Queenstown memories of the late Sir Paul

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Steve Wilde, Radio New Zealand’s Queenstown reporter, credits the late Sir Paul Holmes – whose funeral is tomorrow – with encouraging him into journalism in 1989. 

Holmes gave the 14-year-old Dunedin schoolboy a key piece of advice. 

“Paul said, ‘You’ve got to read and read and read and read until you’re sick of it – you read everything, you must know a little about everything’.” 

Wilde has followed the famed broadcaster’s maxim: “I’m always reading – there are books everywhere in my house.” 

Last year when Holmes was hospitalised, Wilde emailed his ailing mentor to thank him for the earlier advice. 

“He wrote back a lovely email saying how touched he was – it was only then he was realising how much he’d touched people’s lives.” 

How does Wilde rate Holmes as a broadcaster? “Simply the best.” 

Fellow Queenstowner Tsehai Tiffin had about eight years as a Holmes show reporter in three stints between 1989-2004. 

Tiffin credits Holmes with incisive intuition: “He’d fix you with a stare and he’d absolutely get to the nub of something.” 

Holmes had humour too, Tiffin says: “I can still think of some of the jokes he made that were so hilariously funny, fantastic laugh-out-loud moments on TV.” 

Holmes was a hard taskmaster who demanded high standards yet inspired colleagues: “I remember him saying to me, ‘You’re the voice of the south, that’s what we want from you’. And after you’d done a story, you’d watch his reaction and hope he’d have that look that said, ‘Yep – that was good’.” 

Yet the Holmes who Tiffin knew was also a very giving studio anchor when field reporters struck timing problems or technical glitches. 

“He’d rescue you and fill in any bits just to give you a moment – he’d ask exactly the right questions to keep you going.” 

Tiffin did several Queenstown stories for the Holmes programme, including covering Mountain Scene’s sting of Wakatipu retailers illegally selling cigarettes to minors: “That’s one story that still stands out in my mind.” 

Holmes was indirectly responsible for both Tiffin and her cameraman husband Mike McLeod becoming full-time Queenstowners in 2005. 

Decamping to Prime – albeit briefly – Holmes wanted Tiffin and McLeod to leave TVNZ and cover the South Island from Queenstown for his new show. 

The couple had already asked TVNZ about basing themselves in the resort but the suggestion was gathering dust – until Holmes’ approach, when TVNZ suddenly approved their Wakatipu posting. 

Queenstown copywriter and humorist Chris Parvin remembers Holmes from an even earlier life – as a radio host in Wales. 

Swansea Sound was Wales’ first independent station and Holmes did a 6.30pm evening shift for about a year in the mid-1970s, Parvin recalls. 

“He did things nobody had done before – certainly not on that station and not on the BBC station either. 

“Like he’d ring the Pope or the US president about news items he was trying to get a quote on,” Parvin says. 

Not like the recent hoax call by Aussie DJs: “Nothing like that, no subterfuge, nothing clandestine,” Parvin says. 

Station ratings shot up: “Holmes’ style was so bouncy and refreshing – I listened every night.” 

Parvin met his hero for the first time when the Welshman emigrated to Queenstown and Holmes was here for the 1994 Winter Festival. 

Telling Holmes he’d been a fan of his Swansea Sound show, Holmes answered – in Welsh. 

“He spoke better Welsh than I do,” Parvin says. 

The Queenstowner has let Swansea Sound know about Holmes’ death and says the station will remember the Kiwi great during a funeral for another former staffer this week.