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Come dine with me: The secret life of Paul Henry

The TV host entertains illusions of grandeur with a dream dinner party
Paul Henry siting on some stairs with his cane in one hand and a bowler hat on his headPhotos: Rob Trathen

“I love a Woman’s Weekly photo shoot,” declares Paul Henry wryly, posing up a storm at Auckland’s The Convent Hotel ahead of the launch of season two of The Traitors NZ.

In one hand is Paul’s now-trademark cane (it’s a dog, not a duck, as many assume), on his head is a dapper hat, and pinned to his chest is a dazzling brooch. He exudes the charisma and larger-than-life persona that New Zealanders have come to know him for – whether they are fans of the 63-year-old or not.

“It is interesting, you know. I have my lovers and my haters, which is one of the things I love about me,” he says unapologetically. “To polarise, for someone to hate you, you’ve really done your job. It’s not indifference. Indifference is the worst thing in the world. Wouldn’t that be a nightmare?!”

The pin is a deliberate choice. Set with diamonds and pearls, it’s a special purchase from Louis Vuitton in Beverly Hills. Paul’s wife Diane Foreman bought it for him for The Traitors. He loves brooches, from the extravagant to costume jewellery.

Paul Henry wearing his brooch, sitting on a chair and holding his cane
The proud husband wears his Louis Vuitton brooch from Diane like a badge of honour.

“Brooches add a whole other dimension of theatre to an outfit,” he explains. “Everyone has an opinion. It can also be polarising, but it adds drama and a splash of magic to what may otherwise have been a somewhat ordinary look.”

Paul’s flair for theatrics might, he thinks, stem from his disadvantaged childhood where there was a lack of food and clothing.

“I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but when I was living that life with my mum, of very tight boundaries for financial reasons, you dream,” he says. “You are theatrical. Your whole life operates on a different plane, not the reality that surrounds you. So, I think that’s where that side of me probably comes from. In my head, I created this narrative that had no basis of truth.

“I convinced myself, for instance, that I was an estranged member of the royal family. I’m not entirely sure it’s not true,” he deadpans.

The drama – and Paul’s ability to dream big – leads, over lunch, to an in-depth discussion of the ‘dinner party’ game. This involves choosing three people with whom you would most love to converse over a meal.

Topping Paul’s list is Dame Judi Dench, who, he says, is not to be confused with Dame Helen Mirren.

Paul Henry with his arm around wife Diane's shoulder
With wife Diane.

“I juxtapose them because people would see them as similar,” he explains. “They’re approximately the same age, they have had more or less the same paths, and they’re certainly both great actors. But Judi Dench has a class, sophistication and majesty that I think sets her apart.

“You may wonder if I’m fixated with older women,” he laughs, moving the game on. “But number two is former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. I know everyone talks about Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton (how awful having her for dinner) but Madeleine, I think, would have suffered few fools. I’m sure she would have suffered me.”

And the third? “A little part of me is intrigued by the life of Judge Judy. I love a woman who commutes from one side of a phenomenally large country to the other to work, in her early 70s and beyond, in her own plane. If she has to stay overnight, she often stays on her superyacht. And she supports a huge extended family.”

Enjoying himself, Paul launches into his top three choices of Kiwi dinner-party guests. Robin Scholes, one of the country’s most experienced film producers, is top of mind. Credited with classics including Once Were Warriors, as well as television shows and documentaries, she would be, Paul insists, “damned entertaining”.

“I have never had a sit-down chat with [actor] Sam Neill, and I can’t understand why,” Paul continues, before adding with a grin, “I’m not saying this to get an invite to sit in one of Sam’s paddocks drinking his wine!”

Paul holding his hat in the air, with his cane in the other hand
Fancy that! Paul revels in the theatre of life, including indulging his flair for fashion.

Another top contender is Judith Ablett Kerr, a leading criminal defence lawyer in New Zealand. But ultimately Paul settles on celebrated poet Sam Hunt as his third and final dream dinner guest.

“I reckon Sam Neill would get on brilliantly with Sam Hunt,” he says, adding that the latter has a good way of testing how genuine people are.

The poet is a close personal friend of Paul’s who has reinforced the idea of appreciating the world around you, because wonder can be found anywhere.

“He has a very fine-tuned way of looking at New Zealand,” Paul reflects. “I remember once walking to his back door with him and, all of a sudden, he stopped. So I had to stop because he was just in front of me. He told me to ‘look over there’ where there were some tōtara trees with long grass growing up their trunks. I asked him what we were looking at and he said, ‘Pegs.’

“There was a bit of twine between two trees with some nasty, cheap, miserable-looking coloured plastic clothes pegs clipped to the line. It needed to be thrown out, but you looked at it and realised you couldn’t replicate it. That whole setting needed to be put in the Tate Modern. It was magnificent, and he saw it and it stopped him in his tracks. He elevated it from what it actually was.”

The same idea, Paul believes, could be applied to pretty much anything. “It’s just your way of looking at the world, I suppose, and how you choose to spend the perilously short amount of time you’ll have. Some people see the theatre.”

Paul has had a successful broadcasting career spanning decades, announcing his semi-retirement in 2016. He and Diane now enjoy travelling the world together, splitting their time between New Zealand and the US. Paul also continues to juggle multiple projects.

The Olive boat on the water

There’s his 90-tonne boat, named Olive after his beloved mum who passed away in 2016. Paul made headlines last year, as he often does, when he put the vessel up for sale.

“I suppose my idea was to get a bigger boat,” he reflects. “Having a boat is all-consuming and I don’t think many boat owners are happy with the boat they have for very long. I became fixated on a bigger boat, and actually selected the one I wanted, which was in Portugal. But everything about buying it would have been barking mad.

“At the very time people started to inquire seriously about Olive, the boat in Portugal sold, and it made me think I could live without a bigger boat. I took Olive off the market and straight away felt so good. So, she’s sitting there, all ready to go to Fiji and beyond next year.”

There’s also his special brand of gin, The Henry. “It’s just another bit of theatre,” he says. “Fabulously good gin.”

Taking inspiration from two of his dream dinner-party guests, Judi Dench and Sam Hunt, Paul has also started reading poetry for his followers on Instagram (@thehenryspirit) after seeing a clip of Judi doing the same.

“I didn’t think it was a particularly well-crafted poem. But Judi just brought it to life,” Paul says. “Poems are to be performed, they’re something to witness and absorb yourself in, rather than just reading a pile of words on a page, which is why Sam Hunt is very much a performance poet.”

While Paul says 2023 was, “just another year, really”, there are some definite highlights on the horizon in 2024. He’ll visit Palm Springs where he has a home, enjoy the New Zealand summer sailing Olive, and spend plenty of time with Diane, a successful businesswoman, who Paul is incredibly proud of. “She’s so filled with ideas and plans,” he says.

Paul holding up a glass of gin on the back of his boat
Enjoying a splash of The Henry gin on board Olive.

Paul is a dad to Lucy, 35, who lives in Melbourne with her husband Frank, 42, as well as Sophie, 33, and Bella, 31. He is also a granddad to Reihan Henry, six, and Mina Olive, two. As the Weekly went to print, youngest daughter Bella and husband Julyan Collett, 34, are awaiting the arrival of twins.

“There’s something very special about twins,” Paul says. Meanwhile, Diane is getting a lot of joy from knitting for the new arrivals and putting together wonderful baby gifts.

And of course, there’s Paul’s return to the small screen. Season two of The Traitors NZ brings together a group of 22 contestants, including two “traitors” whose goal is to eliminate the “faithful” contestants by “murdering” them one by one.

Season one involved a mix of local celebs and everyday Kiwis, a decision Paul somewhat disagreed with because he believed the show would be better without the household names. This year, he has his wish.

“Every single contestant will be a personality to every audience member. The show will create celebrity in them. The contestants get to know each other as the audience gets to know them,” he says.

“This year contestants are not familiar with television and so they’re not second-guessing the way they look or trying to protect or project their celebrity persona. They’re straightaway immersed in the game,” Paul says.

He is also thrilled with the new location, Claremont Manor. Located at the foot of the South Island’s Mt Horrible, it has “almost as many secrets and lies as the show!” Paul says.

“We’ve elevated The Traitors this time around,” he smiles. “There’s even more drama and theatre. It’s brilliant.”

Paul, Diane and their three daughters
Paul and Diane with his girls (from left) Sophie, Lucy and Bella.

Quick fire

What is your number-one song to pick yourself up?

You can’t go past Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty.

Quote to live by?

“You are where you are because that’s where you want to be.”

Place you haven’t been that you would like to go?


The New Zealand destination you’d most like to visit this winter?

It would be somewhere in Canterbury because winter in Canterbury is more beautiful than summer in Auckland. It’s stunning.

What is the book you have given away more than any other?

That’s easy. We Were Liars by E Lockhart. If I achieve nothing else from this story in the Weekly but promote this book to a couple of people, I have done my job. It will entertain you in a way most books can’t. It’s stunningly magical to the last line.

Stream The Traitors NZ first on ThreeNow from Monday July 1 and at 7pm on Three every Monday and Tuesday.

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