It’s been six months since his confronting documentary Patrick Gower: On Booze.
Since baring his soul — and body — on national television, the former New Plymouth-ite has become teetotal rather than totalled.
Live editor, Irena Brooks caught up with Newshub’s National Correspondent at a cafe in Auckland during September, where he reflected on his career to date, his decision to give up alcohol and his fondness for his hometown.
Friends couldn’t believe him at first.
“They certainly didn’t think it would last,” Paddy Gower says of his decision to give up alcohol.
He’s been on the wagon for nine months now.
“I feel amazing … I’m so much calmer, lost a lot of weight and sleep so much better.
‘Within a couple of weeks of giving up, my sleep was just mint. My skin improved next and then came the calmness — the level of calm that’s come over me since I stopped drinking is just extraordinary.
“Taking control of something has given me a whole new vibe and zest.”
He says he hopes not to drink again.
“If I do, it won’t be in the same way.”
Growing up in New Plymouth, there was definitely a binge drinking culture, he remembers. “There still is. Then at uni, the binge drinking culture really beds in.”
Booze and journalism often go hand-in-hand and when he was a political journalist sharing a late night drink with the nation’s leaders was a great way to get to know what was really happening in the corridors of power.
“I would drink after work to let off steam. On the weekends, I was a big binge drinker … the only thing that stopped me was a bad hangover. I didn’t drink at work or anything like that, but I don’t have an off-switch once I start drinking.”
The Booze documentary was never meant to become so personal, but about half-way through making it he was forced to confront that he himself had an addiction to alcohol.
“People will see themselves in the documentary, and that’s what keeps me going,” he says.
“It’s been super uncomfortable, caused many sleepless nights. I would ask myself ‘should I be doing this?’ The scene where I get drunk is humiliating. I even get the bod out on the 3D scanner … that was the most nerve-wracking part to be honest.”
But ultimately it was life-changing.
Once the documentary aired he didn’t have to continually tell people he wasn’t drinking any more.
“I just did it in one go and told the whole country,” he laughs.
He’s on coconut water and black coffee during our meeting. As a celebrity, he also gets sent all sorts of non-alcoholic drinks to try from various companies.
“I will have a zero percent beer on a Saturday after mowing the lawns or watching the rugby or something to get over a craving, but I won’t drink two or three, just the one.”
He goes out a lot less and when he does, he doesn’t stay as long.
“I’ll head in, high energy, talk to a lot of people, and bail. I haven’t actually found social situations that hard. What I have found is that when I want to go, I want to go, I don’t want to wait.
“I was a bit scared of what I might be like without drinking,” he admits, but friends and family tell him he’s a better version of himself.
“I don’t want to get preachy about not drinking, but I do feel it’s given me a second chance at life … a Round 2.
“I recommend anyone who wants to give up drinking to film themselves, or get your mates to do it.”
PATRICK GOWER: ON CAREER
“No-one in our family had ever been to university and my parents were fixated on my sister and I going to uni. Before I knew it I had a BA (from Victoria) and I was 20 and I was definitely, definitely not ready for the workforce.”
He went back to uni for another year to get his honours degree and the following year was accepted at journalism school.
His first job was working for the New Zealand Herald.
“I started off as just a traditional journo, you know ‘it’s all about the facts’, then over time I moved into TV and then into confessional documentary making, which is really getting into the far end of journalism, with that Booze doco.
“It was like ‘yeah this is pretty embarrassing’ but just sort of knowing New Zealand life and issues with booze that lots of people have got, I was like, ‘lots of people are going to relate’.
“What was surprising was that it turned out to be more relatable than even I realised. So many people were going like, ‘yeah, guilty as charged. The response was just phenomenal.”
Before booze, it was marijuana.
Patrick Gower: On Weed aired in 2020, just before the referendum to legalise cannabis for medicinal use.
To this day he has the dubious distinction of being the only New Zealand journalist to have smoked a joint on national television.
“The first time I did it, it was medically prescribed with a doctor in Colorado. Then the second lot was cannabis tea in California, that was for pure fun. I think if you’re going to break the rules, you might as well break them twice,” he laughs.
PATRICK GOWER: ON NEW PLYMOUTH
His Dad Gordon and mum Joan came to New Plymouth when Gordon got a job at the power station. He was a fitter and turner, while Joan was a receptionist as Dr Frengley’s surgery.
“People used to confide in her a lot,” Patrick remembers. “I think that’s a good trait for a journalist … to get people to confide in you. And my Dad, as people who know him know, is a real yarn-spinner and sort of likes to hold court kind of scenario. I think for my career it’s been the perfect mix.”
He is not related to any Gowers in Taranaki, apart from his Dad and sister, who both still live here.
“If I had a dollar for every time I was asked …
“There’s this strain, if you want, of Gowers coming through Stratford, Toko, and right up to, from what I gather, Taumarunui, which I am absolutely not related to at all. But my whole life, I’ve been asked. So thanks for asking,” he laughs.
Born in New Plymouth, he was raised in a house on Cutfield Road, went to Westend Kindergarten, St Joseph’s Primary School and Francis Douglas Memorial College.
“My favourite memory growing up and the thing I like doing the most when I go home is I love swimming in the ocean. It kind of grounds me when I do it. I love going to Fitzroy Beach or Oakura Beach or East End and have a swim in the surf.
“I spent a lot of time with my mates exploring the islands (at Back Beach), going over the back island and that little lagoon there, getting dive-bombed by seagulls. All of my favourite memories are around the sea, swimming, boogie boarding, surfing, body surfing, days at the beach.”
His mum died at 56 of lung cancer.
A smoker of many years, her early death has had a profound effect on her son. He’s become a champion for the new Cancer Centre at Taranaki Base Hospital.
“At the moment people have to go to Palmerston North for radiotherapy … family is disrupted, someone needs to go with them to support them, they’re holed up in a motel in Palmy while they’re going through one of the most stressful parts of their lives.
“So while there is funding from the government for a new Cancer Centre in Taranaki, the Taranaki Health Foundation aims to raise extra money to make it even better. I’ve taken on the role of helping champion that. When the foundation came to me I said of course I’ll do that, 100%. Loved ones should be able to be close to each other when they’re going through such a hard time. I’m doing it so people don’t have to go through what I went through with my mum.”
With his Dad and sister, and many mates still here, Gower is a regular visitor.
“It’s awesome to see their kids have the same kind of life — though admittedly with a lot more devices — but pretty much the same childhood that I had growing up in New Plymouth, which was the definition of ‘perfect’. I think most people in New Plymouth would have had an awesome upbringing — it’s a good place to be a kid.”
He’s looking forward to this summer for his Dad’s impending marriage on New Year’s Eve in Pukekura Park.
“He’s marrying Debbie Gut, so they’ve given me the gift of an exciting New Plymouth New Years. I’m looking forward to that.”
He’ll be back in Taranaki in late January for the Round the Mountain Cycle Challenge since discovering a passion for cycling earlier this year.
He did the Surf to Saddle (Oakura to Whangamomona) with former All Black and fellow FDMC old boy, Conrad Smith, and others to raise money for a charity and in memory of Conrad’s Dad Trevor.
“That was absolutely awesome.”
PADDY GOWER: ON FAME
With his very distinctive voice and face, he gets recognised everywhere he goes — Covid masks don’t offer any sort of anonymity at all.
He doesn’t mind too much, except he can’t get grumpy at people and no, that doesn’t make him a happier person. “Because you’ve gotta keep it in, and sometimes you really want to let it out.”
He constantly has people calling out to him “this is the f***ing news!” after a video went viral in 2014 that appears to show him in a live crossover from a library, when someone yells out to him “This is the f***ing library” and Patrick responds instantly with “This is the f***ing news!”
The ‘f’ word came to the fore in another meme-worthy moment last month when he was covering Queen Elizabeth ll’s funeral. After a quick work with NZ PM Jacinda Ardern, she continued on her way to applause from the crowd. An astonished Paddy can be heard exclaiming ‘F*** they DO know her.”
He’s glad he became a journalist … “it’s been the making of me.”
The 45-year-old reckons his career has been very much a succession of stumbles rather than any sort of grand plan.
“It’s worked out amazingly. I absolutely love it and love it as much now as I did 22, 23 years ago when I started and I’m still really thriving. In a way, it’s like being a professional sportsperson … I get paid to do what I love, which is awesome. And I don’t need to retire because of any physical limitations, I can keep going into my 70s and beyond if I want. I still love writing and that’s something I might come back to later on. I would like to write a book, or a couple of books, non-fiction, things like that. So there’s a bit of life in the old dog yet.”
He likes that his career has evolved naturally.
“When you enjoy something, your work is good, you get recognised and offered different roles and you enjoy that. I’ve just kept making sure I do something that I enjoy and something else always comes along.
“So I don’t really know what’s going to come next.
“There’s no five-year plan.”
When asked about the stories he’s most proud of he pauses.
“You’re always as good as your last story, so my last story is probably always my favourite.
“I’m so proud of the documentaries (his latest on cyber-crime screened at the end of September). They’re big ideas that have taken a lot of imagination and bringing things together to get them out. They stand the test of time, create something that people learn from, get inspired by, or just entertain them. Getting the funding and business side of things has to add up, and then people get to enjoy it as well, it’s just awesome.”
His other career highlights have been moderating the leaders’ debates — “I’ve done two of them now. They’re a real Mt Everest unique challenge kind of thing.
“With stories there’s always so much … March 15, I did some really good work on that, not just at the time, but representing the victims and looking into the reasons for it.
“Then I also like little stories that are quirky.
“I’ve got to do so many cool things … I’ve been to Iraq, been to Afghanistan, covered three US elections. I’ve been very lucky to have such an amazing career.”