Funny and charismatic, outspoken and occasionally brutally inappropriate, Paul Henry has long been a polarising figure. But after an extended three-month holiday through America and Australia following the demise of his Channel 10 breakfast TV show, the love-him-or-hate-him Kiwi presenter of 26 years is back in New Zealand and about to embark on a new phase of his life. When the Weekly catches up with him, Paul is delightedly back in the company of two of the few people (all female) who really matter to him – his daughters, Lucy and Bella.
“There are very few certainties in my world, but an absolute love for my girls is one of them – they are the backbone to my life,” says dad-of-three Paul (53), as he affectionately prods his youngest daughter Bella (19) into position for the camera in the back garden of his north Auckland home.
“They know it in every possible way – because I tell them constantly. I text all three of them at least twice a day, email about every two days and bombard them with supplementary information about my life, and ask them about theirs. They know absolutely, without question, that I love them completely.”
While Paul’s middle daughter, Sophie (22), prefers to shun the spotlight – “she likes to stay under the radar, and I admire and respect her for it” – Lucy (24) and Bella are a great double-act counterpoint to their dad. Their personalities are almost polar opposites. Where Bella is cheeky and extrovert (like a female version of her father), Lucy, an oncology nurse, is quieter and more thoughtful.
“I know what he’s like – and contrary to some people’s beliefs, he really, truly doesn’t care at all what others think of him,” says Lucy. “Like Australia – I know people find it hard to believe, but he isn’t remotely bothered that it didn’t work out. That’s his nature.”
While the irrepressible entertainer clearly gets annoyed at the false reports – including two fake Twitter accounts created under his name that have fed incorrect information, and that he has retreated to lick his wounds after his trans-Tasman experiment foundered – it’s difficult to find any trace of disappointment.
“I never ran away. I don’t speak to any media except The Weekly, so everything else written about me has been made up,” he says. “I just live my life. I’ve been in America, which I love. I have a manager and production company in America, and a bit of work over there. I’m starring in a short movie in June – if ‘starring’ is what you actually do in short movies! – which is quite exciting, and I’ll be back on screen at TV3 in the not-too-distant future.”
But while Paul is clearly not concerned about his work, or what people think of him, there are plenty of people doing the fretting for him – most notably Lucy. “He’s a real fun-time dad – he takes us to amazing places and we’ve been on fantastic holidays. But, yes, I do worry about him,” she admits. “Really talented people find everyday life quite difficult, and Dad is nothing like how people think he is. We are very close and I truly understand him. But sometimes he makes me sad. Dad will have a blast doing fun things, and is incredibly charismatic, but he finds practical or emotional issues really difficult. I’ve had some of the best times with Dad – but it’s Mum [Paul’s ex-wife Rachael Hopes] who’s been the parent for us since we were little. She has done so much.”
Both girls agree that fun he may be, but a practical parent – not so much. “The great thing about Dad is that he’s always praising us, letting us know how proud he is – but he hasn’t always been around,” says Bella.
And while Paul has always been very guarded about his relationships and sex – although when we have boyfriends we really have to talk them up. Although Dad tries to be nice, you can see it’s a huge effort for him! He finds it hard to let any other men into our lives because he’s worried they’ll stop us reaching our full potential.”
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine what brave lad would put himself under the scrutiny of a man so clearly besotted with his daughters. But, insists Paul, the most important thing is whether they have learned the tools to navigate life.
“My children are now, to a degree, adults,” he says. “Parts of my history have bothered all the girls in the past and even though they can see I handle it well, there’s still a level of concern. But what they realise, I think, I hope, is that even spectacular failure, if that’s what I’ve had, is spectacular in itself.
“I believe the most important thing you can ever have in life is experience, and they’ve seen me have a lot of that. I think life is a risk worth taking – and I hope they do just that.”
5 Reasons I adore my girls
1 They are all individuals. They are different, have strong personalities and broad vision. That is the most important thing anyone can have – a good personality will beat a good education every time.
2 Our relationships are open and transparent. We talk frankly about everything – fun stuff, serious stuff, and each other. It’s interesting to get their perspectives.
3 They are intimately aware of my flaws and adore me anyway. I think they like my slightly cavalier attitude and can see the entertainment value in my insanity.
4 They experiment with many things. They appreciate that life is too short to spend it doing only one thing. I’ve seen people who have never taken a risk lose everything through the global financial crisis – not taking a risk doesn’t mean you won’t come a cropper.
5 They are brilliant company. Bella and I travel well, and Lucy and I hang out for hours just talking and watching TV. Sophie and I have the best time going to restaurants and critiquing people – something we’re both very good at. I love being with them all.
On a recent holiday together, Paul and Bella had a blast, living it up large in the United States
Photos: Michelle Hyslop • Makeup: Jules Armishaw. Styling: Lisa Taylor. Opening Page: Paul Wears Three Wise Men Shirt. Bella Wears Gorman Dress. Lucy Wears Just Jeans Top And Jeans. This Spread: Paul Wears Mr Vintage T-Shirt. Lucy Wears Augustine Pants, Charmaine Reveley Top, Overland Shoes. Bella Wears Gorman Dress And Diva Necklace