Watching Paul Henry and Hilary Barry banter and bicker like an old married couple on telly each morning, you’d think the pair go way back – and they do!
Despite working on opposing channels for much of their respective broadcasting careers – Paul, 55, for TVNZ’s Breakfast show, and Hilary, 45, reading the 6pm news on TV3 – the power couple first met in 1992.
Setting up his radio station Today FM in Wellington, Paul, then 31, called 22-year-old Hilary’s university asking for their top journalism student.
“I was running it on pretty tight margins, so I needed someone to not just work in the newsroom – they actually needed to be the newsroom,” Paul recalls. “She was the journalist, the editor, the researcher – she did it all.
“And she had to present it live on air too, so she had to find it, write it, edit it and then sit down and read the f*ing thing!” cackles Paul.
“I was so young and so keen,” remembers Hilary. “I still had that youthful exuberance and excitement. And you know,” she adds, turning to Paul, “you were more hands-on than you think. You taught me a lot.”
It didn’t take long for Paul to realise Hilary was one of the best, if not the best, journo in town.
“I knew it wouldn’t be long before some evil swine headhunted her, so I thought, ‘How am I going to keep her? I could pay her more money, but I’m not going to do that,’ and that would have been too obvious.
“So I ended up buying her a company car. A $3000 two-door Vauxhall Chevette, although I like to think of it as a state-of-the-art hatchback,” he smirks.
Hilary, however, remembers it quite differently. “The way he was going on about it, I thought it was going to be a BMW!” she laughs.
One morning after Hilary’s bulletin, Paul led his star reporter outside to reveal her brand-new company car.
“I was so excited!” Paul giggles.
“I nearly wet myself laughing when I saw it,” Hilary recalls. “It was a total rust bucket!”
While she was grateful for the car, Hilary reckons it was more trouble than it was worth.
“There I was in the middle of winter, driving this car with the windows down because so much exhaust came through holes in the bottom of the car. I would be frozen by the time I got to the police station for the morning press conference!”
And not only that, her “state-of-the-art hatchback” needed a push start from time to time, much to the delight of the local cops after conferences. “It was so embarrassing!” she cringes.
Watch: Paul Henry and Hilary Barry taste the new Milo
Goofing around together on our Woman’s Day shoot, Paul with a glass of red wine at 11am (he’s been up since 3am, in his defence), it’s clear to see that the pair get along like a house on fire.
In fact, when Paul came home after a stint in Australia earlier this year to launch his multi-platform breakfast news show on TV3, he knew exactly who he wanted by his side.
“There are very few people who would be capable of doing that job and Hilary was at the top of a very short list,” says Paul.
“I thought it probably wasn’t possible, though, because of her job reading for 3 News. After a while, it became evident I was going to have to get her knocked off the six o’clock news – in fact, it’s still on my to-do list!”
Paul, who confesses he would never in a million years attempt to do both jobs, worries about Hilary burning the candle at both ends. “Both jobs are full-time,” he points out. “I don’t know how she does it.”
Hilary admits she did think long and hard before accepting the offer, but she insists she’s managing just fine.
“I love my six o’clock job and news is obviously a huge passion of mine, but I love morning radio too,” she enthuses.
Hilary transferred her long-standing morning gig with RadioLive to join the legendary broadcaster on Paul Henry. The new breakfast programme screens on TV3, as well as streaming online and airing on RadioLive.
“It’s energising,” she says. “I feel chirpy when I walk in the door in the morning.”
The early-risers, who start work at 4am, were surprised at how quickly they bonded, having not had much to do with each other for over two decades.
“I’m the first person in the morning Hilary has a conversation with and at that time, you’re in a very compromised state,” Paul tells. “No matter how much we love the job, no-one wants to get up at that time unless they’re a complete moron. And let me tell you, TV3 is a dump. No-one wants to go to a place like that and sit down at a grubby desk, on a grotty chair, on horrible carpet, next to a computer,” he says as Hilary grins, letting us know that he’s exaggerating.
As much as Paul is loving the job, he says working so closely with Hilary has been the highlight. “I haven’t told you this,” he says to her, “but sitting next to you is fantastic. It has been the greatest joy of this show so far.”
And the feeling is mutual, with Hilary adding, “It’s been such great fun. Paul can talk with great intellect and humour on any topic at the drop of a hat. It’s really quite something.”
With the duo now on an equal footing, there’s no need for promise of a company car - which is just as well because this time round, an old rust bucket wouldn’t do the trick!
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