Paul’s mum Olive loved singing, her family and travel, and was a geography buff. Now he’s taking her on a sentimental journey.
Jul 10, 2018 8:31am
By Alice O'Connell
There were many things that brought Olive Hopes great joy during her long life.
Paramount, of course, was time spent with her son and her three granddaughters, but in her later years, it was also scoring the correct answers at her retirement village's quiz nights (often for the geography questions), and hearing a good travel story, particularly if it was being told by her son Paul. She liked to sing − one of her favourites was Far Away Places – and so it was only fitting that a video of her singing it was played at her funeral.
Now, nearly 18 months after her death, she'd surely be thrilled by this next chapter of her son's life.
Back in 2016, her son, former broadcaster Paul Henry, was in the midst of building a boat – a decent sized one at 80ft – when Olive's health began failing. She was 86 years old when she passed away in his arms that December, just three days before Paul permanently signed off from his breakfast television and radio programme The Paul Henry Show.
In his retirement, he planned to take the boat around the world, and now there was only one name for the boat – Olive.
"Mum and me were a team, and we spent many, many years on our own together," reflects Paul.
"She was my biggest cheerleader and lived her life for me. She loved travel and in her final years talked about going on a cruise, but she'd left it too late. She was too frail."
Now, Paul is ensuring that her dream is being realised. Olive's namesake was launched in a little town in the Netherlands called Heusden on May 7 – coincidentally on what would have been her 88th birthday.
Paul will now spend the next few years pottering around in his boat, travelling to as many strange-sounding locations as he can, aiming to bring her home to New Zealand in time for the America's Cup in 2021.
Paul (57) designed the boat so Olive is very much a part of it.
"There's little things of her everywhere – her name is even on the little coasters – but there are the big things of her too," he explains.
"The flooring in 'The Olive Suite' actually has her ashes in it, and the whole suite is decorated with olive-coloured furnishings. In the centre of the boat is a dome of olive glass and that one's really special – it also has her ashes in it. The number of times I've walked to the boat at night and you can really see that Olive glass lit up from quite a distance; it really is like she's guiding me and is on this trip with me."
Paul says he can feel her presence on the boat and it's often in unexpected ways.
He tells that one of his favourite times has become night, when he takes a shift manning the boat – he has two staff on board as maritime law requires someone to be on duty while they're on the move, so he does his share.
"It's pitch black and you can't see a thing," he explains.
"But then you'll see on one of the screens that there's a ship 10 nautical miles away, and you just get closer and closer until you pass each other – occasionally they'll talk to you, y'know, radio something to you, but even in the silence, you just feel this camaraderie being out there in the middle of the ocean.
"It's hard to explain, but they're a significant thing when they happen. Last week, we passed a seriously huge ship – thousands of tonnes – and it radioed through to say it was slowing down to let Olive pass, so they radio through, 'Olive, Olive Olive…'"
And it's hearing those words over and over again throughout this trip that is making it such an incredible time for Paul.
"It's like it's keeping her alive," he confides. "You come into port and you hear them on the radio saying, 'Olive, Olive, Olive, take lane five.' Her name is mentioned all the time and I do very much feel that she's on this journey with me."
It's a lot of time alone with his thoughts for Paul, but he's already locked in family and friends to pay the occasional visit. His daughter Bella has already been on board – she was the one to officially launch the boat in May.
"It's a shame my other two, Sophie and Lucy, couldn't be there, but that was understandable," tells Paul.
"But in saying that, it was perfect that it was Bella to launch it. All the girls were very close to my mother, but Bella had her last sleepover with her.
"She stayed up talking to her all night and I took over in the morning to spend those last hours with her. It was just really appropriate that Bella was able to launch the boat, and she said some lovely things and some funny words because my mother was a funny woman."
Bella (25) says she struggled with what to say in the speech, but that it was important to toast her nan and get across what she would have wanted to say.
"I used to visit her about three times a week," tells Bella.
"And she'd always ask the same things – 'How is Paul? Is he happy?' She always worried about his happiness – he's a very particular person who can struggle with people and life at times, and she worried about him, so I wanted it to come across in the speech that she didn't need to worry about him any more – he was doing what would make them happy.
And she always just wanted to spend time with Dad and now she is – it's the two of them out there together."
When she first heard about the plan, though, Bella – who was a make-up artist on his TV show and now works on The AM Show – admits she was sceptical.
"I thought it was stupid at first," she laughs.
"I mean, I like the idea and I really want him to be happy, but the thing about my dad is he gets bored of things. He changes his mind. It's like quitting his job – normally he gets bored and wants to work again, which I thought he'd do this time, but he hasn't!"
When she saw the boat, she was stunned.
"It's beautiful. My dad is very kooky and the inside of this boat is, well, it's fashion tacky. I'm tacky too – I love it, but dad has made it beautiful somehow. Everything clashes and is too much, but in a really great way so that it actually matches. It's insane, but it's perfect and it's just so him."
Bella says she's seen a change in him since he moved to Palm Springs following Olive's death and leaving his job on the telly.
"He even has people he hangs out with – friends! – which is weird for him," she laughs. But she puts a lot of his happiness down to the fact that he's not "Paul Henry" over there – he can be whoever he wants to be, or just himself.
Paul agrees that he's relishing the anonymity. "I loved what I did when I did it, but I certainly never craved an audience," he admits.
He says some people may find it hard to believe, given his very public job, but he's always considered himself a recluse. And he thinks people would be surprised to learn how many people on the TV share a similar outlook.
"Of course, there are the ones who love the adulation," he tells. "But I know people like me who really liked doing the job, not the being a 'celebrity' part, and just wanted to do the job and go home to the garden, or to go out onto the water and be alone."
But nearly two years after giving it all up, does he have days where he misses it?
"Not. One. Moment."
Yes, a little part of him did wonder if he would miss the opportunity to express his views, but it turns out, he doesn't.
"It's funny," he pauses. "Because I had to be on top of the news all the time, it ruled my life. I never stopped to think whether I wanted to be or not – I just had to be for the job. Now I don't have to and it's surprising how well you can get on without knowing this stuff," he says, erupting into laughter.
Paul is all about his priorities now. He doesn't believe in regrets or living in the past, but he does look back on some choices he has made and sees there could have been a better way of doing it.
"Y'know, if I'd spent a little bit less time at work and a little bit more time with the children, or my mother… but you can't spend your time thinking like that – you've just got to live. No-one will give you back today."
And it's with all that in mind that Paul's making sure to live in the moment – not putting off any of his dreams and seeing through the ones his mother didn't get to see. He says he talked about wanting to retire and go sailing around the world for years and that he knew it was now or never.
"Too many people are waiting to live," he sighs.
"Everyone is guilty of that to some extent – the number of times you'll hear people say, 'Oh, I want to do that, I just have to wait for this event, or to pay off that, or retire,' or whatever it is. It's like people literally are waiting to live, but the tragedy is many people never actually get to live because they wait too long."
But not Paul. He's built the boat and is living out the dream. His three daughters are all locked in to join him on upcoming legs of his world trip – and one of those will be extra special as his eldest daughter Lucy is days away from having her first child.
"It's brilliant," says Paul, who is chuffed to welcome his first grandchild.
"It's just incredible. Mum always said to me, 'Paul – have the time of your life.' And you know what? I am and I'm doing it with her."