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September 19, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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One Night Only: The Paul Henry Experience

No one exudes manliness like that paragon of testosterone Paul Henry. Salienteer Jono McLeod got a once in a lifetime chance to come face to face with him and hopefully glean some clues as to what constitutes the kiwi male. This is what happened.

Paul Henry does not like sport. Not even rugby. With all the hype around Rugby World Cup 2011, Paul probably wouldn’t mind going into hibernation for six weeks while the country goes shit-crazy over the All Blacks. Despite being invited to the World Cup opening ceremony and game, he plans on taking up an invitation to the Royal New Zealand Yacht squadron that evening because “there will be a better view of the fireworks.” This intrigues me. How has a man who has been involved in the New Zealand media for more years than I have been alive, managed to survive without an ounce of interest in something that is one of our most important national pastimes? It is difficult for this regular sports columnist to swallow that there is a New Zealand male who wouldn’t give his left nut to watch the All Blacks win the World Cup.

Sport and the All Blacks is one of New Zealand’s most masculine institutions. One of the dominant stereotypes of a Kiwi male is one that is sat at home, or in the pub, on a Saturday night, with an ice cold beer in his hand, screaming obscenities at the referee who never seems to hear us. However, an evening with Paul Henry and he can be forgiven for this anti-nationalist misdemeanour.

Dinner with Paul Henry came about because my mum won a competition through the purchase of his recently released book, which was lovingly sent to me as a valued distraction from my studies. The evening began with being picked up from the Skycity Grand Hotel in Auckland. Katie, the Group Marketing Manager for MediaWorks, drove us to the RadioLive studios in a Solid Gold 93.8FM compact crossover SUV where were met by a red-wine-toting Paul Henry, who was taking some time out during a commercial break from the ‘Paul Henry Drive’ (his 3-6pm radio show). He asked if we were the winners and as I shook his spare hand I suggested that in fact he was the real winner this evening, to which he quickly replied “have you been thinking of that response all day?”

We then got to watch Paul in action from his content producer’s (Mark) office as he mused on the day’s news. Meanwhile, Mark made the appropriate preparations for Paul’s next interviewee. He made sure they were in ear-shot of their phone and gave them a run down on how the interview may go. He made sure he told the person on the other end of the phone however, who is someone to do with luxury tourism, that you never quite know where Paul might take things. At the end of the interview, from his technical director’s (Lindsey) booth, we hear Paul tell her in his typically up front and brutally honest manner, “well she wasn’t very good was she”.

As we leave the studio, Paul enlightens us with some reasoning behind his uniquely casual dress sense for the evening. He was wearing one green converse shoe and one red converse shoe. Simply, the explanation was that they are his nautical shoes. Red, left; green, right. But don’t worry, the other shoes that make up the pairs are not wasted, those are his Christmas shoes. This particular aspect of his attire seems in sharp contrast to the man whose unashamed enjoyment of luxury is clear. Fine wine, big boat, the Mustang that sits in waiting at LAX; non-matching chucks. It’s a pleasant juxtaposition. The Solid Gold vehicle clearly does not compare to his Mustang as he randomly nitpicks about the car, but about nothing in particular. It seems like more of a general disdain.

The scene for the rest of the evening is Clooney Restaurant. Winner of Cuisine’s Restaurant of the Year Award in 2009 and “probably the coolest restaurant in Auckland,” this was going to be an experience (see clooney.co.nz). It was the type of place that only Paul Henry would get into with his nautical shoes. We were asked if we wanted to have a drink at the bar or at our table as we waited for Mark to arrive from bathing his baby and Lindsey making sure that the advertisements were cued through RadioLive’s broadcast of TV3 news. Paul insisted that we go to the table because that way he could order some fries and aioli. The owner came to introduce himself (I think he came out because of Paul, not me) and informed us that they had chosen the wines for the evening; Pinot Gris was poured into Paul’s glass and Pinot Noir into mine. This would occur a number of times throughout the night as my wine glass seemed to be a bottomless one, topped up before I could ever finish it. I don’t think that this was the kind of wine that was suitable for the Sangria I usually make in a blue, clam-shaped paddling pool.

Eventually, Mark and Lindsey arrived and we ordered immediately because Paul was hungry, and he had been waiting a while. Just like you don’t want to keep a child waiting for their food too long because they can get cranky, I imagine Paul would be similar. So our orders were placed and before long the head waiter re-emerged to politely ask if we would mind if he brought out a dozen Waiheke Island oysters compliments of the chef. Paul wasn’t keen, but we weren’t going to say no. However, shortly after, it wasn’t oysters that were placed in front of us but a different complimentary dish that consisted of kingfish and cucumber foam. Now, I have watched enough reality cooking shows to know that foams and purees are all the hype, however I have never tried one. It really only needs one word to describe it, “wow,” but I will attempt to use a few more. For what was essentially green air, it was unbelievable how much flavour there was in it. Mark called it “a shot of summer”, which it was, and we quite unusually concluded that the kingfish was almost a sideshow to this green foam, the mere medium through which it could be enjoyed.

We surmised that the reason this dish had been brought out was because Paul had not expressed an interest in the oysters. However, it did not take long before a dozen, beautifully fresh oysters were presented atop a mound of ice. Paul was determined not to try one, especially after a not so positive review from Lindsey who was his taste-test guinea-pig. But after some coaxing of his ego and the fact that those of us who liked them were saying they were the best we’d ever had, it seemed as if he would bite the cold, salty bullet. So here you are Paul, I promised I would immortalise this historic event, this is me coming good. Paul took the oyster in his hand, removed the “croute” (at the time we assumed that crouton might be the plural of the singular “croute”) because we told him it added an unusual texture to the whole experience, and then he ate the whole thing in one. He didn’t seem too disgusted which was pleasing, but then he said “that was absolutely horrible, I will never eat one of those again”. Well at least he’s sure now.
The entrees came and went, and though Paul enjoyed his beetroot, he wished he had ordered the scallops like mum and I. Then the mains arrived, Paul, Lindsey and I having ordered the Angus Beef. We had been waiting anxiously because Paul had given us some advice that we had not taken heed of. He ordered his beef medium, expecting medium-rare because he believes that these days, chefs are cooking their red-meat rarer than they have in the past. However, Lindsey and I had stuck with ordering medium-rare, expecting medium-rare. The first piece was spot on, but the second was on the rare side, vindicating Paul to a certain extent.

Five pieces of advice Paul would give you:
1. When a waiter suggests you change your order, change your order. Lindsey had ordered the Roquefort Papillon, curious about what it actually was. Well it was to do with cheese, and we had also ordered a cheese board for the table. The waiter suggested a change and Paul made sure she did. (Potential title for this story: ‘Paul tells woman what she is allowed to have for dessert’?).
2. Don’t own a super yacht. It allows the crew to live the high-life, not you. You have all the stress of owning such a boat, while keeping a crew on retainer to do very little.
3. Go and watch Glee 3D. “It’s fantastic”.
4. Unless you want to be driven off the road by a . maniacal Paul Henry, don’t own a campervan.
5. If you lost your virginity to a Mormon, don’t tell him while he is in the middle of a live radio show that is broadcast throughout the country (sorry Mark).

The desserts came and Katie pointed out that the deconstructed lemon meringue pie looked like the process of fertilisation in pregnancy. Thanks Katie. I reckon it tasted much better though, not that I know what the latter tastes like. Then the evening was topped off with a fine cognac and the usual ‘nice-to-meet-you-I-had-a-lovely-evening’ pleasantries. If Paul didn’t like us, he hid it well, and I know that this is one of his finest attributes as he has bluffed his way through many a sticky situation with nothing but “a little comprehension”. For example, he has been at the wrong end of a gun barrel on more than one occasion in search of stories in Bosnia, Central Africa and Cambodia, escaping death by knowing the value of carrying a carton of cigarettes with him at all times; and managed to be a TV presenter despite being dyslexic and a technophobe, well you can just change some of the words that come up on the teleprompter. I just cling to the fact that if he thought we were ‘retards’, he would have told us.

So clearly there is more to the New Zealand male than just liking rugby (although it is important). Paul Henry represents the New Zealand male in the way he unforgivingly, not intolerantly, speaks his mind and the ballsy attitude he has towards life, defying death as a war correspondent on numerous occasions, living up to the title of his book: What Was I Thinking. Although readers may be thinking that this article didn’t focus on the gender issue much, well that’s because there were more interesting things to talk about. But to make the concession that it does not matter to me that Paul Henry won’t be watching the All Blacks raise the World Cup in six weeks time, is BIG. Paul Henry, congratulations, you’re the first man I have said that about. You may even be the last.

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