Paul Henry's weathervane-like ability to attract attention was demonstrated in September 2010, when New Idea readers voted him New Zealand's favourite television personality. In an unforgettable acceptance speech — later a YouTube favourite — Henry gleefully read out a 'fan' letter from one viewer, who rained expletives and bad wishes upon him.
Paul Henry Hopes was born in Auckland, after his working class parents emigrated from the United Kingdom. At age 11 Paul and his mother returned to England, after his parents' separation. Transplanted to Bristol, a city "dominated by huge brick nicotine-stained factories", Henry developed "grand ideas of being a famous actor".
As he writes in 2011 bestseller What Was I Thinking, Henry lived his childhood dreams vicariously through celebrities, especially TV and radio stars. At high school Henry did best in drama, winning a scholarship to a local drama school. By now the 15-year-old had scored part-time work at BBC Radio Bristol, where he set about making himself indispensable.
Unsure where to call home, Henry spent periods in Aotearoa and England, before deciding at 21 that the UK was "too depressing". In this period he helped compile National Radio's all-night show, and did time at the BBC, including as a Natural History Unit projectionist, where he managed to unspool most of a reel on to the floor of the projection booth.
Henry went on to a variety of radio jobs, including stints as a Radio NZ bureaucrat, and mortgaging the house to launch, and later sell, Wairarapa station Today FM 89.3 (where he signed on Hilary Barry for her first job, as the station's one person news team). Later he would lose to former FM 89.3 staff member Georgina Beyer, after running as the National candidate for the Wairarapa electorate in the 1999 general election.
While at Radio Pacific in the mid 90s, Henry decided to travel to Bosnia, where he witnessed Serbian and Muslim children playing football in minefields, surrounded by bombed-out houses. Bosnia taught him the key "was to travel with no infrastructure to slow me down. With no resources, I had to push harder and take more risks". Further trips saw Henry providing a rare Kiwi voice from varied hot spots. In 1998, North and South wrote that he'd been "detained in Iraq, shot at in Cambodia, nearly lynched in the slums of Calcutta, threatened by the French navy at Mururoa and shelled in Bosnia."
Henry's Kiwi TV break had come in the late 80s, presenting two seasons of game show Every Second Counts. In 2004 he was invited to co-host TVNZ's two and a half hour long Breakfast. Rising at 4am, Henry described it as "the best programme at the worst time". Some days he found himself doing breakfast television, drive time radio and prime time television — like the time he interviewed actor Richard E Grant on Breakfast, Radio Pacific and then Close Up. Henry takes his hat off to Paul Holmes, who balanced breakfast radio and prime time TV for many years. "You cannot do it unless you're thinking all the time. You can't miss a beat."
When Paul Holmes left TVNZ, Henry was one of the contenders to take over his prime time slot. Ultimately he found himself working part-time on Close Up as fill-in host for both Susan Wood, and Wood's successor Mark Sainsbury.
In 2004, while in Tibet for this episode of Intrepid Journeys, Henry came up with the idea for four-parter Ends of the Earth. Juggled between other commitments, the show saw Henry and director Pietra Brettkelly travelling everywhere from Afghanistan to the Amazon, tracking down Kiwis working in remote corners of the planet. In the same period, producer Julie Christie invited Henry to host episodes of This is Your Life. "The chance was too good to pass up".
In his autobiography, Henry writes in detail about his departure from Breakfast after on-air comments about Indian politician Sheila Dikshit's name, and whether Governor-General Anand Satyanand was a New Zealander. In his resignation statement, Henry argued that his "style is conversational and of course unscripted. I walk the finest of lines and accept that I have inadvertently crossed it from time to time."
Henry returned to his drivetime slot on RadioLive, part of a five-year contract with MediaWorks, owners of TV3. In early 2012 he won a high-profile gig co-hosting Australian morning show Breakfast. He was nominated for best presenter after hosting the Kiwi version of celebrity panel show Would I Lie to You. His second book Outraged, a collection of opinion pieces, was published in 2013.
With the demise of TV3's Nightline, Henry began hosting late night news show The Paul Henry Show in 2014; the first episode saw him showing Prime Minister John Key a series of photos, and asking him which person he could trust. In October TV3 owner Mediaworks announced that Henry was set to move to a "unique" morning show that would be simultaneously broadcast on TV3, RadioLIVE and on the web. The three-hour long Paul Henry debuted at 6am on 7 April 2015. Before it went to air, Henry told Sunday Star-Times journalist Michelle Duff that "essentially the programme is me, because it's my view on everything and people with opposing views to mine talking to me about my views and their views and trying to win."
Henry resigned from the show on 16 December 2016, and later said that he would never "go back to full-time work". (Paul Henry was relaunched the following year as The AM Show). After spending time in Palm Springs and on board his 80 foot boat, Henry approached Three during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic about the idea of hosting a show about life after lockdown. Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry debuted on Three on 20 April 2020. The show was set to broadcast four nights a week for four weeks. "We have a fantastic foundation in New Zealand on which we can work together and build a brilliant future," said Henry. "What do we want New Zealand to look like in six months? In 12 months? We get to decide."
Profile written by Ian Pryor; updated on 22 April 2020
Paul Henry, with Paul Little, What Was I Thinking — A Memoir (Auckland: Random House, 2011)
Danielle Clent, 'Television presenter Paul Henry to host new current affairs show during coronavirus lockdown' (Interview) Stuff website. Loaded 15 April 2020. Accessed 22 April 2020
Simon Collins, 'Survival with a satellite-phone' (Interview) — City Voice, 15 April 1999, Page 10
Michelle Duff, 'Paul Henry is larger than life' (Interview) — The Sunday Star-Times, 3 April 2015
Kim Knight, 'The man who eats guests for breakfast' (Interview) — The Sunday Star-Times, 30 August 2009
Alice O'Connell, 'Why Paul Henry is sailing the world for his mum' (Interview) — The New Zealand Women's Weekly, 10 July 2018
'Paul Henry's resignation statement' (Press Release- broken link). TVNZ website. Loaded 10 October 2010. Accessed 3 October 2012
Unknown writer, 'Paul Henry's Rebuilding Paradise to premiere April 20 on Three' Newshub website. Loaded 14 April 2020. Accessed 22 April 2020
Unknown writer, 'Paul Henry is loving life after retiring from TV' Stuff website. Loaded 23 April 2017. Accessed 22 April 2020