Belfast Telegraph

Lay off Christine Bleakley, says Stephen Nolan

She’s been fiercely criticised since her multi-million pound defection from the BBC to ITV’s Daybreak, but now, in a hard-hitting personal piece, Stephen Nolan says it’s time for Northern Ireland to stick up for Christine Bleakley

Christine Bleakley is one of the most decent, down-to-earth people you will ever meet and we should be fighting for “our girl” instead of being passive from the sidelines.

Just think how Ant and Dec are owned by the Geordies — that's the sense of ownership we need to have of Christine.

You can criticise me about a lot of things, but I know how live television works. I brought BBCNI one of its largest viewing audiences in recent times with Nolan Live, week in and week out on BBC1, and I'm telling you that Christine Bleakley is one of the most gifted TV broadcasters in the UK.

I worked with her on Children in Need in a live show and she blew me out of the water in terms of ability.

A few home truths.

People who think she just giggles at a camera haven't a clue about how instinctive she is about the grammar of television. You cannot teach that.

However, that's not her biggest asset. Christine's biggest strength is her character — she has more integrity in her little finger than some of those hurling vitriolic abuse.

Of course, TV critics have a right to assess her show. That's all fair game. Daybreak isn't right yet and has its problems.

But that in itself is no excuse to batter Christine's integrity. Her celebrity status does not mean she is fair game. I'm sick of hearing how it can be “open season” on celebs. They deserve no more — but as much respect — as any other human being.

I present TV and radio programmes for a living. I am no better than someone who drives a taxi for a living. And that means I should be afforded the same amount of respect. That goes even more for Bleakley.

Has it struck anybody that it must be quite daunting for a young lady to be in the firing line so much? Shouldn’t we in Northern Ireland be rallying behind her a little more?

Christine is an incredibly genuine, kind and likeable soul. It is her charm and charisma which broadcasters pay millions for. Why? Because you can't fake it, and it’s very expensive when you've got a lot of it.

I wonder how much of the criticism that is directed towards Christine is coming from people who are driven by a deep-seated resentment of her beauty and success. They can question her show all they like, of course they can, but they should not get away with lying about who she is as a human being.

Let's deal with her making millions.

“Greed” they murmur.

Yet if Northern Ireland is to prosper, surely we need more people who not only aspire to make millions, but who actually achieve it.

From over 60,000,000 people in the UK, a young woman from Newtownards has created wealth from humble beginnings and has made herself the number one choice for that prime time ITV slot on national television.

That's called “success”, not “greed”. We should be using Christine as a figurehead to inspire the next generation of Ulster kids rather than allowing her to be slaughtered.

If our kids are to learn a lesson from Christine's experience so far, sadly it is to beware of success.

If Bleakley lived in America, she would have her name in lights. In the UK there are some who chase her as if she was a rogue.

I can talk about my own experiences. People who have never met me or taken the time to speak to me label me arrogant and aloof. Actually, I'm a mixture of insecure and driven. I take no prisoners, but that's because I want to succeed.

Has it crossed enough minds that Christine might be the same?

The most disgusting part of it all recently has been the attacks on Christine simply because of who she happens to have fallen in love with.

Her romance with Frank Lampard is an endearing, fairytale story of a beautiful TV star falling in love with a handsome footballer. They even have the luck of being rich and famous at the same time.

Instead of letting them live the dream, there are some that hurl the WAG tag at her. They want to sully everything that is beautiful about her good fortune. There is nothing more ugly than that jealousy.

Why don't we let her live the dream? After all, it must be actually quite exciting for Christine.

Flying abroad to her boyfriend at the World Cup, meeting Frank's mates who are themselves household names, having an adrenalin rush which that world of fame, money, success and beauty must sometimes bring. Some argue that the “girl next door” image will be damaged. What's wrong with that?

A local girl is now a multi-millionaire success story and has fallen in love. I reckon quite a few of us would like to be beautiful and charming and rich and genuine and successful.

So let's protect one of our own from Northern Ireland who definitely is.

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