Radio Pacific
Paul Henry
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Paul Henry hosting Close Up. Live from the Red Carpet for the New Zealand premiere of King Kong.
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Photo of Paul Henry.

Paul Henry hosts 'Breakfast' on TV One from 6 to 9am. Monday to Friday. He is permanent Backup Host for TV One Current Affairs Programme Close Up & his Network talk radio show runs Monday to Friday between 4 and 6pm on RadioLIVE. Paul is also involved in the production of other TV shows and is the host of the TV One show 'This is Your Life'.

This is your life
Paul Henry



Paul Henry goes in search of New Zealanders in the most extreme places of the world. Part-travel series, part-personal documentary 'Ends of the Earth' discovers how our culture, our heritage, our way of life has bred such unique and diverse people.

The series is as much about Henry and his crew trying to reach the destination as it is about the people they find when they get there. The New Zealanders featured are Kiwis who have left our shores and gone beyond the London tube and the Bondi Tunnel to live extraordinary lives in the far corners of the planet.

The show discovers each unique corner of the world, and tries to understand how personal culture, heritage and way of life influenceslife overseas and our interactions with others.

In Ends of the Earth , presenter and journalist Paul Henry will lead us further off the beaten track. He offers an intelligent personality, not afraid to experience life and to observe it with his unique quirky sense of humour firmly in place in all conditions. He is an avid traveller with stories of war zone reporting.

All of us know that getting there is half the fun - or sometimes half the nightmare. The people featured have adapted (some better than others) to life in the desert or a war-zone or minus 40 degrees and offer a more local perspective on the place's pros, cons and idiosyncrasies.

The destinations will sometimes be dangerous and will always be unusual - Sudan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, the Amazon, the Arctic and the Cocos Islands. The series balances, very smoothly, the story between Paul's journey and the New Zealander's living and working in these locations and their life and observations. It is comical, fascinating, enlightening and often surprising - the viewer will wonder week after week "What the hell are they doing there?"

Close Up & personal
by Diana Wichtel

Paul Henry is a simmering sideshow just waiting for his chance to be the main event.

Paul Henry. You’d think he’d be on his best behaviour, with the coveted Close Up job again up for grabs. But he just can’t help himself. Even when warned that the press is visiting the Breakfast set, he remains defiantly free-range and a bit obnoxious. After the cameras stop rolling, Kay Gregory, co-presenter and patient butt of his pranks, loses an earring. You won’t catch him, declaims Henry with characteristic gallantry, “groping around in the dark crevasses under Kay!” It’s Malcolm, the camera operator, who dashes over to help out, moaning quietly, “I knew he’d say something like that.”
Over two years on the show, Henry has specialised in increasingly mad on-air riffs on everything from the demise of the five-cent coin to film and music reviewer Francesca Rudkin’s inability to shut up. An ongoing monologue about Dame Judi Dench was particularly punishing.

He is the scourge of small-town New Zealand. “I would no more live in Huntly,” he once observed to a reporter, “than cut off my private parts.”

The sometime war correspondent and advice-show curmudgeon – “I’m quite intolerant, it may surprise you to know” – has spent a long time just below the A-list celebrity radar, doing radio, popping up on a How’s Life here or an Intrepid Journey there. He regularly filled in for Susan Wood until Mark Sainsbury took up that role. With Wood’s sudden departure, Sainsbury and Henry are top contenders. “I’m TV-tastic today, aren’t I?” cried Henry happily on Breakfast the other morning, after a promo showing him hosting that night’s Close Up.
Until the decision is made, it’s business as usual as Henry turns his arguably underused energies to mocking the national bird. “People have criticised me for comments made about the kiwi when I said it was hopeless,” explains Henry to his Breakfast audience the morning we visit. He would like to clarify his position. “As a construction, if you will, it’s hopeless, isn’t it? What was God thinking?” he says, his voice climbing the scale to early Bee Gees with poorly suppressed hilarity.
As the show wraps up, Henry’s still manufacturing new uses for kiwis. “Sell them as hats or gloves. Kiwi hand-warmers!” In the circus that is the state broadcaster’s news and current affairs department these days, he’s a simmering sideshow just waiting for his chance to be the main event.

Of course he wants the Close Up job, says Henry. It’s the show. It would deliver a big audience if a chimp presented it. “And it gives you a certain amount of licence.” A show of his own, on which he could stamp his unique, slightly alarming style. “I would very much want to do that and they know that.”

For this part of the Paul Henry experience, the setting is semi-rural Albany – an area of Auckland, residents of Huntly should note, often referred to as “Albania”. The Henry estate is mock-Tudor and stately. “I like big. I like solid,” says Henry. “Did I mention big and solid?”
His wife Rachael and three daughters, Lucy, Sophie and Bella, live in town, near Epsom Girls. A slightly eccentric arrangement. “It is a bit.” Does he spend much time in Mt Eden? “I don’t talk much about the family,” he says. For one of local television’s more boisterous personalities, Henry goes very quiet when you’ve pushed too hard.
He’s otherwise hospitable, irrepressibly likeable and a good sport. I’ve compared him to Basil Brush in print. He’s called me a cow. “I think we’re even,” he says with his most carnivorous smile.

He takes no prisoners. When, after only one glass of wine, I interrogate him with a fearless “Global warming – for or against?” he doesn’t stop laughing at me for ages. I’m beginning to understand what it feels like to be Kay. When the question is sensibly put, he says, unsurprisingly, that he’s a sceptic.

You do wonder why he chooses to live out here, in rather solitary splendour, until he starts talking about his childhood. He grew up in Howick. “It was the Kiwi dream. We had a quarter of an acre. There was a track down to the sea. I had a dinghy.” When he was 11 his parents separated. He saw little of his father after that and his English-born mother took him back to England.

Henry has two favourite words (other than “arse”, which he must have some sort of world record for saying on morning television). One is “hopeless”, as in kiwis and the National Party. The other is “hideous”, as in Bristol. “We were in a council flat. It was just hideous. I went to a school that was in a hole in the ground, literally,” he says, savouring the squalid detail. “The flat was over the Cut, which was this horrible river made by prisoners …”

His mother worked triple shifts in a plastic-bag factory. Henry made the best of it. “The only thing that miffed me was that we were going there for six months [and] it dawned on me after a few months that we were going to be staying.”

Henry ended up with a job with the BBC. At age 25, he discovered that he is a Gypsy. “The British hate the Gypsies,” says Henry. “I think that hatred is enduring. So I always hated Gypsies. We used to sometimes go at lunchtime and throw stones at the Gypsies over the allotment fence. And I was clearly on the wrong side of the allotment fence.”

When he got the news, he took it well. “I just thought it was great, having been brought up in New Zealand. It was exciting to be something a bit different. My daughters feel that way as well.” Things suddenly made sense. “My grandmother always wore bright shiny plastic beads … She had black, black hair and was very dark. When you think about it,” he muses, “it shouted out ‘Gypsy’.”

Henry’s Dad was an adventurer, a traveller. Henry has his stories, too, of his time reporting from the world’s hot spots. And of his 1998 mission to the Congo to try to rescue a hostage, New Zealander Douglas Kear. Henry likes to come across as the hardened realist but that sounds incredibly idealistic. “It was an adventure,” he maintains. “It would be illogical for me to go there solely to get him out. If that had been the only purpose, I would have been an idiot because it was so dangerous.” One of the people working on the rescue over there was killed. “He was a father of three. And I was almost killed.” Adventure or not, he wouldn’t have gone if he didn’t think he could do it. “And I got real close.”

Another adventure: in 1999 he stood as a National candidate and lost to Georgina Beyer. He’s still a bit grumpy about it. He soon realised he had a real fight on his hands but the party didn’t – “Hopeless!”
So it’s no secret that he’s philosophically more attuned to the right. Yes, he monitors himself when he’s on the job. “Not to make sure I don’t give the left a hard time. To make sure I don’t give the right too hard a time, because that’s the tendency … But it’s been a walk in the park to have a go at National over the last few years. Hopeless. Hopeless!”

He sometimes thinks he might have been more successful in broadcasting if he’d stayed overseas. But he always dreamt of coming back to New Zealand. Now he has 10 acres of bush. “Jesus,” says Henry, surveying his domain with a beatific smile, “is my gardener.” He has pukekos. He also has an air rifle. “Don’t mention the pukekos,” begs the TVNZ PR person. “Not after the kiwis.” He has a track – when he finishes it – running down to the estuary.

Henry leaves this little patch of paradise at 3.20am every weekday to do Breakfast. As for the fuss over his toxic relationship with his co-host – ridiculous.

And yet … You remind him of the time poor Kay was sent off and made to ride a paddle boat. Henry, comfortably in charge back in the studio, made her keep paddling and paddling. “And looking ludicrous, probably,” he says hopefully. It was very funny and slightly cruel. “It’s nice torturing people on air. For the benefit of the audience,” he says serenely. “Though I enjoy it as well.”

He does like things to be unpredictable. “Have you ever seen a caravan blow up? Oh, you can not get enough of watching caravans blow up. It’s just spectacular. People love that. And that’s what the [on-air] relationship should be like.” Depends, surely, on who ends up being the caravan. “Kay is the caravan,” he crows. So how does she feel about him? “Well, I’m her meal ticket, to be honest,” he hoots mercilessly. It’s a wonder she hasn’t throttled him. Possibly she will now.

There was another infamous pairing, with Pam Corkery on Radio Pacific’s lamented Morning Grill show. It seemed he’d met his match. “She’s a completely loose cannon,” he says with admiration and, possibly, a hint of fear. “There’s something very freakish about Pam, but she’s very intelligent.” That dynamic was so intense they’d wear themselves out. “We’d had so many battles just getting to the studio, we’d be completely buggered!”

But mostly there’s only room for one alpha presenter. “On a live show, I think, yeah.” That’s why it works with Kay. “It wouldn’t pay to have someone else like me. That would be hideous television, probably, wouldn’t it? We’d just be shouting at each other.”
And yes, should he end up as alpha presenter on Close Up, he’d like to change a few things. “I’d want it to be more live than it is now. Not as many recorded features. I’d like to have not long but serious interviews. It’s easy when you’ve got the capacity to produce clever pieces of television to say ‘Oooh, let’s produce a clever piece of television.’ When, in reality, maybe just roping someone to a chair is a better way to do it.” He’d like to loosen things up a little. “I think you want a bit more humour, and for it to be a bit more edgy.”

So is he lobbying for the job? “It probably would pay to, but I’ve never lobbied. It’s not like people don’t know what I’d be capable of … If I have to lobby to get the job, they don’t really want me, I would have thought.”

If he doesn’t get it, he has a high-profile year ahead anyway. There’s his television series, Ends of the Earth, starting in early January. Forty-six-year-old Henry is off adventuring again, seeking out Kiwis in places like Afghanistan and the Amazon, no doubt complaining bitterly about the plumbing as he goes.

And he’s going back to the drive-time slot on CanWest’s Radio Live, a job he had to abandon in 2005 when TVNZ took exception to him working for the opposition. How come he’s allowed to do it now? “That’s a very interesting question … I don’t know if part of the reason is the digital environment. You do have to shake your enemies’ hands at times.”

But TVNZ remains his primary employer. “They can do with me what they will.” However things end up, he’s not planning to change his abrasive ways. “Broadcasting Standards complaints – I’m keeping them quite busy,” he notes happily. Viewers are now including the word “arse” in their emails just for the pleasure of hearing him read it out. “I sometimes wonder whether I make too many sexual references,” he ruminates. It is a fine line. “But it’s a line you should get as close to as possible, I think.”

If people get upset, that’s part of the game. “I polarise people quite a bit. And I have no intention of adjusting myself so I don’t. If people sit at home thinking, ‘I wonder if Paul Henry is still as awful as he was before. Let’s tune in and see. Oh, God, he is awful!’, then that’s perfect.

In other words, he understands the medium too well to stop blowing up caravans any time soon. “We need to do one on Breakfast,” he insists, before we leave him to the news, an early night and his 10-acre Kiwi Dream. “You need to see it.” TV-tastic.

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