Kim Hill's final interview

Kim Hill brought the curtain down on a 38-year career at RNZ on Saturday. After making her name as an unparalleled interviewer, she switched places and let Sunday Morning’s Jim Mora ask her questions.

On how she got into journalism: 

“I didn't have anything else to do. I'd worked in a massage parlour. I'd gone up to Tairua to witness the death of my father. I worked in the pub. I was 21 years old. And I’d fallen in love, and I knew that wasn't the rest of my life, and friends said ‘why don't you apply for broadcasting school?’ And I said ‘oh alright then’ and I went down to Christchurch and Brian Priestley thought that I was fun and zany because I’d worked in a massage parlour, and he found out that I was resolutely and incredibly boringly middle-class, much to his disgruntlement. 

“He thought very little of the electronic media, Brian. He was a newspaper man. And I actually, I was inculcated with that view, I think, because after I started in radio, I thought, ‘I'm not a real journalist until I go and work for a newspaper’. So I did.” 

On her interviewing style, once described as ‘rapport and evisceration’: 

“I don't ever feel particularly eviscerating, maybe I just don't see myself accurately. 

“My daughter said to me yesterday, ‘if there's one thing I'm very glad about with your retirement from Saturday Morning, it’s that people will stop banging on about the John Pilger interview. It has got quite boring. And I never threw the bloody book at him. That was one of those myths, I just slid it along the table. 

“I lack patience. Yeah, I get impatient when people beat around the bush.” 

Kim Hill and Jim Mora. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi
Kim Hill and Jim Mora. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi
What sort of a fish or animal or plant would she be? 

“As a as a reporter or a journalist or broadcaster, I feel like I'm a voyeur. I'm talking to remarkable people, and basking in the glow of remarkable people, and in some way, being aggrandised as a result of the remarkable people, so I suppose I'd be some kind of bottom-feeding anemone… an opportunistic anemone. They’re very attractive. They're very colourful and attractive. And I think they probably have a secret life.” 

On listener feedback during the Saturday Morning show: 

“It's so much more fun, the bonkers things, the radically dreadful things that they say don't you find?  

“The mad ones, you know, ‘you're part of the global conspiracy’. I just think that they're hilarious. But after a while they do wear a bit thin. And sometimes I suspect people are attention seekers.” 

What she drinks on air: 

“Coffee, and sometimes mid-morning, a cup of very, very, very strong hot chocolate and Milo made with milk. A meal in a cup!” 

What does she read or watch for fun?: 

“There’s a thing – and nobody probably ever goes there probably anymore – the A & L Daily… which Denis Dutton set up. And I really like that, because it's a whole curated bunch of all sorts of media and you can pick your way through there, I spent quite a lot of time browsing that.”  

On interviewing Monica Lewinsky: 

“I don’t regret it. I just observe that that was that time, and this is this time, and it would be different now.” 

Who would she want to interview who she hasn’t already?: 

“I think you expect me to say Leonard Cohen, which is not the case because I revere him so that I just… a) I probably couldn't have interviewed him, and b) he might have been boring. He might have been a bit woowoo.  

“I would quite like to talk to Henry Kissinger. Okay, one of the oddest things that's happened to me in the last couple of days – and there have been a few odd things – is that I got a long and very, very nice email from Ruth Richardson, who reminded me that her mother is in her 90s and still engaged with the world and that Henry Kissinger is 100 and writing a new book. Her point was that I still have many miles to go. And that was very kind of her, but it made me think, yes, Henry Kissinger. He'd be a good interview. 

“I'd ask him, how he would defend himself, if he were finally to be charged with being a war criminal, essentially.” 

Kim Hill at RNZ in 2017.  Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King
Kim Hill at RNZ in 2017. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King
Are famous people all the same? 

“Well, if you are famous, then I suppose you try and align yourself with what people want. Because fame is a bit of a drug, is it not? People like it. So, once you get a taste of it, you make yourself into what people want and what people want is usually pretty samey. Don't you think?” 

On her feelings about fame:  

“I don't feel famous… most of the time I'm sitting in a small dark room talking to somebody that I can't even see about interesting things. That's not what famous people do, is it? I'm not out there nightclubbing and wearing glittery gowns. 

“I’m not a famous author, I talk on the radio. It’s not brain surgery. I’m privileged to have a job. I just don't think I do anything. I've just been around for a long time.  

“The voice gets recognised, and it’s aged into this kind of, I don't know how you would describe it, damaged baritone. But I don't get recognised so much. Most people say, ‘Gosh, you look like Kim Hill,’ which is quite a nice thing because I say ‘a lot of people say that’. 

On being interviewed: 

“They promised me a makeup artist and a Winnebago, and what have I got? Jim’s daughter’s powder puff in the ladies’ toilets! 

“Yeah, no, I genuinely hate it.” 

On her position in the New Zealand media pantheon: 

“I don't think about legacy at all, you know, and times are different now. I mean, it's arguable you [Jim Mora] and I are, to a certain extent, in the twilight of the media world. I'm sorry to break the news to you this way.  

It’s ‘everybody's digital now’. We've got a small pool of people, a relatively small pool of highly intelligent and lovely people who have an appointment with us on Saturday… or long may you continue with Sunday Morning. But you know, times are a-changing. 

“You know, back in the day, we used to put a programme together and we'd have light and shade and this and that, and balance there and difference there. But the way people listen now is fragmented. It’s like how people don't listen to albums anymore. They don't listen to whole radio programmes anymore. We just have to suck it up.”  

On leaving RNZ after nearly 40 years: 

“It's quite liberating and also really sad. And I'm anticipating, you know, grief and an existential crisis. 

“Who am I? And what am I for? Because (you know what it's like), everything you read and everything you watch, everything you listen… in some way is framed by the program. And so if I haven't got a programme anymore, what will I read? Trashy novels?” 

On leaving Saturday Mornings, the show she’s hosted for 21 years: 

“It's good to leave before you feel like you have to. It’s like a party you leave before the last few drinks are left sitting at the table.   

“I have two grandchildren. I have a daughter who lives in Auckland, I want to spend more time with them, and I want to be untrammelled by the constant mental preparation for a radio programme every week on a Saturday morning.  

“People say, ‘it's only one morning a week’.  You know, it's not only one morning a week, we spend the whole week thinking about the programme.” 

Kim Hill in grandma mode.  Photo: RNZ
Kim Hill in grandma mode. Photo: RNZ
What’s next? 

“I have absolutely no idea. I mean, I've worked for so long. And I will continue to work. Not with the regularity of every Saturday morning. I mean, I've made a joke about learning to play the cello, but nobody has offered themselves to teach me yet, but I would like to do that. I did take up pickleball… it reminded me of how appalling I was at ballgames. 

“I've just done an interview with Adrian Edmondson, he played Vivian in The Young Ones – you know, kind of Sid Vicious of the comedy world. And he's 66 now, and he was just describing to me how during Covid he found himself in his Devon garden listening to a song thrush for a good 30 minutes. This came as a complete epiphany to him because his whole life has been kind of busy. And strange, you know, he’s calmed down, he’s calm, he's reflective. Maybe that's what I'll do. I'll just listen to a bird for longer than usual. 

“It worries me that I won't have that canal of newness running into my brain now so  much. You know what it’s like, not all the people we talk to are our choice. Our producer says, ‘what do you think about [this person]?’… And they turn out to be great. I'm always really, really happy about that. That there is nobody who fails to be interesting.”