Reviewed – Paul Henry, What Was I Thinking

To be honest, I bought this book on Kindle out of curiosity to learn, if I could, what the fuss was about with Paul Henry – the enfant terrible of New Zealand media.

I then went and firstly read the final few chapters which deal with his time on TVNZ and the issues that led to him leaving, and his subsequent decision to return to radio.

This book, like its author, is, at times, intense – maniacally interesting, at times self reflective, and often brutally honest.

The thing is, despite my tut-tutting of some of his antics, I really liked this book and I learned much about Henry, about the media in New Zealand, and about the horrors of a reporter in war zones.

The book rattles along at a good pace, and through its conversational style you almost hear him telling these stories in his own imitable way.

There’s not much I didn’t like about this book. There’s little dissing of colleagues; a fine backstory on his plugging away and getting jobs in radio; and lots of insights into the media changes in New Zealand, which as someone who lived in Wellington for a few years I knew a little about but not much. This part of the book resonated with me – I always like to know about how media works – and Henry’s vivid descriptions of the changes in radio in New Zealand as it moved from a government monopoly to the two commercial and one government ownership model of today was great. There he was, across the hills from Wellington in country New Zealand cutting deals to get his radio station going, month to month survival – and then, having achieved his goal, selling it.

Henry comes across like a person with little time to spare in anything he does. For example, he builds a radio station – just goes and does it (!) – and then, challenge complete, sells it, next challenge. It’s a fascinating insight into someone who grew up with very little and it seems, is still very much the pragmatic, self-believing, but always questioning person he was when he got himself into a non-existent role at the BBC.

I liked watching Paul Henry on TV when I was in New Zealand, so my view of this book was always going to have that basis. I warmed to him, and his (well documented) brain fades along the way notwithstanding, think he’d be a fascinating, if not elusive, interviewee.

Great book. Highly recommended.

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