At first it’s not apparent how Paul Henry and Annabelle White became best friends. He’s a sharp-tongued perfectionist who admits to being deeply antisocial by nature; she’s charmingly chaotic, with boundless energy and a complete inability to say no to people.
But theirs is a relationship that truly works – to the point that Paul says Annabelle is one of the people he’ll miss most when he leaves next month to take up his post as Australia’s newest breakfast-show host.
But he promises he’ll be back every New Year’s to be with Annabelle – just as they have done for the past six years, at Paul’s bach in Napier.
The affection between the TV star and the chef is undeniable, and both Paul and Annabelle say the precious time they spend together in Napier is something they treasure greatly.
“Annabelle is my best friend, I love her dearly,” says Paul. “She always sees the best in people and does far too much for everyone. She cares too much – it’s a nasty habit. That’s why she needs me,” he adds with his trademark deadpan tone.
“I’m going to miss Paul hugely when he leaves,” says Annabelle (53). “He’s the person who brings reason and laughter into an otherwise chaotic world.” The Weekly’s food editor is one of few regular visitors to the holiday home Paul gleefully describes as “hokey”.
Indeed, Annabelle has her own bedroom, labelled “Only for people who’ve climbed Te Mata Peak” – something she does almost every time she visits. “The bach is really different to my ordered life at home – it’s what I love about it,” says Paul, who is 51 – “much younger than Annabelle”, he playfully points out.
“I’ve spent my whole life trying to surround myself with opulence, but the bach is completely the opposite.” There are undeniably a few token gestures to Paul’s “other life”, such as the new plasma screen – although he refuses to upgrade beyond having Freeview TV.
But the outdoor shower, park bench-style table and the entertainment trolley that boasts a wonky wheel are clearly what makes the bach the perfect getaway for the two busy stars to stop and just enjoy each other’s company.
“People say a man and a woman can’t be friends, but I think of Paul as my surrogate husband – I ‘get’ Paul,” says Annabelle. “He makes me feel better for spending time with him and he makes me laugh at things I want to cry about.
“He’s kind of like an agony aunt for me. And he gives me the line in the sand where I need to say no, which I’m not very good at. He takes control.”
And that control comes in many forms, from telling her where to park her car when she arrives at the bach – “he’s very particular about parking” – to trying to organise the enormous pile of groceries she brings with her when she arrives.
“She turns up with a mini skip of food,” despairs Paul, whose bach boasts one small fridge and two small hotplates, plus a barbecue, which Annabelle gave Paul as a present when he threw out the oven, declaring it dirty.
“An enormous quantity of product has to be offloaded from the car. Even if she’s had a hideous journey, she’ll bound out like a box of birds and present me with 30 boxes of strawberries she’s bought on the way down, all of which have to be eaten that night.
Even if I had three fridges, Annabelle would still stuff them to capacity. She brings a combination of loveliness and chaos to the bach.”
Not surprisingly, food plays a big role during the pair’s getaways, with much of the produce coming from local markets and stalls. “Annabelle’s a cookaholic,” declares Paul. “There’s a cheap microwave, a couple of pots and the hotplates, and a blender. And out of that, Annabelle will make feasts. When she’s around, we could cater for 10 people at any time!”
But despite Annabelle’s inability to leave the kitchen for any length of time, the pair say they truly relax when they are together. “The thing about going to Napier is that we’re only there for a short period of time, so you have to enjoy it – I insist on it,” says Paul, who Annabelle says has “no off switch”.
Which is why the pair are often found indulging in their other favourite holiday activities – reading, their daily evening walk and swimming. “I only ever have an evening walk while I’m in Napier and I always look for excuses not to do it, but Annabelle makes sure it happens,” says Paul.
He will happily take a stroll along the beach, but refuses to walk with Annabelle when she takes her Nordic “sticks”. “I don’t let her take the poles. It’s a no-Nordicwalking- stick zone. Absolutely embarrassing,” jokes Paul.
But while Annabelle is the walking monitor, it’s Paul who takes charge when it comes to swimming in Napier’s treacherous waters. “It’s a dangerous beach, getting through the waves can be a life-changing experience,” says Paul, who is a strong swimmer. “The thing is, Annabelle is nuggety.
There have been days where she’s said 10,
15 times, ‘I’ve had a look and it’s safe to swim!’ I have to tell her it’s not okay.” True to form, Paul’s in control when it comes to entering and exiting the water too. “Once Paul’s worked out whether it’s appropriate to swim, I get instructions on how to get in and out safely,” says Annabelle. “But he’s right, it’s dangerous.”
Once the swim’s over, it’s time for the pair’s next ritual – the hosing down in the solar-powered outdoor shower. “Paul has a real thing about sand so all guests have to get hosed down before they’re allowed back in the house or car,” explains Annabelle.
But despite – or perhaps because of – the pair’s idiosyncrasies, it’s clear spending time in each other’s company is something Paul and Annabelle hold very dear. “A couple of years ago, my doctor told me I needed a holiday.
When I told him I was going with Paul, he asked me if I needed extra medication so I could get a rest!” laughs Annabelle. “But being with Paul is my favourite place to be.”
“Annabelle is fantastic,” says Paul. “I told her one year that the best thing in her life is me and the best time to be together is for New Year’s. She’s enthusiastic, she doesn’t shy away from anything and she’s incredibly thoughtful. I absolutely love her.”