Everyone who knew Graham Hannah, knew his laugh. The man who loved to generate fun events was noisy in other ways too. Frequently he thought out loud. When it came to thinking, visualising and developing potential, there was no off-switch.
In his memoir, What the Mind Can See, Graham Hannah reveals what went on centre stage and back as he pulled off decades of award-winning events including Hamilton’s highly visual International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Night Glow. Better known for giving the region the Waikato Home and Garden Show - now in it’s 35th year - Graham quested for elements that would surprise and delight.
No mundane memoir this, What the Mind Can See, takes us on Graham’s travels overland from the UK to Australasia via Istanbul, India and Malaysia. Sheer audacity and pluck saw him survive very real threats on his life throughout the perilous trip in the 1970s.
Born in Yorkshire, Graham had a lifetime love of Blackpool’s bright lights and one-armed bandits. As an eight-year-old he was spellbound by the elaborately-costumed Liberace performing live at Harrogate. The razzamatazz and theatre of shows would prove irresistible ever after.
A wanderer with an affinity for the bohemian life, Graham ended up in the Waikato on a farm with his former wife Colleen Lafferty. Throwing Frisbee with friends and renovating a cottage between times, Graham settled on the idea of developing a Building Display Centre in Hamilton. The Home Show grew out of that initiative, eventually becoming Graham’s hallmark event. Thirty-one years later he was acknowledged the indisputable King of Home Shows. The same year, 2015, he was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Exhibition and Event Organisation of Australasia.
What the Mind Can See reads like a veritable Arabian Nights. Graham the genie, Graham the buccaneer, had a low tolerance for boredom. He lived by the mantra, what the mind can see it can achieve. Never stop learning was another of his mantras; everybody has something to teach you. Invariably his success was entwined with the talents of artisans, inventors, musicians and visionaries like himself. His passion lay in identifying and giving free rein to their respective crafts. Graham’s relationships with trusted friends and associates contributed in large part to the magic of his shows and events. There was no hard line between business and pleasure. He combined the two with equal flourish. Every event ended with a party. Every event was a party.
What the Mind can See offers rare insight into an unconventional character who appeared to walk in the world without fear. Every door was an open door to him and he was always forging an original path to it. Even bedtime stories for his children, Graham invented on the hoof. ‘The only book he liked to read us was Dr Seuss,’ admitted one of Graham’s daughters in the family tributes section of the book.
Elements of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, written by Seuss in 1957, occur as possible influences in Graham’s memoir. The Grinch lived in a cave. Graham had a cave-like dwelling handcrafted on the family farm at Whatawhata. When Graham felt compelled to relocate Hamilton’s Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Night Glow to Masterton, he admitted to feeling like the Grinch who stole Christmas. ‘It was the most emotional time of my business life,’ he confided. I was hounded by media wanting to know why I was pulling the balloon fiesta from Hamilton. I told them I had had a disagreement with council but didn’t go into detail.’ What the Mind Can See unveils the back story, not only of Graham’s political life but his private life too.
Compiled by author Fiona Craig and published by Weaving the Strands, What the Mind Can See is available now at $45 a copy. Illustrated with lashings of photographs spanning the event-wizard’s life, What the Mind Can See offers an outrageous gaze into the outrageous life of a hard-out dreamer.