'I can't stop working, I'm a control freak ...'
Tonight Stephen Nolan will be causing some merry mayhem on BBC Northern Ireland's Nolan Live Christmas Special. Here the multi-award winning presenter finds himself in a reflective mood
Published 21/12/2007 | 14:19
Christmas is one my favourite times of the year and I absolutely love the thought of us creating mayhem on live television this Christmastime. Here's how it usually works on Nolan Live - there is a prepared script, but as soon as we go live I veer off the rehearsed version, the producer takes multiple heart attacks and all our timings end up all over the place. But the excitement of the unexpected is truly palpable and I'd personally rather mess it up trying to be adventurous than get it right by being a bore. Things will be no different with tonight's Nolan Live Christmas Special.
The studio tickets for our Christmas Special have been like gold dust, so it's going to be a big night and I'm genuinely flattered that the public are getting into this seasonal special in such a massive way. On the programme tonight we will have the usual big rows, laughs and tears. These have become essential elements on Nolan Live, but this time I will also be surprising a few people with some brilliant 'wind ups' - which could be a recipe for disaster!
Tonight we'll also be asking viewers to text in their Christmas greetings and photos during the live show, so if they have their mobiles with them in the living room or wherever they are watching, they could find themselves being on TV. And yes, the wackier the photo or greeting, the better the chance of it appearing on the screen!
Actually, it can sometimes be scary presenting a live show because I never know what the callers or text messages will say. The production team do tend to fire the most risqué of the viewers' texts onto the 20ft-wide screen for me to read out, so I never know what sort of abuse is coming - and the guests are also usually ready to get stuck in to me - but the audience seems to love this and, to be honest, so do I.
They say Christmas is a time for reflection and, as I approach the end of 2007, I feel that I've reached a pivotal time in my career. Next year will mark my fourth year on the BBC - many people predicted I wouldn't last four days, never mind four years!
I'll never forget my first day on BBC Radio Ulster. I was determined to make a mark and to do things my own way but, as usual, I landed myself right in the danger zone. Picture the scene: Uri Geller swears, slams the phone down on me live on air and complains to the Director General of the BBC. That was day one, but I think, in a bizarre way, it was a marker from the beginning that the radio show was going to be anything but dull. Of course, it has grown in just four years to become 'the biggest show in the country'. How? Well, I put it down to its authenticity.
I feel that there can be a snobbery in our society that puts a lot of pressure on people to speak in a certain way and to behave like everyone else but I'm determined to fight that as much as I can. I hate the thought of conformity and I can't stand certain people who think that you should only have a place on a radio phone-in programme or television show if you are from the 'right stock'. I'd say that the people who are concerned with this sort of thing are boring and probably haven't even lived real lives. I'm much more interested in hearing from somebody who has got their hands dirty and can talk from real experience.
I feel a huge pressure with both The Stephen Nolan Show on radio and the Nolan Live TV show because it is where people often turn to when they desperately need help. I never forget that, when somebody writes to me, it means that they are trusting me and, as time goes on, I feel more and more responsibility to deliver for them.
I'm sometimes asked why I don't slow down or work less. I can't. It's that simple. I am a control freak. I like to make the decisions, I like to control my own career and I often lie awake at night thinking about a new show, a new format or a new way to change things around. I think that's why people may be right when they accuse me of being ruthless. It's because I'm single-minded. When I've worked out a direction in my own mind, an instinct drives me to forcing it through; no matter who is in the way. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but it is definitely who I am.
Having said all that, I can feel myself changing inside as a human being. I know this might sound really deep but I honestly can feel myself 'moving on' inside my head. I am 34-years-old now and, for the first time, I'm starting to be more reflective. I am starting to want to see more of the world and I find myself wanting to take in the sights and sounds more. I was overwhelmed recently during my Christmas break in Vienna. The beauty of the city took my breath away. If a caller said this to me on air, I'd probably tell him to wind his neck in ... I know ... but it's true. I don't know what's happening to me.
I even find myself thinking more about God. I haven't really worked out whether I believe in God yet - sometimes I do and sometimes I don't - but I am envious of the pure inner peace that any deep faith gives an individual and time will tell if it will ever come to me.
I've also, for the first time, become conscious that I won't be around forever. It has suddenly dawned on me that I only have 20, 30 or 40 years to live! Does this happen to everyone in their 30s? I don't know. What I do know is that it's making me focus even more.
In work, I've actually written out plans for where I want to be next year and every year thereafter. I've got as far as 2015. I want major challenges next year and I'm not going off plan, so the short term will be a roller coaster but I'm determined to do it.
These days I work three days every week in Manchester on BBC Radio Five Live but I don't want to ever leave Northern Ireland completely. I'm proud of what I have here and I feel lucky that I have hit it off with the people of Northern Ireland. Yes, I fight with them and, yes, I get angry with them, but I also believe that I am one of them. I have a close relationship with the audience. I can't put my finger on it, but it's like I feel my most safe when I am on air in a listener's company.
I genuinely think that if I was in trouble in my life, I would talk first to my family and then to the audience. I really mean that. For those people who don't know me, they make all kinds of wild guesses about who I am but, actually, the truth is that I'm as happy, sad and vulnerable as the next guy in the street.
Like everybody though, we all have our comfort blankets. Mine is being in front of a live audience. I feel safe there. I feel the people are willing the show to be a huge success. Listeners and viewers now scream my catchphrase, 'the biggest show in the country' to me. Why? Because I think they know it's their show. There is no formula - it's simply the people's show. It consists of the people, for the people. And it's successful because of the people. And with tonight's Nolan Live Christmas Special, I am determined to give all those people one hell of a crazy ride. Remember, he who dares wins!
Nolan Live Christmas Special is on BBC One Northern Ireland tonight at 9pm. The Stephen Nolan Show is on BBC Radio Ulster, Monday to Friday, at 9am. Listen Live or again at www.bbc.co.uk/nolan