When Paul Holmes decided earlier this year to spend more time at his farm in Hastings, he couldn't have anticipated how grateful he would be for the extra hours he'd be sharing with his mum, Chrissie Hobson, who died on 10 August at the age of 85.
"I'm so glad Deborah and I chose this year to more or less base ourselves in Hawke's Bay because we spent so much more time with Mum than we would have if we'd been in Auckland," says Paul (59). "Deborah and Mum spent a lot of time together and formed a very strong bond, which means a lot to me."
Chrissie had a fall at the beginning of the year and Paul says she never really recovered her energy after that. "And in the last couple of weeks before she died, she had become more and more frail," he says. "She said to me, 'I don't want to be carted off in another bloody ambulance and I don't want to go into hospital.' And so one sunny morning she sat down in her armchair and she died."
Paul and Chrissie have always been very close and, throughout his career, she was an infrequent contributor to his radio shows. She first came to the New Zealand public's notice when she starred in a Wattie's baked beans commercial with Paul, saying, "He was a cheeky boy, but not cheeky cheeky."
In his biography, Holmes, Paul recalls the Saturday afternoons of his childhood listening to the races on the radio and hearing his mother saying, "Pipped at the bloody post" or "My bugger's still running," while she filled up the tins with fresh baking for the days ahead.
In the weeks following Chrissie's death, Paul has often found himself thinking, "Oh, I'll ask Mum," before realising she's no longer at the other end of the phone. "But," he says, "it was a great relief to know she went so quickly, so painlessly and so peacefully."
And Chrissie's passing has also caused her son to reflect on her long life. "You find out things about your Mum at her funeral. I didn't know how good she had been at her job as a legal executive at the Hastings law firm where she worked for 25 years. She pushed them into becoming the first law firm in Hawke's Bay with a computerised accounting system. She was legendary for her ability to run a pen down a line of figures and come up with the exact total in her head."
Chrissie's death has helped Paul to realise that the decision he made to leave NewstalkZB's breakfast show at the end of last year was the right one - it has given him the freedom to spend more time with those he loves, including 18-year-old son Reuben, who lives with him at the farm.
"At first, Reuben did accuse me of bringing him to the wop-wops, but he's made some good friends. The irony is that now I've got more time to spend with him, he's at an age when he just wants to go visiting his friends," he laughs. Deborah is committed to a real estate career in Hawke's Bay and Paul says she has fallen in love with the farm and is now reluctant to leave it. He explains, "I still have to work in Auckland but when I get to the farm, the gates open and close behind me and I drive up the driveway and think, 'Wow, this is special.' Then in the evening, Deborah and I will sit outside my little library and look across the hills. And I know I can just relax."
Despite the ongoing strain in his life involving his daughter Millie and her struggle with methamphetamine, Paul says he's the happiest he has been for some time. He and Deborah have come through the past five years with greater understanding of the damaging effect the drug P has on families.
"It has put an incredible pressure on our marriage and at times we both felt we were 'piggy in the middle'. So we decided, very early on, that this would not break us. "Deborah is patient, kind and funny. I rang her the other day to say how sorry I was that I had to stay in Auckland for a few more nights for work and she said, 'That's fine. A bit of space doesn't hurt anyone.'"
Paul says he's as busy, if not busier, than he has ever been with two newspaper columns, a daily radio comment on NewstalkZB, a TV one current affairs show called Q&A on Sunday mornings and his NewstalkZB show on Saturday mornings. He also has an olive oil business to run and recently made the highly rating documentary Chasing the Ghost about the ravages of P. He has now become involved in the Stellar Trust, working towards a reduction in the use of P.
He says despite being so obviously employed, he still gets people asking if he's managing to fill up his days now he has retired. "I don't know where people got the impression I was retiring," he says. "I was simply moving on to other things. I'm busier than ever and, to be honest, at the age of 59 I'm still in demand. "It's been a wonderful year, really," he continues. "I've won awards for my newspaper, radio and TV work, my olive oil is going splendidly and the work I do has given me some huge challenges."
It would seem that his mother's words at his final NewstalkZB breakfast broadcast last year have proven true. She said he had written a book, sung a song and danced with the stars, and, "I'm afraid to think what's coming next!"