He’s known for his journalism work mixing the personal with the professional but in Patrick Gower’s latest documentary on THREE, Patrick Gower: On Booze, the broadcaster takes it to a whole new level. Patrick talks to Capsule about how the documentary forced him to reevaluate his drinking, what he’s most sorry for, and the moment that changed his life.
There was always going to be some sort of personal element to broadcaster Patrick Gower’s latest documentary, Patrick Gower: On Booze. It’s part of the reason his previous documents have been such a success – he acts as something of an audience conduit for whatever topic he’s tackling.
But fairly quickly into the process of filming Patrick Gower on Booze, there was what Paddy calls “a handbrake-sound moment,” where it became clear that his own relationship with alcohol was going to become a front and centre part of the narrative.
“It just became really personal – and that was never the plan. The ending – and where it leads me – was never in the documentary plan… or my life plan,” he laughs. “Where the documentary has taken me is not in any plan at all.”
It’s a two-part documentary – the first screening Tuesday night and then a live show/round-table on Wednesday night and there are some key parts of the documentary that are to remain a surprise to viewers, that we can’t talk about here. But suffice to say – and you can see as much from the trailer above – it becomes a very personal look at Paddy’s own relationship to alcohol, which is the classic Kiwi combination of both somehow ‘normal’ and deeply problematic.
“I’ve had the classic Kiwi upbringing; the classic teen drinking, the classic uni drinking, the classic drinking on my OE, the classic work drinking.”
“I’m a pretty good case study,” Patrick says. “I’ve had the classic Kiwi upbringing; the classic teen drinking, the classic uni drinking, the classic drinking on my OE, the classic work drinking. And then the classic lockdown drinking. I’m a classic Kiwi drinker. So, in that way, the best investigative subject is right here: it’s me.”
The documentary takes a hard look at the normalisation – and glamorisation – of drinking in New Zealand culture, from the six-o’-clock swill through to the ‘harden up’ bloke culture. The statistics are stark: 1 in five Kiwis has a harmful drinking problem. And in the documentary, Patrick is quick to realise that he is one of them.
“More people have a more complicated relationship with alcohol than we realise, or – in particular – than they realise themselves,” he says. “I honestly think the documentary is about being honest about my relationship with alcohol and the fact that it’s complicated. That’s one person admitting that and if everyone could do that, we would have a gigantic change in the way this country is.”
“I’ve got a complicated relationship with alcohol; I think most people in New Zealand have got a complicated relationship with alcohol. Which means our society has a complicated relationship with alcohol – and that’s what the documentary is about.”
For Patrick, the “handbrake-sound moment” that made him realise that was the filmed conversation between him and good friend, Corin Dann. Corin was the One News equivalent of Patrick’s role as Three’s political reporter, so while the pair were professionally competitive, they became close friends behind the scenes due to their mutual understanding of the pressures of the job.
In the documentary, during a discussion about workplace drinking culture, Corin admits to being worried about Patrick’s drinking on several occasions. The pair then go on to have a very honest chat about it.
“It was a pivotal moment in the documentary and I’ve come to see it as a pivotal moment in my life.”
“That’s what you want when you’re making a documentary – you don’t want two professionals talking to each other… you do want people to drop their guard and we really got an A+ on that,” he laughs. “It was a pivotal moment in the documentary and I’ve come to see it as a pivotal moment in my life.”
“I’m proud to share that moment with people, because it shows the power of friendship and the power of honesty between friends, and it also shows that we’re actually not having those kinds of conversations with our friends as often as we should be.”
There’s also a chat at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – the first time in NZ such a meeting has been filmed – where Patrick goes from being less of an observer and more of a participant. “It wasn’t until we started getting into this [documentary] that I started thinking about my own relationship with alcohol,” he says.
“I had never, ever, in all of these years, ever thought about my drinking. Ever. EVER. Until this point. And as soon as I did, it was like a door coming off in the airplane. That feeling of everything being sucked out. I had just normalised it around myself. I had never, ever questioned my drinking.”
Patrick has previously described the documentary as “uncomfortable,” and it is, both watching Patrick get drunk and then, later on, reckon with his drunken behaviour and also because it really holds a mirror up to how insidious our drinking culture really is.
“That’s not to say I’m anti-alcohol – I can’t be, I wouldn’t have any credibility after being one of the biggest boozers around for all these years.”
“It’s there for funerals, it’s there for work promotions, it’s there for baby showers, it’s everywhere,” Patrick says. “And that’s not to say I’m anti-alcohol – I can’t be, I wouldn’t have any credibility after being one of the biggest boozers around for all these years. And the documentary isn’t supposed to be a lecture, it’s just my story – and it’s a story I never thought I’d tell.”
In the documentary, Patrick says he’s never spoken to anyone about his drinking and when I ask him if he would be willing to now, he pauses. “Bloody hell, I hadn’t thought of that. Well I have to, now,” he says. “On that point, there have been two people who have said to me that when they tried to give up drinking, or cut back, I made a joke that they would be boring. These are two of my good friends, by the way. When both of them said that to me, my heart sank. That I’d been that guy. I regret that. It was pretty full-on to have two friends tell me that I’d said that to them. I hope that in the future, when I do have to talk to someone about their drinking, I’ll be in a better position to do it.”
“We’ve got to be honest with our friends about their drinking,” he says. “It’s hard – no-one wants to do it, nobody wants to say to a friend, ‘Hey, I’m worried about your drinking.’ But we’ve got to do it. As hard as it is.”
Knowing what he knows now, about how pervasive our drinking culture can be, what would he say now to a friend at a social gathering who said they weren’t drinking?
“F–KING GREAT!” he exclaims, laughing. “Seriously, it would be. It would be ‘f–king great, that’s the best news. Awesome.’ And to anyone who has ever felt bloody boxed out by me, or egged on by me, I just have to say: I’m sorry.”
One of Patrick’s biggest hopes is that the documentary will start to create some room for people who have a problem with their drinking. “We have to create some space for them in our lives, because at the moment there isn’t enough,” he says. And for people who watch the documentary and share in that feeling of discomfort, he says the next step is to talk to someone about it. “Talk to your closest friends and tell them you’re worried about your drinking. One of the easiest things you can do to help yourself is talk to a friend, but it will seem like the hardest thing. The biggest lesson for me is to talk to your friends, honestly. If you can be honest with your friend then you’re being honest with yourself. And it can change your life.”