Belfast Telegraph

BBC's Nolan thinks new TV show IS most important project he'll ever do

Broadcaster Stephen out to empower NI teenagers

By Stephanie Bell

Stephen Nolan is to take on what he says will be the most important challenge of his career - giving the youth of Northern Ireland a public voice.

The tough-talking BBC NI broadcaster has spent this year visiting schools and youth clubs across the province to lay the groundwork for 2018 when he aims to put young people here in the spotlight.

Speaking for the first time about his latest - and what he insists will be his greatest - career project, he says: "I have the same feeling about this as I had when the BBC approached me 11 years ago to do their morning radio show and I vowed then to make it the biggest show in the country.

"I knew I could make it massive and this is going to be the same. It is going to be the biggest and most important project I will ever do and that is because of the enthusiasm and genuine appetite for politics in our young people. All they need is for someone to give them a platform and I want to be the man in Northern Ireland to do it and I am going to give them the biggest platform in the country.

"I'm doing it, nothing is getting in the way of it. It is exciting and I haven't felt this way about anything in a long time."

Nolan set the ball rolling with the launch earlier this year of his new show, The Top Table, which returns to BBC1 tonight and is on again next week. The studio-based programme puts young people centre stage in a series of lively conversations with politicians and decision- makers. According to Nolan, it is just the first step in a bigger plan to bring young people to the fore in Northern Ireland.

He has even come up with a mission statement for his new venture - "Move, the next generation is here, now".

He says: "I'm really going for this. The vitality, drive, confidence and enthusiasm young people have is extraordinary, it really is, and talking to them has made me feel so old.

"I aim to concentrate on it next year as I really think young people can make their mark in Northern Ireland, I genuinely do.

"Top Table is not a youth programme, it is for big grown-ups and is as serious a current affairs programme as any other on the BBC. It allows these young people to be themselves and people will be able to see how confident, how articulate and how passionate they are."

In tonight's show, four young people aged 17-21 will take their seats at the top table to discuss issues with four people of influence, two of whom have been confirmed as Labour MP George Galloway and TUV leader Jim Allister MLA.

Also, as part of his plans for giving youth a voice, a new live online show, The Talking Table, featuring a panel of young people discussing the stories in the news each week will launch this Sunday at 3pm on BBC NI's website and Facebook page.

Nolan, who is a multi award-winning broadcaster, has found himself in the unusual position of competing against himself in one of the UK's biggest award ceremonies - The ARIAS. Both of his radio shows - Nolan Live on Radio Ulster, and Radio Five Live - have been shortlisted for the UK Breaking News Award.

Nolan Live was chosen for its coverage of the RHI scandal which led to the collapse of Stormont, and Radio Five Live for its coverage of the London Bridge terrorist attack.

Nolan says: "It's a strange situation to be in but it's brilliant. I'm really proud of it. It is also about the teams behind the scenes and I am really proud of the journalism behind those stories."

A self-confessed workaholic, Nolan says he has finally found a work-life balance.

He says the only place he can totally switch off from work is in California which he has visited three times this year so far, with plans to spend a month there at the end of December. While on his last visit in July, he surprised himself by hiring a bicycle to ride along the Santa Monica beach and has now taken up cycling.

He says: "It is really important for my mental health that I get down-times and I haven't had the best work-life balance but now I do and the down for me is visiting Santa Monica.

"I love it over there, it is so special to me and the only place where, for whatever reason, my soul calms down and rests and I am not thinking about work.

"I hired a bike in July and cycled along the beach and loved it so much I came home and bought a bike and I'm riding on the country roads close to home, I haven't the confidence yet to be on the main roads."

Nolan, who has battled his weight unsuccessfully for years, adds: "I'm 44 now and I a m going to have to tackle my weight sooner or later. I will just keep on trying."

The Top Table, tonight, BBC1, 10.40pm

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