Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Stephen Nolan: The presenter on breaking the big time at the BBC...and never taking no for an answer

The tables were turned on Stephen Nolan when our young editors asked him big questions, with some revealing answers

On air: Callum Sweetlove, Christopher Seeley and Rachael Adamson  with Stephen Nolan  and (below) outside Broadcasting House
On air: Callum Sweetlove, Christopher Seeley and Rachael Adamson with Stephen Nolan and (below) outside Broadcasting House

Q Why do you still have so much faith in Northern Ireland?

A Because it’s where I’m from. I think it’s pretty natural that you believe in the place where you were born.

No matter where I go in the world, I think that Northern Ireland is more beautiful, I genuinely do. While it’s a cliché to say that the people are different, I just feel closer to the people here.

I also think that there’s a generation like yourselves coming through and that’s why I don’t want people like you guys leaving. Don’t underestimate the power of politics, don’t underestimate what politics actually means, it means that you guys deciding that you want to shape Northern Ireland for the better, for the future and then actually doing it. Whatever structures you want to change in Northern Ireland, get a momentum behind you and make it happen. Put those politicians under pressure.

Q What do you think will make young people feel your |positive belief?

A When they actually realise how much power they actually have. For any political party to survive in Northern Ireland, we can’t all live off people in their 50s and 60s. So we need to attract and engage with people like you, and that basically means you have the power. Don’t underestimate the clout that you actually have.

Q Why do you think you have been so popular here and in Britain?

A I don’t see myself as successful. I work a lot, seven days a week, so I put myself under pressure. I just wouldn’t want anyone to look at what I’m doing and see it as any more important that any of our professions that you guys might go into.

I guess it’s successful in the fact that I always wanted to work for the BBC, and it was hard breaking down the door in here. Don’t forget, I was once your age and when I tried to break the door down to get in here, the BBC simply said no, we don’t think you have a voice for a traffic and travel job, which I was turned down for, as well as a presenter. I wrote hundreds of letters into this place trying to get in the door and I was knocked back every single time.

If there’s one thing that I do think is successful, is that I didn’t take no for an answer.

No matter how many people in this building told me that I would never do it, well, I’m presenting nine radio shows a week and a television show. If I could be so presump tuous as to send out a message to anybody your age — don’t let anybody define what you are or what you can’t do. You define that for yourself.

Q How would you describe your journey from a young boy to now?

A Luck was a very big factor. I would say, push yourself in life. I had a very blinkered vision about what I wanted to do.

A lot of people want to get into the media, but there’s very few who want something so passionately that they will put themselves ahead of the rest.

What I did do, I wanted to get inside BCR station and the boss there wasn’t interested. I stood outside every single day for six months waiting on that boss to come out and asked him for a job every day.

I answered phones for two years and after that I was employed and paid £2.50 a shift, so it cost me more to go to work than what I was earning.

Stamina and the will to invest in yourself is how I would sum up what I did.

Q How do you cope with the public focus on your life, particulary all the attention on the battle with your weight?

AI bring it on myself as I talk about my weight a lot. I don’t think I can criticise anyone for talking about my weight as I do. Maybe that’s a coping mechanism or a desperation thing for me to still say to people that I’m still trying to lose weight, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

I earn a living by getting other people to talk about themselves and to share their stories and their lives with me, so I think it would be wrong that I was saying to people that I’m shutting down here so don’t dare talk anything about me. That would be farcical.

I do think that with Twitter and social media, there is more of a direct engagement with people like me, where the vast majority of people are fine and it’s a bit of banter, and they disagree with me, it’s all fair game.

There is a nasty crowd and the nasty crowd who go out of their way to be as vitriolic as possible. You very quickly build up a barrier to it and think ‘what sad people’.

Q Do you feel that you are now fully accepted at the BBC?

A Absolutely. I feel passionately about the BBC and feel part of the BBC. I wasn’t specifically told that I wasn’t ‘one of us’. I found it very, very difficult to get into the door. I was rejected a number of times and it hurt.

I walked away from here in tears because I had been rejected, as yet again I had been told ‘no, we don’t have a job for you’. I used to walk past and see the big BBC sign and just wanted to work here, it’s just where I wanted to be. I love the BBC and I believe in it.

Interview by Rachael Adamson, Christopher Seeley and Callum Sweetlove

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