NZ Woman's Weekly

Paul Henry: “My best friend”

She scolds him for not coming to see her often enough and frequently veers off topic in a way that drives the notoriously precise Paul Henry to distraction.

But Olive Hopes is one of the few people the TV personality adores unconditionally and will forgive absolutely anything – because she’s his mum.

“I’m going to bury you at sea – take you out on the boat, possibly a day or two before your time comes, see you off,” teases Paul, as Olive (83) is in the process of informing him (not for the first time) that she has no intention of being put in the ground, or in water, when she passes away – she’d like to be in a little urn on Paul’s mantelpiece and he’s not allowed to throw it out.

“Although you probably will – you’ll get bored of me sitting there,” she grins at her irrepressible son, as he mockingly rolls his eyes.

While there are some who’d find the mother and son’s irreverent treatment of death difficult, for Olive and Paul (53) their shared sense of humour is part of what makes them as close as they are – and alike. As one close friend of Paul’s remarked recently: “Spend a few minutes with Olive, and you realise which cloth Paul was cut from.”

When commissioned to write his second book, Outraged, Paul knew exactly who would be perfect for the illustrations – or rather, illustration.

“All he wanted from me was to draw a pigeon!” laughs Olive, who goes on to describe in joyous detail the drawing which takes pride of place in her son’s book.

“I was very lucky to secure her services. After all, she’s only ever done bestsellers,” jokes Paul – the one time Olive illustrated another book was his memoir, What Was I Thinking, in 2011.

Unlike the first book, which told the story of Paul’s life, Outraged focuses on “other people and a few of the many, many things that annoy me”.

True to Paul’s previous form, it’s designed to be controversial – although given his reluctance to write it when he was first approached, it’s surprising it was written at all.

“I find it very hard to say no, even though I’ve become somewhat of an expert at it,” he explains.

“My usual technique is to say to people, ‘That’s a great idea. Let me think about it – can we talk in a few months?’ Most people don’t get back to you, but this time they did.”

While Paul penned his last book with the help of journalist and Herald on Sunday columnist Paul Little, this time he decided to write it entirely himself, despite suffering from dyslexia, which needless to say made the process much harder.

“I’m an absolute stickler for detail – I have to do something well, or not at all,” he says.

“My dyslexia didn’t slow down the process of writing the stories themselves – I’m a terrific storyteller, after all – but it did mean I had to rely heavily on the autocorrect and spellcheck functions.

“I spent a long time going over all the words to make sure all mistakes were caught. So anything you see in the book – I actually meant it to be that way!”

“Everything has always had to be just right for Paul, even as a boy,” agrees Olive.

“He cares very much, even though he pretends not to about some things.”

She still can’t get used to seeing negative stories about her son – Olive clearly remembers the public furore after comments Paul made on TV One’s Breakfast led to him leaving the network.

“I hate it when people say bad things about Paul – it makes me want to scream,” she says sadly.

“He is very loving, very caring, and I knew he felt terrible about what happened. As a mum, I’m still very protective of him.”

And it’s reciprocated. “I do adore her. And I’m very proud… oh, you know that Mum. I’ve told you that a million times,” Paul says in mock exasperation, as Olive looks on in surprise that her famously dry-humoured son is being so complimentary.

But despite the levity of the moment, as the pair enjoy a spring afternoon tea at the pretty Auckland retirement village that has been Olive’s home for the past 13 years, there’s a deep level of love and understanding. It stems from the fact that it has been the two of them against the world since Paul’s early years.

He returned to New Zealand in March, having spent much of the past two years overseas, including five months in the United States working on Desk, a short film he made in Los Angeles. It bears more than a passing resemblance to his own experience in Australia, when his breakfast show was cancelled.

“The film is about me ostensibly being myself, but it was scripted, so I had to learn to act,” explains Paul.

“It’s the story of what happens all the time in the US – a lot of the TV executives I met out there are no longer in their jobs. The industry is so cut-throat.”

Although Paul is looking forward to seeing the final cut of the movie, to be shown in the US, his wanderlust has been satisfied – for now at least – and he is happy to be back in the country he’s always called home.

Daughters Lucy and Bella are now beginning to take their place in the spotlight.

He now has an office at MediaWorks in Auckland, where he is working on a top-secret project that will see him return to our screens next year, and is enjoying spending more time at the Albany house he shares with two of his three daughters, Lucy (25) and Bella, who turned 21 last Tuesday.

He’s also having a ball in an entirely new role of “stage mum” to both Bella and Sophie (23) – as, much to his surprise, both have taken their own turn in the public eye. Sophie as a finalist on Miss Universe New Zealand last week, and Bella on the Australian reality show Beauty and the Geek, currently screening across the Tasman.

“Bella entered Beauty and the Geek while she was staying at the Bellagio in Las Vegas with me several months ago, so I knew that was happening, but Sophie entering Miss Universe was a complete shock – given that she’s so private, her decision to enter was slightly inexplicable to me,” says Paul, who sat proudly in the audience to support his daughter at the final in Auckland.

“She’d decided early on that she wasn’t going to win, and was fine with that – she just wanted to do her best and have a great time. She got a lot out of the experience.”

All three girls are regular visitors to their grandmother’s home, even more so now Olive is going out less. But while the octogenarian is showing a few more signs of ageing than in recent years (she famously jumped off the Sky Tower for her 80th birthday, something she’s unlikely to repeat), her memory of Paul’s younger years is still clear, as she muses on some of the successful presenter’s exploits as a child.

“Paul wouldn’t have been much older than five when he showed me this huge collection of bottles he’d been storing up in the garage. I told him if he took them down to the local Four Square, he’d get a few pennies for them,” she recalls.

“He asked me how he could get a bank book, so with the money he got from the bottles, we opened an account and I told him he could use the money if he really wanted something, but he never did draw it out. He’s always been good with money, although he didn’t get that talent from me!”

“It was the beginning of my corporate empire – that, and the Daphnia, a creature I found in a local stream, bagged up and sold to the pet shop as living fish food,” says Paul, adding that this particular enterprise came to an abrupt end when he discovered the crustaceans were seasonal. “One day it wasn’t there any more, which is probably a good thing…”

Paul with daughter Sophie

Despite the ups and downs of Paul’s recent years, his corporate empire is showing no signs of disappearing – although it is slowing down.

“You could say I’ve been sort of semi-retired for a while now,” admits Paul. “But although the idea of living a life of leisure for the rest of my life does sound nice, I don’t think I could do it. Although after the book comes out, maybe people won’t want to see me back on TV!

“I’m the sort of person who needs challenges, like doing the movie in America, or I’ll just vegetate.”

And while Olive insists she doesn’t worry about Paul any more, saying, “he’s old enough to look after himself now”, she is obviously impatient to see him back on our screens.

But no-one knows Paul better than his mum, which is why she can’t resist adding: “But don’t do anything stupid.”

Photos: Emma Watson. Michelle hyslop • Styling, Hair, Makeup: Luisa Petch• Styling assistant: Jo-Ellen •Olive wears Jaqui-E womanswear, Lovisa jewellery,Paul wears fifth avenue menswear • Tea Party china supplied by Paul’s glasses by specsavers

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