trouble in the air as well.

Since obtaining his pilots licence in 1993, he had two close calls with death.

The first, in January 2004, saw him forced to crash land his vintage Boeing Stearman biplane in Hawke's Bay after discovering he was low on fuel and could not find a way through thick cloud.

He cheated death again a year later while practising take-offs and landings – in the same airplane – near Hastings.

In more recent years he turned to a less-deadly pursuit – making olive oil.

Produced from trees on his Hawke's Bay property Mana Lodge, he started marketing the product in 2007.

While he survived a bout of prostate cancer – diagnosed in 1999 – his health deteriorated quickly in 2012.

After undergoing open heart surgery in June to remove a blockage, he appeared to recover but continued to have difficulties. The return of his cancer made things worse. 

He will be remembered as a focused, tireless broadcaster who livened up television current affairs.

Some would say his Holmes programme deliberately dumbed-down current affairs by driving human-interest rather than factual content, but the ratings did not lie.

His shows at TVNZ and Newstalk ZB commanded an enormous following for years, ensuring his place at the top of New Zealand's infotainment ladder.

Sir Paul is survived by his wife, Deborah, son Reuben and step-daughter Millie.

Caleb Allison and NBR staff
Sat, 02 Feb 2013
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Auckland funeral for Sir Paul