Sir Paul Holmes died this morning, aged 62. He was a trailblazing journalist and broadcaster. He is, in New Zealand, a broadcasting legend. Death was in the post, he’d been suffering from an aggressive form of cancer and heart problems. He ended his broadcasting career before Christmas, 2012 and waited out what little time he had left. He received a knighthood in recognition of his extraordinary career.
It is easy for people to pick on the mistakes – and to my mind the infamous “cheeky darkie” comment from 2003, levelled at then-United Nations head, Kofi Annan, is inexcusable certainly. Such things aren’t even funny as a bad BBQ joke over a beer, no hint of ironic detachment could save that poor-taste gag from hostility. To say it on air in a desperate move to step beyond provocation was ridiculous – an error of judgment. Poor judgement. No judgement.
But it is not the summation of his broadcasting career.
In these Facebook days it is easy for anyone who first heard of Holmes for the negative headlines he made to talk about his career in short summary – to forget (due to being completely unaware, perhaps) of the literally thousands of hours of live reporting, live broadcasting that went on. Of the days on end, weeks, months, years with no stupid errors, no gross mistakes.
The Kofi quip was awful.
But what about when he gave a child dying of Aids a kiss on national TV. The seven year old said that nobody would kiss her. Holmes did that. A great TV moment, you could cynically say. But it shows heart, emotion, honesty, integrity. And if he had one eye on the ratings then that shows a consummate professional.
That we can laugh at the horrendous self-titled easy-listening (it wasn’t that easy) CD and Holmes appearing on Dancing With The Stars and such is really sideline stuff.
Through burning the candle at both ends for many years, appearing on top-rating TV and radio shows concurrently – and writing for print media, releasing books, chairing debates and other public speaking situations – Holmes showed a formidable work ethic.
He understood New Zealand and New Zealanders. And he put so much of himself – and ourselves, by extension – out there. He was a diarist, a social commentator, a deliverer of news. He created talking points, offered a platform, championed issues, kept a light shining; he worked tirelessly. And so much of what he did as a broadcaster was brilliant.
There were horrible mistakes, there were opinions I don’t agree with it at all and truth be told I think his broadcasting career probably ended a decade ago, it was just that nobody could convince Paul Holmes that was the case. But when he was on – he was on. When he was great there was nobody better.
And to pump out the material the way he did – live, down the barrel. It’s a skill that so few have, that so many are so keen to mock – without any knowledge of what it is like, to be there in the moment, to be the one who has to put across that you have on whatever level done the work. And to be there. Doing the work. Daily. Nightly. For weeks, then months, then years. Then – in Sir Paul Holmes’ case – decades.
Sir Paul Holmes died today at 62. I consider him a legend of New Zealand broadcasting. His voice was important. He took his job/s seriously. I tuned out from him a while back but I respect and admire so much of what he did and the way he did it.