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Kiwi trailblazer Diane Foreman: ‘This is the best time of my life’

The Kiwi entrepreneur invites us into her stately home and tells how her celebrity husband is constantly surprising her

Diane Foreman, 61, is one of the country’s most successful business people, awarded a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business. She married broadcaster Paul Henry in 2020.

What is the best thing about your life at the moment?

The best thing for me is that my children are grown up and for the first time since I was 15, I feel free. It’s the freedom of being able to sleep in. I had my first child at 18, so there weren’t many years of being able to be my own boss. And when I was running a huge business, I was very disciplined and in the gym really early, making school lunches, getting the kids to school and that’s a real grind. It’s actually lovely having nobody at home, and the freedom of not having a disciplined job and huge staff. This is the best time of my life.

You’re one of our top business people – are you still actively involved in that world?

Paul teases me because I tell everybody I don’t work and he says, “Really?” I am still quite busy, but what I’m doing now seems very different. I’m still on some boards, I’ve got a hotel and manage my own property portfolio, and I do some international consulting, but I can do it on my own time, which is fantastic.

What has surprised you about being married to Paul Henry?

His relentless positivity. People think Paul would be a bit grumpy, but he is the most positive person I have ever met. Obviously, I knew him incredibly well before we got married, but since we’ve been living together, it astounds me that he’s never negative and is always up. The other day, I had a fender bender and I was upset about it. All he said was, “It’s only one side of the car, what are you worried about?”

‘For the first time since I was 15, I feel free’

How did the last lockdown affect you?

The first lockdown happened the day after we got married, so basically our entire marriage has been in one form of lockdown. It has affected me less because I’ve worked from home for years. I sold my corporate office years ago and we were world leaders in working from home. My team has always worked from home and reported into me, so business-wise nothing has changed much. My hotel is empty with no forward bookings, so there is a financial impact. But it’s the people in our community like my daughter who has a severely handicapped child and is walking 30,000 steps a day, pushing a wheelchair, because that’s the only thing she can do to stop him screaming, and she can’t access any care or respite. My son is profoundly deaf and is now struggling to read lips because of mask wearing. These are examples of how so many people have to live in a very challenging way.

What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?

I could say my phone and iPad as a flippant answer, but the true answer is the love of my friends and family. They are the people I depend upon most.

What is the nicest thing you’ve ever bought yourself?

The little car I just fender-bendered. It’s an electric Porsche and it’s pretty cool. Paul is a petrol head, so when I said I wanted to buy an electric car, I said it with trepidation. But he looked at it, and was really positive and open-minded. He came with me for the test drive and said, “Yeah, I can see exactly why you want it.” One of my friends said it would be too complex for me to drive because I’m IT phobic, but I find it so easy.

‘People think Paul would be a bit grumpy, but he is the most positive person I know’

What qualities do you look for in a good friend?

First and foremost is loyalty. A good friend is the person who is loyal to you through good and bad, and the person you can say anything to and know that it will go no further. Loyalty is my key asset and I’m blessed to have many friends who are loyal. The other thing that is important in a friendship is staying in touch. The friends who text or send you an email just saying, “How’s it going?” And also, real friends. So many people tell me they know Paul really well, and I ask Paul about them and he’s never met them in his life. Real friends are people that you speak to often and those that care about you.

Is there anything you would like to happen, which hasn’t happened for you yet?

The one thing I regret is that I didn’t study law. I always promised myself that one day when I was off the corporate ladder I would go to university. I left school at 15 with no qualifications and I’ve always felt a little less of a person. I used to tease myself that I would go, but the older I get, the less likely I am to want to sit in a room of 18-year-olds. I have grandchildren who are that age. I tried once to see if I could do it online. My children are all academically blessed and I’m sad that I can’t relate to them on that level. I know I would have done well, but then sometimes I look at the other side and maybe if I had done that, I would have had a trained mind and with a trained mind it’s hard to be an entrepreneur. Maybe it was a gift that I left school so early. I was a world judge for Entrepreneur of the Year in Monte Carlo after I won it for New Zealand and one thing I saw with the people we were judging was that they all had the ability to think outside the square.

What advice would you give 15-year-old you?

Not to want it all too soon. It’s so easy to think that you own the world at 15, but you don’t. Hang back and learn. I left school because my parents didn’t believe in education for girls. They thought that all a girl needed was straight teeth and the ability to type before she married young. So, they gave me braces, I learned to type and was married at 18. They were from a different generation and weren’t educated themselves, so they had no belief in it. They probably did me a favour because you never know what I would have been otherwise.

‘They thought all a girl needed was straight teeth and the ability to type’

What advice would you give young entrepreneurs just starting out?

Ask questions and have an inquiring mind, but when you get answers, listen. It’s a real bug bear of mine. I think mentors are really important, but you have to realise that what they are saying comes from experience, not from wanting to control you. I get a couple every week who really want my advice, so I sit down with them, give them hours of my time and then they go and do the complete opposite to what I advised them to do. Three months later, I say, “Why didn’t you do what I said to do,” and they say, “Oh, we didn’t think you knew what you were talking about.” The biggest thing entrepreneurs do right is that they do things differently and they do things the way no one else has. So be prepared to listen, to be open-minded and don’t know everything at 21 – even though I thought I did too!

What books are on your bedside table?

At the moment I’m reading Arthur Taylor’s Prison Break, which is a really great New Zealand yarn. I’ve enjoyed reading about Arthur so much that I’d quite like to meet him.

Have you got any streaming recommendations?

We’ve been watching The White Lotus. Paul thinks it’s weird, but I think it’s great. We also just finished Nine Perfect Strangers with Nicole Kidman and I loved the costuming. I’ve never been to a retreat, but I imagine that’s exactly the look with the white dress and flowing sleeves.

You’re cooking for friends, what is your signature dish?

All my friends know I am not a good cook, so it’s roast pork with apple sauce, roast vegetables and pavlova and cream, but not on the same plate! I can cook, but it’s not my favourite thing to do.

Tell us something we don’t know about you.

I knit and crochet very fine baby shawls. That’s my thing. I use very fine wool and make intricately patterned baby shawls which are very old-fashioned. I stopped doing it for ages because I was flying first class with my CEO and CFO – both men – and this was in the days when you could knit on the plane. I pulled out my knitting and they both had an incredulous look on their faces which said we cannot possibly work for a chairman who sits in first class and knits all the way to London. I was so mortified that I put it away for years and years. It’s probably the thing that surprises people the most about me, but my baby shawls make superb gifts. When Paul’s daughter had a baby recently, I gave her one and now every time I see the baby, she’s wearing it, which is lovely. I’ve decided I’m going to make them for the children who haven’t had their babies yet. I’m going to wrap them in tissue paper and if I kark it before they have their babies, they can claim their inheritance.

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