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Paul Holmes: A tribute from an old friend

Friday 1 Feb 2013 2:16 p.m.

Paul Holmes (Getty)

Paul Holmes (Getty)

By Firstline Executive Producer Fiona MacMillan

I worked with Paul on the Holmes show in 1998. Many years ago and just for a year.

During that time he was in the midst of the turbulent end of his marriage and he was living a life of high drama. Of course, any year for Paul was full of drama, but this one was full of heart ache and anger and regret also. He was in the midst of that routine we all know so much about - getting up early, putting his heart and guts into his morning show on ZB and then zipping down the hill to meet with the Holmes team. He would “yes” or “no” the main story ideas and then either go out on a shoot or go to meetings or very occasionally home for a short nap. I don’t think he was sleeping very well. And then he was back mid-afternoon for the adrenaline build up and the show itself. At no time, did he stop to indulge his personal troubles at the expense of us or the show as others might have.

Some days, during those middle hours when he was out of the office, the show was a tough place to work. There was a lot of second guessing and endless amounts of pressure. But when he came breezing in, the mood always lifted. He brought with him a huge wattage of energy. Sometimes anger, but never, ever directed at us and always, always fun.

I was just one junior producer on a large team and really, he should not have had time for me of any of us. But he did. He gave and gave of his time and energy and it didn’t stop with the show.

He was incredibly generous to me as we stayed friends in the years after those 12 months on Holmes. He and Deborah came to my wedding in 2001. During the reception, something was bothering him. He felt there was something missing in the speeches and something he wanted to say. He’d had a couple of wines but he got up, without notes and with no planning and gave his own speech, full of love and humour. It was meant to be a tribute to others, but it was a tribute to him really – to his powers of observation and his very real love for the people around him, who had become part of his life.

We stayed in touch while I was living in London for ten years. And then when my husband and I came back, we had some unexpected luck. My other half got a job in Auckland much quicker than we expected. A great job, but nowhere to live. Paul and Deborah were on hand to fix that. They gave us their apartment for as long as we needed it. Us and our two young children. Not ideal for a man whose health was already much worse than we realised and who had to commute up to Auckland every weekend for work. But he never mentioned it. In fact it was only one evening when we were all staying in there together that some of the truth about how unwell he was, began to be discussed. He mentioned the fluid on his lungs and the cancer. Even then though, it was hard to know how bad the situation was. One moment he was solemn and the next he was brushing it off, moving on, laughing and telling stories. And he never asked for or expected anything.  We got into a near argument when I wanted to give him some money to cover power and those sorts of costs. I was on the phone to Deborah who insisted he wouldn’t take anything. Out came the voice, shouting in the background: “it’s called friendship Fiona, friendship”.

A lot has been written about Sir Paul and more will. He deserves it, the gushing, yes and some of the criticism too. He was very sensitive to it but ultimately he had the mental fortitude to let it not matter too much. He was certainly the broadcasting legend but he was also a dear, dear man to those who knew him well. A man who was joyful and generous, uniquely talented and naughty and enjoyed everything he did. 

He leaves behind a wise and wonderful woman. Deborah came along at just the right time to keep him functioning at the levels he demanded of himself. He, quite rightly, adored her.

Working with him was a pleasure. Being his friend was a privilege. And all of it, always, always, was fun.  

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