BBC's Stephen Nolan put homeless Belfast man in luxury hotel and 'saved his life'
Ryan Pedlow tells Ivan Little how star's act of kindness saved him for homelessness
A man from Co Down has claimed that Stephen Nolan saved his life by rescuing him from the freezing streets of Belfast when he was sleeping rough.
Former DJ Ryan Pedlow (31) says the big-hearted TV star paid for him to stay in the £110-a-night luxury of the Europa Hotel, and that his generosity was crucial in turning his shattered life around.
"I can't thank Stephen enough," said Ryan, a university graduate from Donacloney. "From the very bottom of my heart, I will never forget what he did for me. He scooped me up from outside the Europa where I'd been sleeping in the cold, and put me up inside the hotel. The very next day, things started to sort themselves out for me, and I haven't looked back since. But I don't know where I would have ended up if Stephen Nolan hadn't come along."
The BBC presenter, renowned for his no-nonsense questioning of local politicians, met Ryan after he went out on the streets of Belfast just a few days before Christmas in 2013 with volunteers from a charity that helps the homeless.
"The next thing I knew, I was looking at a face I knew - Stephen Nolan," said Ryan who has a degree in business IT from Queen's University but who found himself without a roof over his head after there were tensions in a house he had been living in with friends.
"He actually lay down beside me and offered to help me. I was acting very irresponsibly. I was drinking too much, and though I did not touch any drugs, everything just all got out of hand.
"I slept at the side of the Europa in Glengall Street for about a week-and-a-half. I had lost touch with reality, but I was terrified. The streets are scary after dark."
Ryan was unable to get a job in IT after leaving Queen's and instead took a succession of positions, including one in a local car showroom and another as a web designer before working in bars where he was also a DJ. But in late 2013, he went off the rails.
"I was being a silly wee boy and I let my mum and a lot of my friends down," Ryan said. "I'm not proud of what I did. I was a mess."
He eventually walked out of his shared house in Belfast without a word to anyone. His worried friends listed him as a missing person with police and scoured the streets, but to no avail.
Ryan said he spent his daylight hours wandering aimlessly through the city centre. "I wasn't rational," he added. "I wasn't thinking straight. If you had seen me, I would have scared a ghost.
"I slept in Glengall Street because it was familiar to me and there was no one sleeping in that particular spot. Luckily, I got a couple of sleeping bags to give myself a bit of heat, and I was able to doze off for part of the nights I was there. If you're tired enough, you will sleep anywhere, but it wasn't like sleeping on a memory foam mattress, believe me.
"Some of the people who were passing by at night were in the Christmas spirit and occasionally gave me money. But I used a lot of it to buy a few cans of beer or put the money on a daft bet."
So why, if things were so bad, did Ryan not just go to his family? "I was ashamed and I thought if I landed on my mum's doorstep in the shape I was in, it would really have hurt her," he replied.
However, fate intervened in the shape of Stephen Nolan on December 14, 2013.
"I think he was with people from the Welcome Organisation when he came down Glengall Street and I remember that he got down beside me and he stroked my hand," Ryan said. "Obviously, I recognised him immediately. He asked me what he could do to help me. It was one of the most poignant moments in my life.
"He was bringing himself down to my level, literally. I can't recall what I said to him, but he walked me into the Europa Hotel and paid for me to stay there for three nights. I can still see myself standing in the foyer like a wee lost puppy.
"I'd let myself go and it was beyond surreal to be there and for all this to be happening to me.
"Later on, it was also surreal to be sleeping on the other side of the wall of the Europa from where I'd been sleeping."
Not surprisingly, Ryan overslept the following morning and missed his breakfast. But in the afternoon, he went outside for a smoke on Great Victoria Street, where by chance one of the friends who had been searching for him arrived.
"He made a few phone calls and shortly afterwards the police arrived and called an ambulance which took me to Craigavon hospital where I was checked over and told I could go," said Ryan, who never returned to the Europa for the other two nights of the stay for which Stephen Nolan paid.
Ryan's mother was waiting at Craigavon hospital for him as he arrived at A&E.
"She didn't recognise me," said Ryan," whose father had passed away a few months earlier. "It must have been awful for her, totally bewildering to see me like that. But she took me home."
It was some time before Ryan was able to get his life back on an even keel, and he admits that it was far from easy for his mother and siblings to cope with him being back home.
"I was in a state of disrepair after coming off a whirlwind," he said. "Looking back, I feel sorry for them having to deal with all that. I only have myself to blame for everything."
But Ryan is now a reformed character and has moved to Bangor to build a new life.
"They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he said. "I just hope that's true."
While the graduate did not work last year, he is now happily doing odd jobs - "bits and pieces of painting and decorating".
He has not given up alcohol but has managed to control his drinking. "Whereas I used to be dependent on alcohol, which used to take the edge off things for me and act as a comfort, I am now a social drinker and I can take it or leave it," Ryan said.
Throughout everything, his gratitude to the TV and radio star has remained boundless. "If I hadn't received that help from him and from the Welcome outreach team, who knows what would have happened next, especially in the mouth of Christmas?" Ryan said. "I have no idea just how far down I could have gone. But you can only go so far before you are six feet under, though I wasn't feeling suicidal at any point. I was just lost. I had so much going through my head and I was just cowering away from it all.
"I dread to think what might have happened, but it's not an exaggeration to say that Stephen Nolan saved my life."
Ryan, who was a promising amateur footballer in his youth and a snooker fanatic, has not met Stephen Nolan since the broadcaster took him to the Europa, but he would like to thank him face-to-face.
"I would like to tell him he was my catalyst, my life-saver," the 31-year-old said. "I am relating my story now as a way of letting people know the real Stephen Nolan.
"I know he gets a lot of stick from the public, but I think he is misunderstood. What he did for me is the real mark of the man. And underneath that hard exterior, I'm convinced he is just a big softie."
Ryan said he had been a regular listener to Stephen's shows before his life fell apart. "But he went way up in my estimation after that night in December," he added. "It wasn't even what he did, it was just the fact that he cared. It blew my mind."
Stephen Nolan said he was pleased that Ryan had been able to turn his life around. He told how he had been researching the plight of homeless people in Belfast for a documentary in December 2013 when he spotted him lying beside the Europa Hotel.
"I was with members of the Welcome outreach organisation who do such great work for the homeless," Stephen said.
"There was just something about Ryan - his eyes were haunted and I got this idea that I had to help him in any way I could.
"Because we were so close to the hotel I decided to pay for him to stay a few nights."
Stephen never saw Ryan again, but he told how he was "delighted he has got things back on track" - and that he would gladly meet him again.
"I was only to happy to help," the star said.