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Veteran broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes dies

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Latest News | Friday February 1 2013 9:31

Veteran broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes dies

Sir Paul Holmes, the controversial broadcaster with the cheeky grin and quick wit, has died at home early this morning, surrounded by family.

The 62-year-old was admitted to hospital a week after his investiture last month was hastily brought forward.

Just a few months ago, Sir Paul's old foe, prostate cancer, forced him to pull the curtain on a 40 year career.

VIDEO: Sir Paul Holmes talks about returning from surgery

Sir Paul first hit the airwaves with the NZBC in Christchurch in 1970, then worked overseas before returning to Auckland to launch the then unheard of Newstalk format in March 1987.

MESSAGES: Leave your condolences here...

A woeful start quickly became stunning success, much of that due to Sir Paul's obvious empathy with all his interviewees.

A parallel TV show in 1989 saw him become a cause célèbre, with his personal life and off-the-cuff comments often becoming news themselves.

VIDEO: 15 years of Holmes on TV

His knighthood was not only for services to broadcasting, but for public causes he championed including the Paralympics.

Sir Paul had the love and respect of his colleagues, and his now-famous sign-off says it all - "those were our people today, that's Holmes tonight."

PHOTOS: Sir Paul Holmes 1950-2013

Lady Holmes, Millie, Reuben and Ken Holmes would like to thank the public for their incredible support.

They request privacy from the media as they now grieve.

At his investiture a fortnight ago Prime Minister John Key said Sir Paul never shirked from asking him the tough questions.

And Sir Paul had this to say:

"I'd like to be remembered as someone who, in my broadcasting, was fair, fair-minded."

Sir Paul also said he'd like to be remembered as a decent bloke.

He used his high profile to raise money, and awareness of causes from AIDS, to rescue organisations.

But he was most passionate about the Paralympics.

"Wherever I could I fought the battle for them, wherever I could I said 'you've got to cover this, you've got to cover this - you can't just have these people on at the end of the weather'."

The Paul Holmes broadcasting machine was a juggernaut, his personality and reputation keeping two major news programmes alive at opposite ends of the day.

Asked just before his New Year's Honour was announced if that was something that weighed him down, he admitted it did.

But he said he had to keep going - so many people's jobs relied on his success.

"I had to get up in the morning and do the business - I'd signed a contract. I had to get up that afternoon and do the business again - I'd signed another contract. Two channels depended on it, both the radio and the telly, and so I did the business."

Sir Paul says while he gave some thought to giving either television or radio up - he loved doing both.


Sir Paul Holmes had a passion for young broadcasters and knew he was a role model to many.

On the day he stepped down from his last morning as the Newstalk ZB breakfast host he had these words of wisdom:

"If you believe you'll get there you will get there. If you want it bad enough you will get there. If an opportunity comes, take it. And when you take it, work it.

"The most important quality in my view in current affairs or information broadcasting is compassion. Given that you've got a good brain, given that you've got a talent for broadcasting, remember your heart. People remember not the cruel man, they remember the loving one."

While Sir Paul Holmes was a very public figure, family meant everything to him.

On his last morning as the Newstalk ZB breakfast host he spoke of his love for Lady Deborah, his wife.

"My wife Deborah is here. Thank god I found you Deborah. I love you and thank you very much for being here."

AUDIO: Audio as Sir Paul Holmes signs off from his Newstalk ZB breakfast show and Danny Watson pays tribute




Prime Minister John Key

The Prime Minister says Sir Paul Holmes' passing marks the end of a broadcasting era.

John Key says he was a gentleman broadcaster.

He says he conducted his interviews with intelligence and insightfulness, and while he never suffered fools, his interviews were never without kindness and empathy.

Mr Key says he was a trailblazer in New Zealand journalism with a style that was all his own.

The Prime Minister recalls many instances where he was put on the spot by Sir Paul Holmes.

John Key says you could never allow yourself to bet lulled into false sense of security when being interviewed by him.

"He really made a difference to New Zealand and both in my capacity as Prime Minister and someone I would say is a friend of Paul Holmes, we're going to miss him."

Labour leader David Shearer says Sir Paul's passion and professionalism will be his legacy.

He says he was hugely respected, not only by his peers, but by New Zealanders across social and political spectrums.

Mr Shearer says he had a fine sense of the ‘ordinary Kiwi’, along with an uncanny understanding of the issues of the day.


Former Prime Minister Helen Clark

Helen Clark says Sir Paul Holmes had a restless inquiring mind, was incredibly well read and fascinated, interested in and truly loved people.

Our former Prime Minister had a hand in seeing the broadcaster was knighted before his death.

Speaking from New York, she says she knew how ill he was - and how much the such recognition would mean to him.

"That his country valued him after all the ups and downs he's been through and his career had some ups and downs and very very awkward and sticky moments, he just felt it was all worthwhile."

Helen Clark says she admires how brave Sir Paul was, knowing he hadn't long to live, but still living every minute to the fullest.

The woman who ditched Dames and Knights when she was Prime Minister, had a hand in seeing Sir Paul was knighted before he died.

Helen Clark says she spoke to Sir Paul just before Christmas.

"What amazed me was how brave he was, how resilient he was. He knew he didn't have long to live but he was still living every minute of what he had and I really admired that courage."

AUDIO: Helen Clark


Broadcasters and Colleagues

Sir Paul's boss of 20 years, Bill Francis, says after Paul retired they always talked about how much fun they had.

"He would walk through the newsroom and drop a comment in and have the place in an uproar - mostly hysterical laughter."

He says being around Sir Paul was always exciting, interesting, and one day was never like the next.

And he says in spite of all the controversies - particularly the 'cheekie darkie' moment - he was never on the verge of being sacked.

"He had proven himself as an extremely loyal employee, he was loved, I think, largely by his audience and to make a mistake and have to lose his position over that would not have been fair."

Bill Francis says over 22 years of getting up at 4:30am for work, he was only late once.

AUDIO: Bill Francis

Newstalk ZB General Manager of Talk Programming, Dallas Gurney, remembers travelling to Greymouth with Sir Paul just days after the Pike River disaster.

"I do not overstate it when I say that two out of three people would stop and talk to Paul, talk to him like they knew him."

AUDIO: Dallas Gurney, General Manager of Talk Programming at The Radio Network, talks to Danny Watson about the passing of Sir Paul Holmes

Newstalk ZB colleague Leighton Smith has paid tribute to Sir Paul.

"Although we knew this was coming, I find it a very emotive moment. For 22 years we worked in this studio together - him first, me second - and we both shared that prostate thing, and I've got to say that I'm very sad."

AUDIO: Leighton Smith pays tribute to Sir Paul Holmes

Newstalk ZB host Kerre Woodham says Sir Paul Holmes has always been generous and supportive.

She first met him and Richard Griffin in Wellington when she was in her early 20s.

"They opened up this whole world of literature and current affairs and politics and history, and they were my first teachers really."

AUDIO: Kerre Woodham

Radio Sport's Brendan Telfer has worked with Sir Paul from day one of the new Newstalk ZB.

He's called him the finest broadcaster of his age - and probably the finest broadcaster this country has ever produced.

"The thing I like most about Holmesy is that is was true to his values, he was true to his roots. He never tried to deny, despite all the wealth and celebrity status and fame that came his way, he never betrayed his origins, never betrayed his upbringing."


Sir Paul Holmes will have a long legacy through the voices of the broadcasters he has inspired.

Pam Corkery was one of his original set up producers, something she says didn't last long.

"It didn't work but...I thought 'I want that job, I want the other side of the microphone'. He encouraged me."

Susan Wood worked with the broadcaster on Holmes, before taking over from him as the host of Close Up.

She says when she received the news she was being given the big job, she was upset.

"All I could feel was actually sad, because for me that day the magic left TVNZ. When he left the building something went with him."

Details of Sir Paul Holmes' funeral are expected to be released tomorrow.

AUDIO: Pam Corkery & Susan Wood


Rugby commentator Tony Johnson was Newstalk ZB's sports presenter when breakfast's 6.20am slot started.

He says it started off being a discussion with Paul about sport but eventually the scripts got thrown away.

"You never quite knew yourself what was going to happen and there were a lot of very, very funny moments. In fact, I think I can recall two moments when there was very little said at all because we just descended into laughter."

AUDIO: Tony Johnson


A host of broadcasting colleagues are paying tribute to a mentor and friend.

Mike McRoberts has posted, Paul was an incredibly generous mentor who taught him the art of story telling.

Political editor Barry Soper says Paul carved out a career that defined broadcasting and had a great deal of compassion for those less fortunate than himself.

Helen McCarthy, Sir Paul's Saturday morning producer, says his love and passion for radio was inspiring.

And Mike Hosking says he loved Sir Paul's brain, his sense of history and his ability with language.


Former TVNZ head of News and Current Affairs, Paul Norris, who helped launch the Holmes show in the late 1980s, says through the show Sir Paul gave New Zealand audiences something they had never had before.

"His programme broke new ground and it really made every effort to make current affairs accessible and interesting to the general public and I think he achieved great things with that programme and indeed with his other forms of broadcasting."

Paul Norris says Sir Paul could connect with people in a way no other broadcaster could.

"He had this very innate sense of being able to connect with and engage with ordinary New Zealanders. He understood their moods and concerns and that was reflected in what he did, and I think that's one of the reasons why his programme was so popular."

He says Sir Paul ushered in a new era of broadcasting.

"He was a very very special talent. He was a very gifted broadcaster. A great performer, and his enduring legacy really is to have changed the face of current affairs, because if you remember back to 1989 there was no popular daily current affairs program in those days."

TVNZ weatherman Jim Hickey worked with Sir Paul from his beginning in TV, often standing in the crossfire between the six o'clock news and the Holmes show.

"He developed this rare capacity to, I think, kidnap both the haughty and the humble. He was kind of an every-man broadcaster but he set his own agendas as well."

AUDIO: Jim Hickey

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick says Sir Paul redefined current affairs on New Zealand television for a generation and has been a leading light in the world of journalism in this country.

He says his legacy will be remembered within TVNZ and across the industry for many years to come. 

John Pagani, his one-time producer on Newstalk ZB then contributor to his programmes on both TV and radio, says he democratised news and current affairs, dragging a cultural change with his personality.

"He said that anyone's views count and matter. Anyone's stories should be told, not only the stories of the famous and the powerful, but the stories of all New Zealanders are important."

He says he had a connection with people, not only through the radio and television, but because he actually mingled with them.

"You would see him one day talking to people in a regular New Zealand bar, and the next having the high and mighty at his home for an event. He was right across all of New Zealand society - that was because he believed that all of it mattered."

Mr Pagani says he democratised news and current affairs, dragging a cultural change with his personality.

"He said that anyone's views count and matter. Anyone's stories should be told, not only the stories of the famous and the powerful but the stories of all New Zealanders are important."

AUDIO: John Pagani


Mark Sainsbury worked with Sir Paul Holmes for many years on the Holmes programme.

He says the great thing about the broadcaster was his fondness for what he did.

"He loved the attention and he loved being able to do things and being able to influence things and change things and improve things for people. He loved that and that was the beauty of him. He loved people, loved being around people."

Sainsbury says Sir Paul Homes lived life to the full.

"Paul Holmes, Sir Paul, and don't forget how important that was to him, squeezed more into his 62 years than any of us will get if we lived to 100, but he could have squeezed them a lot more and he deserved to."

AUDIO: Mark Sainsbury Part 1 (with Newstalk ZB's Chris Lynch)

AUDIO: Mark Sainsbury Part 2 (with Newstalk ZB's Danny Watson)


Broadcaster Alan Lee says Sir Paul was such a major part of his working life for so long that it's hard to imagine that voice has been stilled.

"The world is a duller place for his passing, and we'll all miss him."


Sir Paul wasn't just a legend in New Zealand, but also in Vienna where he worked on a radio breakfast show in the 70s.

His British co-worker, Paul Hollingdale, says Paul's over-the-top, slightly wild style, was a stark contrast to Vienna's normally dour airwaves, with listeners fighting to wipe tears of laughter from their eyes while driving to work.

"He certainly made an impact while he was here and when we had a significant anniversary 10 years after the radio station, they flew him in from New Zealand for over a week to attend the celebrations."

Sir Paul Holmes is being described as having lived life to the full.

Mr Hollingdale says Sir Paul was over the top - and a little wild - but once they got used to his Kiwi accent, people warmed to him.

"He was very very popular. Very wild on the air and people hadn't heard a New Zealander before that like that and he was a very very lively sort of personality."

AUDIO: Paul Hollingdale


The high school Sir Paul Holmes attended in Hawke's Bay in the 1960s has lowered its flag to half mast following his death.

Karamu High principal Martin O'Grady says the flag will remain at half past until after Sir Paul's funeral.

He says Sir Paul reconnected with the school at its Golden Jubilee last Labour weekend and showed students that anything's possible.

"He made the point that he'd sat in those seats as a little year nine, or a third former back in those days, and how that's what's possible with a lot of determination, persistence and hard work and that really typifies him I think."

Mr O'Grady says the school is immensely proud of Sir Paul as one of its most notable ex-pupils.


Family friend and wife of Sir Don McKinnon, Clare de Lore, says his recent TV interview with Janet McIntyre addressed any outstanding demons.

"And of course all the highlights of his life - I mean there were so many highlights that ... he jammed in so many lives, really. He lived a lot more than most people could fit into a hundred years."

She says he achieved so much in his life and didn't leave this world thinking 'if only'.

"He had his weaknesses but boy, did that brilliance and that kindness and that humanity outweigh anything else that might go on any other side of the ledger."

Clare de Lore says Sir Paul was dedicated to his listeners, worked hard and played hard.

AUDIO: Clare de Lore


New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says Sir Paul was a great interviewer, but could also be a real rat sometimes.

"But the reality is that you always forgave people who had character, who worked hard, who've got a stroke of genius about them, who are intelligent and he was always very likeable to be around socially."

Winston Peters says Sir Paul can be remembered for being a class act, in his profession.

AUDIO: Winston Peters

Former National Party president Michelle Boag has also paid tribute to Sir Paul.

She organised a Paul Holmes commemorative dinner in October for all the charities he's helped, so they could thank him.

She says in the last week or two Sir Paul has been able to enjoy good times with his family.

"Because he'd been taken off all the medication and he got a bit of a lift as people do when they're going through the, sort of, end of lifetime and it was a time where he was spending quality time with people that he loved and that loved him."

AUDIO: Michelle Boag

Christchurch City Councillor Barry Corbett worked with the broadcaster and says he'll be sorely missed.

"He was such a wonderful person and he was a bloody hard case."

Labour MP Ruth Dyson says he was an inspiration to those in the broadcasting industry.

"Paul will be remembered hugely by the broadcasting community. He had an amazing ability to retain facts, and pull them out at times that often tricked politicians and other people and I think that's an extraordinary gift that he had."


The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust is paying tribute to Sir Paul Holmes.

Chairman Murray Bolton says he was a highly respected and committed board member of the Trust, until his resignation in December due to ill-health.

He says his compassion led to his involvement and support.

Murray Bolton says Sir Paul's presence around the board table will be sorely missed but his contribution will be remembered for many years to come.

He says Sir Paul would always find time to help out.

"We'd say 'jump' and he'd say 'how high?' Never turned us down. He was an active member around the Trust board table, plus was always helping in any of the charity events we put on in our fundraising efforts."

Mr Bolton's sending condolences to the family.


Paralympics New Zealand is paying tribute to Sir Paul Holmes.

He was the patron of the organisation for many years right up until his passing today.

Chair Mark Copeland says Sir Paul's greatest gift was his humanity.

"His involvement with paralympic sport came about about through a genuine interest in the obstacles being overcome by disabled athletes."

Mark Copeland says Sir Paul was almost solely responsible for raising the profile of Paralympics in New Zealand through his early media coverage of various events.

He says Sir Paul's involvement with Paralympics never stopped.

"He has always taken a keen interest in paralympic sport and activity and I'm aware he spoke to some of our well known paralympians in the last few days."

Mark Copeland says Sir Paul's greatest gift was his humanity.

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