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Kim Hill, who went off air after 38 years at Radio New Zealand. Image: Tina Tiller
Kim Hill, who went off air after 38 years at Radio New Zealand. Image: Tina Tiller

MediaDecember 26, 2023

Goodbye, Kim Hill: a day with the doyenne of NZ radio

Kim Hill, who went off air after 38 years at Radio New Zealand. Image: Tina Tiller
Kim Hill, who went off air after 38 years at Radio New Zealand. Image: Tina Tiller

Summer reissue: As she prepares to hang up the microphone, the reluctant ‘national treasure’ sits down with Toby Manhire.

First published on November 23, 2023.

Kim Hill is on air. Viewed from the control room through the CinemaScope window she could be a marionette, a slight form in a yellow dress with a crop of white curls, black hoop earrings hanging under headphones struggling to keep pace with the urgent nodding of the head, arms whirling in unexpected directions, pausing only to pillow a curious chin, her pen sewn to her fingers, scrawling notes which over the course of four hours come to resemble the cliffs of a seismograph.

It is Saturday October 21, 2023, and the clock is ticking down on Kim Hill’s formidable, 38-year career at RNZ, the last 21 of those hosting Saturday Mornings. Since 1985, her voice – one of New Zealand’s most instantly distinctive – has morphed from the piercing, posh vowels of Checkpoint to the symphonic racket of today, complete with a menagerie of untranscribable noises. 

Today on the show, her sixth-to-last, and one of the final outings in the Wellington studio where she has been a fixture for so long (the last programmes, including this Saturday’s, are hosted from Auckland, where Hill’s daughter lives), the line-up is typically eclectic. Two chilling interviews on the situation in Gaza. Updates from Nathan Rarere on the Rugby World Cup. Conversations with an Irish novelist. A Nigerian-British activist-actor. Nina Simone’s daughter. A chat about the Bronze Age Pervert with regular guest Danyl McLauchlan. An interview with actor Kate Mulgrew, of Star Trek: Voyager and Orange Is the New Black fame.

“Hello, Kim, how are you? What a beautiful voice you have,” swoons Mulgrew. “Oh! What a beautiful voice you have,” says Hill. When Hill asks whether there is anything good that comes from watching a loved one die, Mulgrew says: “What a wonderful question, Kim. I’d love to meet you in person.”

These are the sort of exchanges that might happen a handful of times in a broadcaster’s career. For Hill, it’s pretty much every week. Beloved by many, loathed by others, garlanded at home and abroad, Hill is these days daunted by nothing and no one, while her guests are routinely awed. One of Aotearoa’s most accomplished journalists was on the show last week. She wrote: “The most brilliant, terrifying, delightful privilege to be interviewed by Kim Hill just a week before she goes off air.” Have you lived, really, until you’ve been interrupted by Kim?

Back in the Wellington studio, there is time for a song. While the news bulletin is being read, engineer Jeremy says through the glass: “I’ve got Mitski. Nice, pleasant pop.”

“I don’t like nice and pleasant,” says Hill. “Sounds boring. Choose something else.”

What about Black Country, New Road, he says. “Indie rock, it’s upbeat, it’s bright?”

She steeples her fingers and shrugs. “This is horrible,” she says as the track plays. “I asked for it , I suppose. Could’ve been ‘nice’.”

Hill insists she isn’t in farewell mode, let alone counting down the days or thinking about the finale. “No. Is that weird?” she says. “I haven’t thought about it … I don’t want to make a big palaver.” 

But there is something going on. In her interview with novelist Paul Lynch, the question of timing and departures surfaces. Hill quotes from his Booker-shortlisted Prophet Song: “History is a silent record of people who did not know when to leave.”

Later, Hill asks Mulgrew why Orange Is the New Black came to an end. Because show creator Jenji Kohan wanted to go out on a high, is the reply. “It’s wise, I think, to finish with that kind of integrity … If you limp on too long –”

“No. No. Quite right,” says Hill. 

I’m on the programme, too – since I was to be lurking in the control room anyway, watching the thing, Hill’s producer, Melanie Phipps, decided they might as well put me on the other side of the glass to talk about the election just gone. 

Hill asks about Chris Hipkins, and his decision to stick it out. “I was thinking about this,” she says, “when I was talking to Paul Lynch, earlier this morning, about: when do you get in a boat? When do you leave? History is made up of people, you know, not leaving soon enough.”

I seize the chance. “Why were you thinking about that, Kim? Is that anything to do with your own time –”

“No!”

“–  on this show coming to an end?”

Lengthy Hill gurgle.

“Were you not?”

“No!”

“I mean, you want to go out on top, don’t you?”

“I was not thinking that.”

“Well, come on.”

“I was thinking –”

“Maybe not in your conscious mind.”

“No! I was thinking – God, I’d need to lie down on the therapist’s couch for that one.”

Kim Hill and Toby Manhire on Saturday Mornings. Photo: Jessica Keane

‘You know I hate this?” says Kim Hill, rearranging herself in a seat by the window at Mystic Kitchen on Tory Street.

We’ve driven from the RNZ building on the Terrace in Hill’s white 2006 Corolla hatchback. I’m sitting on a mat usually reserved for Walter the West Highland terrier-poodle, the very spot on which he’ll travel up to Auckland a couple of weeks later as part of the support crew for Hill’s daughter, Hannah, who is about to have her second child. Walter struggles in the workplace. “He likes everybody to be in the same place. And so he can’t comprehend that I’m in one room and other people are in the other room.”

The trip across town takes 20 minutes, thanks to a series of road works. Hill tugs on a vape and curses the traffic. We talk about babies, forgettable politicians and generational categories. She recalls one former colleague consumed by “florid paranoia”; another who “terrified the wits out of me”. Halfway down Victoria Street the conversation shifts to unpleasant men in the world of music. “Women do keep breeding with them, for some peculiar reason,” says Hill. “That’s never been satisfactorily explained to me, why women go for bad men and louts … Might be something to do with fixing them.” 

Our luck turns and a park appears directly outside the cafe, eliciting a Hillian snort of triumph. I walk along the footpath and put some money in the meter. “Oh, I don’t normally do that,” says Hill. “You can usually see the man coming.” 

But to answer the question: yes, I know she hates this.

“Does everybody hate it, or how do you know I hate it?”

Because, I say, you famously refuse interview requests – I was shocked you agreed to this – and in the few interviews you have given you routinely talk about how much you despise doing them.

“Ah, do I? Oh right. So. No secret.”

Is it a double standard, given you’re so often interviewing other people?

“No! Because people can say no. As they do.”

Hill’s announcement that she was “signing off”, as the statement put it, prompted a deluge of tributes. To pluck one example from hundreds, Linda Clark – who succeeded Hill on Nine to Noon in 2002 – posted on social media: “The news that Kim Hill is to step down from her Saturday Morning show in November is HUGE. She is simply in a class of her own as an interviewer.”

Some – including numerous examples in Hill’s inbox – were despairing; she was “irreplaceable” and would leave “a void”. There was a proper outpouring. “There was,” she concedes. “I know. And I was extremely touched. That’s the thing about radio. You know, it’s a really intimate thing, radio … It’s interesting. And very nice.”

It is more than that, though – she has been not just another well-liked broadcaster, but a fixture in RNZ listeners’ days, lives even, spanning Morning Report, Nine to Noon and Saturday Morning. She looks physically uncomfortable at the suggestion.

“I was at a thing a while ago, and this young man came up to me and said, ‘I am the third generation of my family to listen to you,’” she says. “Oh my God! That might have been when I realised it’s time to go. But, yes. I know. It’s a very intimate kind of friendship. And I feel the same way about the listeners, in a peculiar way. Some of them are nutbars. But they’re fun.”

Less fun was when one reader, having taken exception to an interview after the Christchurch earthquakes, sent in a brick. “We kept it on the shelf for quite a long time,” says Hill.

“I think I’ve always been relatively able to separate that stuff,” she says, in sharp staccato syllables, “from how I feel.” She says: “If I’ve done a shit job, like, fucked up an interview, then I’ll feel really bad.” As for the rest, “doesn’t worry me.”

Though maybe it does a bit. There was the outcry, for example, over the interview with “gender critical” academic Kathleen Stock. “I cannot forgive her for interviewing that woman last year,” is a view that persists, says Hill. “That doesn’t make sense to me. But maybe I’m wrong. You know, maybe people have a right to judge me for what they think I believe. I don’t – Jesus! – I can change my mind every day, on everything, depending on who I talk to. I mean I’ve got a baseline, obviously. But part of the deal is to talk to other people and figure out why they say what they say, and do they believe it?”

Hill makes faces at a small child leaning against the glass outside, and says: “It’s only one morning a week, but it takes up a lot of space in your head. And so I’ll start thinking: What am I? What am I going to read, and what am I going to listen to, and what am I going to watch, if it’s not in some way going to feed back into the programme? I’ll have to reinvent myself.”

As she tells it, the decision was straightforward: a second grandchild was on the way (update: she was born on November 8) and it just felt like time. It was only a hard decision “because I just didn’t know how to do it”, she says. “Or I didn’t know how to stop doing it. And so I just thought, oh, I’ll just stop doing it. You know what I mean?”

I do not.

“I don’t think it was that hard.”

Did RNZ try hard to talk you out of it?

“Pfah! What have they got? It’s Radio New Zealand.”

They did just get an extra $25 million a year in funding.

“I made it clear that money wasn’t an issue. So that we didn’t go down that futile track,” says Hill. 

“But I went to the doctor the other day. For nothing. And she said, ‘Why are you leaving?’ And I said, ‘Well you gotta go some time.’ I said, ‘I think I’ve got enough money.’ And she said, ‘Well, you look pretty fit. You might live to a ripe old age. I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that.’ And I thought: Ohhhhh fuck! All those calculations. That’s the bad news, I’m going to live beyond my means. But, you know, I’m 68. So what am I gonna do?”

What are you going to do? 

“Oh, apart from leaving full-time employment? I dunno, you know. I do have the next three months sorted.” (She’ll be helping with the grandkids, then heading on a “heritage cruise” around the subantarctic islands with a friend who bought the tickets in a charity auction.) “So that’s going to soften it. But I’m sure I’ll have an existential crisis. That’s necessary, isn’t it? That would have happened anytime. Better to cope with it when I’m younger, rather than having an existential crisis when I’m 95.”

At another point, she says, “I think I’m mad to give this job up. It’s a great job. You know – nghhhah!” she says, and relates, complete with impressions, the press conference at which David Lange announced his departure, and Geoffrey Palmer lavished praise on him, prompting Lange to say, “Geoffrey, I’ve changed my mind.”

Perhaps she could change her mind, then. Take a sabbatical instead? “No. Because, in a sabbatical, somebody else has to do your job and they’re probably great at it. And then you come back and you say, ‘get out of my chair.’ No. That doesn’t work.”

That’s not a very good reason. “I’ve got to stop some time. Might as well stop now. There are people who say: she should have retired yeeeeaars ago.”

History is made up of people not leaving soon enough. “That’s correct. And I do have a small coterie of people [to whom] I had said: please let me know, if you think it’s time for me to quit. But they wouldn’t, would they?” she says, tapping a teaspoon on the table. “So I’m the only one who can say that.”

Born in Shropshire, just by the border with Wales, Hill moved to New Zealand at the age of 15 with her father, a large-animal vet, and her mother, a nurse, the relocation prompted in part by an outbreak of foot and mouth that ripped through the county, resulting in the mass cull of livestock. They settled in Otorohanga. Kim hated it. 

“It crippled me. The bullying. And my parents were lost … so I didn’t have any confidence that they could look after me as well as themselves.” Instead, “I kept things to myself, like being beaten up. And tried to sort it out on my own. Which took a while.”

A long while. “I was pretty messed up for – oh, I don’t know. I mean, certainly through my university years I was flailing. Absolutely flailing. You know, because New Zealand is strange, it’s sort of a bit familiar, but completely not familiar.”

Did all of that lend her an outsider’s eye? Might that have fed into her interviewing approach? “Yes. I saw things as an outsider. Because I did not know how things worked. And it took me a while to work out how things work, rather than assuming.”

What sets Hill apart, some have said, is precisely that impulse of not knowing. Unlike most, she asks questions to which she does not know the answer. “A lot of the time I genuinely don’t understand things I think other people do,” she says. “I think I must be the only person not to know this. So I have to overcome a certain amount of shame and embarrassment to ask some questions. But it turns out some other people don’t know the answers either.”

A few hours earlier, when Kate Mulgrew spoke of her alcoholic dad, Hill’s question was this: “I’m at pains to stereotype but I too had an Irish drinker father. What is that?”

It was something to do with “social anxiety”, said Mulgrew. “Yes,” said Hill. Mulgrew: “It loosens the tongue. They’re witty.” Her father was “a wordsmith and it would all come pouring out, in a very deft and charming way.” 

“Yes, sounds familiar.”

“There are so many of them,” says Hill, when I raise it again. “I think she’s absolutely right, that a lot of them – certainly my father and her father, by the sounds of it – use the alcohol to get over shyness, social constraints, start chatting, being the life of the party.” Hill’s father drank himself to death when she was in her early 20s. 

Her mother? “My mother was tricky. She was afflicted by the need to keep up appearances. And if you’ve got a partner who is an alcoholic, that’s really hard. Yeah. And so she bore that burden pretty stoically. I, of course, didn’t appreciate how much she was bearing it. Because when you’re a kid you’re like urghhh! Why?”

Hill’s relationship with the father of her own child was tortured. It’s not a subject that she will talk about, except to say, back in the car, on the subject of unsatisfactory men, “that was my thing. The fixing. Because, you know, if your father’s a fuck-up then you can shack up with someone who’s exactly like your father and try to fix him. Which is always a terrible mistake.”

If you’re thinking all of this sounds like the stuff of memoir, most of New Zealand’s publishers have had that idea already. She’s been approached plenty of times, and recoils at the idea. 

“Everybody can write a memoir. And so many people have written such good ones. I was talking to Noelle McCarthy about that, because she wrote that great memoir. And she said: it’s not what’s happened to you, it’s how you write about it. And she’s quite right. But I’m not a good writer in that sense.” Hill’s writing output, she says, has amounted to “tiny little things that you sweat blood over”.

Am I right to think, though, that she has let her guard down a bit lately, allowed a little more of her own life to escape through the cracks in the radio?

“I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t care any more,” she says. Her daughter, at least, had been an offstage presence for some time. Twenty or so years ago, Hill recalls, she bumped into author and columnist Joe Bennett in Farmer’s. “I was with Hannah and she would have been about 14, and I said, ‘Hi, Joe. This is my daughter, Hannah.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I think I’ve heard all too much about Hannah already.’ And I thought, oh my God, I must brag about personal things all the time.”

If not a memoir, go the other way: reality TV? There must have been invitations.

“Never.”

No!

“Not once.”

What?

“Not even Celebrity Treasure Island. Here I am! Never.”

Amazing.

“Astonishing.”

You’d do it?

“Of course not. Can you imagine? … There’s nothing, nothing that would persuade me.”

Kim Hill with Nine to Noon producers Heather Church and Maryanne Ahern. Photo: Supplied

The Kim Hill archive includes, somewhere in the attic, a sizeable collection of interviews that you don’t so much listen to as rubberneck. 

There have been tense, electric run-ins with New Zealand business magnate Owen Glenn, with the grand New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and with music journalist turned novelist Tony Parsons, who suggested Hill’s problem might be that “you’ve got your head up your arse”. Scientist Robert Winston snarled at her. Filmmaker Mike Leigh took exception to her first question, about his improvisational approach. “He said: ‘Only a stupid person would ask me that question.’ And it went downhill from there.”

Another interviewee, Joyce McKinney, subject of Errol Morris’s documentary Tabloid, was making so little sense Hill cut in: “Joyce, Joyce – I’m losing the will to live.” Monica Lewinsky was audibly shocked when Hill asked her, “You performed fellatio on President Clinton the same day you exchanged your first words with him. In retrospect, was that a smart thing to do?” A complaint that the question breached standards of good taste, decency and fairness was rejected by the Broadcasting Standards Authority. 

There was John Pilger, the Australian journalist who got personal in a TV interview. And then there was Jeffrey Archer. “Your National Programme doesn’t give you the authority to be rude,” he declared. The bestselling novelist and Tory peer arrived in the Wellington studio in 1993 primed, she reckons. “His friends in the National Party had told him that I was hostile, I think. And so he just started raving. I mean, that was genuinely upsetting. I’d only just started Nine to Noon. And he was live, in person. I just didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I was shaking.”

In 2001, Archer was sentenced to four years in jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Hill’s design, she says, has not been to pick fights or puncture egos, so much as this: “You go in thinking: there’s something that puzzles me about this person. Or, I’d really like to get how they rationalise saying that and this at the same time – talk me through that. Sometimes it doesn’t go too well.” 

Hill had her critics among commentators and listeners, too. Former Dominion editor Karl du Fresne, for example, has decried Hill’s “irritatingly chummy chats with arty, left-leaning people whom she likes and agrees with” and branded her RNZ’s “resident dominatrix”. One listener of her interview with Pilger typified a complaint that appears routinely online, and in RNZ’s own inboxes: “We are sick and tired of Hill, her ego, constant interrupting during an interview.”

If you really want to hear bilious takes on Kim Hill, however, lately you’re likeliest to have heard them from Kim Hill. Since taking on the Saturday morning show, Hill has refined the art of reading aloud the most vicious and derisory messages sent her way. Supportive listeners will sometimes write to console her. “Don’t worry,” is her response. “I read them out because I think they’re funny. Because they’re bananas … I don’t read out the reasonable ones.”

For every hostile encounter, Hill has enjoyed many more fruitful collaborations, including a number of regular guests, most notable among them Paul Callaghan. Together, they excelled at science communication before it was A Thing. “He was a wildly enthusiastic guy,” she says. “Yeah, it was lovely. He’d light up anybody.”

And the collaborations with producers – among them Chris Bourke (whom she inherited from her predecessor on Saturday mornings, John Campbell), Mark Cubey and her current “total pro” producer, Melanie Phipps. 

The road to Broadcasting House was tortuous. School done, Hill studied European languages. At one point she was employed as a masseuse at a place called The Select Lounge. At another she worked the bar at the Sir George Grey in Tairua. She applied for the postgrad journalism course run by Brian Priestley at Canterbury. Got in. Landed a job at Radio New Zealand in Gisborne. From there she went to Greymouth, then tried her hand at print for the Nelson Evening Mail. In 1985, to Wellington, and her first studio presenter role on Checkpoint. 

Next came Morning Report, and the double-act which those of us of a certain age consider definitive. Hill’s acuity and aggression was the foil for Geoff Robinson’s old-school charm – the “calm centre of the universe”, as Hill would later describe him. Or it might have been the other way around.

An RNZ legend in his own right, Robinson, now 80, remembers those years with great fondness. One interview, he tells me over the phone, summed Hill up. Apartheid was coming to an end in South Africa, and the country’s foreign minister, Pik Botha, was in town. “He and Jim Bolger had been celebrating the change in relationship the night before. He was hungover. Kim wanted to do the interview, and that was fine,” he recounts. 

Kim Hill and Geoff Robinson. Photo: Sound Archives New Zealand

“At one point she said: ‘How can we trust you? How can we know you’re not going to go back on your word?’ His face darkened, and they finished the interview in very short terms. He stormed out of the studio into the little green room, and I heard him complaining about this ‘chit of a girl’ who dared to ask this question. I can still see Kim, white-faced and shaken. But she was determined. That’s one of the things about Kim: if she decides she’s going to ask a question, she asks it.”

The interview was on October 10, 1991. I know this because it is recorded as such on a ruling by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, in response to a complaint from a listener that “the interview lacked courtesy, impartiality and fairness and resembled an interrogation”. It was not upheld. “The authority considered Ms Hill’s aggressive manner, for the most part, was justified in the circumstances.”

As for Hill’s overall contribution, Robinson says simply this: “Of all the people I fronted Morning Report with – I think we counted more than 30 at one point, some for just a couple days, some for longer – she is the standout. Far and away, the best of them all.”

In 1993, Hill moved to Nine to Noon. With producers Maryanne Ahern and Heather Church, the programme was transformed from an amiable magazine-style show into something that ran the gamut from tough, news-pegged interviews to cooking. “That was kind of fabulous,” grins Hill. 

“Kim comes along and it was all about asking the hard questions,” Church recalls. “Seriously, she did take the country by storm. We were inundated with letters. They loved her or hated her … and she did interrupt people! Christ, she could be so acerbic and sarcastic. But never, ever dull. For all the people who found her hard to listen to, there were others who would say: Kim kept me sane, she kept me sane when I was at home with the kids or whatever. She was so important to people. She’s been such a presence in so many lives. There’s going to be a void.”

Coming from a news background, Hill took some convincing to do the lighter stuff, Church tells me. But she warmed to the challenges, and her segments with Ruth Pretty were appointment listening. At one point there was a Kim Hill cookbook. She even started to become something of an armchair expert on rugby. 

Not all the collaborations were fruitful. At one point, after a particularly tricky time with a colleague, she collapsed. “I had a breakdown. Off work for six weeks. On the meds.”

Church and Ahern joined Hill on her foray into television, Face to Face. Aired from 2003, the programme delivered some memorable episodes, including the Pilger exchange, as well as interviews with David Lange, Winston Peters and Germaine Greer. Watching the series back, it is compelling viewing. But everyone seems to have decided that it sucked. “I was awful,” says Hill. “I mean, it’s like, you ask a question and then you have to stop for a commercial break. And I moved around a lot. Winston Peters said, ‘Stop waving your arms around like an Italian!’” 

Church says: “Television can be pretty superficial, very much about how you look, and the visuals generally … People didn’t like her gesticulating. She was in perpetual motion. I think on television a lot of people couldn’t look past that … The whole celebrity culture we’ve wrapped around broadcasters is bollocks. She didn’t buy into that BS. She was there to ask questions on behalf of listeners.”

Is there a Kim Hill method? A theory of the interview? Hill curls up her face, perplexed, as if to say, “Only a stupid person would ask me that question.’” “No,” she says in fact. “No,” she says again. “I mean, I never know where an interview is going to go. That’s the point. Isn’t it?” she continues, having assumed both roles in the interview. “Yes. And if you do know how it’s going to go, it’s bloody boring. So, no.”

There is method, though; of course there is. Hill’s approach involves doing a massive amount of reading, preparing copious notes, and then being prepared to chuck it all out the window in pursuit of any appealing thread that presents itself. She accepts that. “The only theory I have about interviews is that they are like icebergs, in that you might get the top bit showing, but it’s usually – what’s the word, undergirded? – undergirded by stuff that solidifies it in some way and you can go there if you need to. So that’s a great feeling of confidence that you’re not going to be left high and dry with nothing to say. I’m never left with nothing to say. Because there’s always something to know about.”

One of the most impressive – bewildering even – of Hill’s feats is her capacity for reading. On Nine to Noon she would read not just the material for the first hour of topical stuff (the “swot”, as she calls it), but, on four of the five days, another book, usually a novel, to discuss with the reviewer. “She would read a couple of books a night,” said Church. 

It was a matter of pride, too. Such that when I raise it with her she pushes aside her bowl of soup and says: “I remember CK Stead saying – not that I’m one to hold a grudge – ‘I don’t know why Kim Hill pretends to have read all those books’. And so, shallow as I am, when he came to talk about his book, whichever one it was at the time, I said, ‘by the way, there’s a misprint on page 122.’ He’s an ornery old prick. Why would I pretend? I’ve never pretended to read a book in my life. I was outraged about that. I was really, really pissed off. The idea that I was the sort of person who would pretend to have read a book.”

This was too enticing to leave there. I dug out the reference. In the introduction to his 2002 essay collection Kin of Place, Stead remarked on the broadcaster’s influence in the world of books. “An opinion from Kim Hill – the Aunt Daisy de nos jours – carries more weight,” he wrote. And in a footnote: “Among broadcasters, who are often just pretty voices, Kim Hill is rare and to be valued for her articulacy, her quick intelligence and her sense of humour. But is it ego, or Radio NZ policy, which dictates that she must pretend to have read books discussed on her programme which clearly at times she has only skimmed or glanced at?”

Stead, for his part, remembers Hill hauling him up. “I was prepared for this because she had threatened to sue AUPress (which she didn’t do),” he says in an email. “Her challenge, when it came (late of course – that was her method) made it sound as if I had said much worse about her than I had, so I somewhat defused her by quoting the nice things I’d said, flattering enough to make her complaint sound like a fuss about very little. In fact the reason for that remark was a review (done in the days when she did Nine to Noon and seemed sometimes to read and review a book a day) she’d done of a book of short stories where I thought one thing she said revealed she’d read one or two of the stories but not all – and one she’d missed was especially significant.”

Stead continued: “In fact I’ve always been a huge admirer of her as a broadcaster – far and away our best – intelligent, witty, well-read, funny – we have been so lucky to have her. But of course, a sensitive ego, and I have never found being interviewed by her an easy ride. My last was about my second autobiography, You Have a Lot to Lose, where she challenged me about my account of an affair with a student, and said she thought my wife must be a saint.”

I email Hill again. You threatened to sue AUP? “Nonsense.” 

‘Thank you, that was seamless,” says Hill, emerging into the control room at noon, another programme complete, 38 years in. “Apart from my fuckups.” 

Whether Hill means it or not, it’s an intimidating shift, working alongside her on her show. There’s the reputation, after all, and she’s hardly the sort to throw around praise for the sake of it. “It does take a while to earn her trust,” one former colleague told me. 

And her reputation will live on in the corridors of RNZ, in more ways than one. On the day I’m in, Jessica is covering as studio producer. She mentions a colleague, Mary, who had pursued a career in radio largely inspired by Hill’s work. I call Mary and she confirms it. Now 31, she’s listened to Hill all her adult life. “I haven’t come across anyone like her, and I don’t think there will be anyone quite like her again.” When the opportunity came up to line produce a Hill programme, she leapt at it. “I begged to do it. She was very kind to me … it was an out-of-body experience. She has the most incredible chemistry and instinctive humour. And just cuts through the bullshit.”

A few weeks later, I send Hill another message. The final show is so close now: had any sentimentality, or nostalgia, nerves or, God forbid, regret, started to creep into her thought process? After all, she’s been asked in the intervening weeks on air by others – including Bradley Walsh of The Chase – about the decision to leave, about what she’s doing next, all that. 

“Look,” she writes back. “I’ll be relieved when the fuss is over! Then the grief will set in……………………”

Keep going!