He’s already one of our busiest TV presenters and now Paul Holmes is about to become the man with the big red book who surprises famous Kiwis buy taking them on a whistle-stop of their past in This is Your Life. ‘It’s a fantastic format and it’s the ultimate accolade for a New Zealander,’ he says. ‘Bob Parker has done a great job, now im pleased to be taking on a show I’ve loved for years.’ The latest instalment of This is Your Life screens on TV One on Wednesday, 29 October and, in the shows strictest tradition, Paul won’t reveal even the smallest clue about who the lucky subject is going to be. Meanwhile, as our My Home Town series continues, Paul talks about the early days that shaped his own life as a young boy growing up in Hastings.
For us, Hastings was the big city. We lived at Haumoana on the coast about a dozen kilometres from Hastings. We lived just outside of Haumoana actually, a couple of kilometres up one of New Zealand’s best-kept beauty secrets, the Tuki Tuki Valley. Great hills rise up from the river. It runs behind Havelock North and the valley sweeps away majestically underneath Te Mata Peak.
Dad bought 2.4 hectares there after the war, built a glasshouse, built a shed, started growing tomatoes, built a house and, when I was born in the Hastings maternity wing, Mum brought me home to the little house Dad had built on his own.
Weekends in the summer were all about tomatoes. Dad picked tomatoes off 6000 plants, graded them, sorted them and packed them. I hammered the lids down on the woodewn boxes he made in the quiet times and by Sunday evening he’d have stacked the vanguard with them, and the trailer too, for the drive into the markets at Hastings.
The auctioneer was a richly-voiced man called Lou who always was nice to me. Afterwards, we’d drive home where I would stand on a little blue chair and do an auctioneer routine.
It’s the summers I remember. Gorgeous, hot summers. In spring, the Tuki Tuki Valley came alive with apple, peach and nectarine blossom. In the early mornings, the smell of it all hit us in waves as we biked to school. Even today, if I walk into that old smell, I have to stop and live in it for a minute or two. In summer, in the valley, everything went brown. The hills along the valley sat like lion hides in the sun.
But Hastings was it for the weekends. That was living. That was an urban conurbation. Saturday morning, my brother and I and Mum headed into town to see Nanna and Mum’s sister Dora and our cousins. Mum would head off to the TAB for half an hour and make her “investments” and we’d all go to the pictures at the Embassy Theatre. They ran serials and a feature in front of restless kids.
If Mum stayed on for the afternoon, other cousins might appear and we’d all play postman’s knock.
Sometimes Mum, Dad an dmy brother and I went down the other end of Heretaunga Street to the flasher theatre – the Regent – for the five o’clock session. We saw Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea with Spencer Tracey. When he finally caught that fish the whole theatre clapped in relief. We all stood up for God Save the Queen. We’d wear out best clothes to go to the Regent. I had a sports jacket and a lime green tie and always thought I was fat.
We’d get fish and chips down the road from the Regent at the Zealandia fish and chip shop and a bottle of curly top creaming soda, then have a feast in the car on the way home and talk about the picture.
One night, driving home after we’d been to see Dad’s brother Frank, who’d given us half a crown each, Dad stopped the car at Mangatere and got Ken and me out and made us look to the south. There was a great red curtain across the sky which he called the Aurora Australis.
On New Year’s Eve, Hastings went wild. Heretaunga Street was closed to traffic so people flocked on to the road, wandering up and down. One night, Dad chased a boy with a water pistol.
I liked going into Lett’s Travel Agency to look at the exciting pictures of foreign places. Id’ ask the lady if I could have a couple of brochure and later, at home, I’d cut the pictures out and stick them in a scrapbook. There was a song called Far Away Places on the radio. I used to stand on Haumoana Beach, looking across the sea, pining for other countries.
Hastings was one main street, really, one long main drag. At school we learned this was called ribbon development, which struck me even then as not the most earth-shattering concept. Queen Street was where the lawyers and the accountants were. Mum worked there. Everyone called it “shark alley”.
The railcar ran through the middle of the town and that’s where my friends and I left from at the start of 1968 to go to university in Wellington. I never really went back. Not to live. We all went back for a few years for holiday work. I slaved on the hay carting – ferocious work with everywhere the glorious smell of hay and cut fields – and drank tea from thermos flasks under shade trees in the height of the afternoon.
In the 1980s, Hastings was hit hard. The farmers were blitzed by the reforms and the freezing works closed. It was a devastating time for Hastings. And in the past few years, whenever I’ve had the opportunity, I try and give something back in a small way. I was proud of getting two televised devastated into the restored municipal theatre.
When I go home, I drive round the streets and the memories flood back. Past group theatre where I fell in love with acting and where Dad would fall asleep. The same group theatre from which I thought I could leap straight to start billing in the West End of London.
And I always – I can’t stop myself – take mums car and drive through Havelock North then into the Tuki Tuki Valley to feel the gentle plain in my heart for the river and the willows, the sleepy sunlight and the sweeping hills.