Belfast Telegraph

Defiant Stephen Nolan comes out fighting in BBC pay storm

Nolan: 'I've put spotlight on politicians' and public sector pay over the years... it's only fair mine is now scrutinised'

By Aaron Tinney

Stephen Nolan has justified his status as one of the BBC's top earners by saying he is a simple working-class man trying to earn as much as he can in a competitive market.

In his only face-to-face newspaper interview yesterday, Nolan told the Belfast Telegraph he will be grilled on his Radio Ulster show this morning by barrister and politician Jim Allister about his salary of up to £449,999.

He added that his production team chose the TUV leader for a head-to-head after he promised on air yesterday that he was volunteering himself for a no-holds-barred quizzing by an "independent interviewer" on his earning power.

The multi award-winning broadcaster was among a list of 96 BBC stars whose salaries were made public yesterday so licence fee payers can see where their money is being spent.

Current Radio Academy speech broadcaster of the year, Nolan (43) was the only Northern Ireland-based employee on the list of BBC talent paid at least £150,000.

He invited us to his studio at BBC NI headquarters on Belfast's Ormeau Road to talk about his earnings being made public hours after they were revealed.

He told how he:

• Has turned down offers from rival broadcasters for better paid roles to stay at the BBC.

• Wants emergency workers to be paid millions of pounds.

• Is a workaholic who does seven-day weeks to give a voice to the people of the UK.

• Considers scrutiny of his salary as "fair game".

After an exhausting phone-in show - half-an-hour of which was dedicated to a debate on the issue - Nolan said when asked if he was worth the pay: "I would never be as arrogant as to say what I'm worth, because who would do that?

"There's a market, and within that market the BBC have all of these negotiators, and they genuinely do - I have experienced it over the last 10 years.

"Some of them have commercial experience. They have come into the BBC and what they're trying to do is they're trying to get presenters what they reckon is the appropriate market rate to pay them, and I'm not going to start commenting on what they pay me."

He spoke to the Belfast Telegraph after turning down an offer from BBC colleague William Crawley yesterday to discuss the matter on his Talkback show, prompting Crawley to tweet he felt that Nolan was trying to "manage the story".

But Nolan said he was happy to be under scrutiny as he considered his wages "fair game".

He stressed his pay took into account his five-day-a-week job hosting his BBC Radio Ulster show, his NI TV shows, and his broadcasts on BBC 5 Live, for which he travels to Manchester each week.

He also said the corporation was paying for an award-winning host, as he holds 12 Sony Radio Academy trophies, including seven gold - giving him the record for the most golds in the history of radio's equivalent to the Oscars.

Nolan added: "I am trying to do the very best job I can do and I am trying to earn as much as I can earn, and, you know, if you set out the jobs I do, it's this: I do Radio Ulster Monday to Friday - that's five shows a week. I do three shows a week of The Stephen Nolan Show on 5 Live.

"I then do a fourth show for Radio 5, the radio phone-in element of Question Time. So there's nine radio shows most weeks. And then I do 18 television shows a year. I don't know if it's the working-class guy in me, I don't know what it is, but if I could take some magic pill and not have to sleep, and do another job overnight, I would do it."

On his choice of Mr Allister to interview him about his wage today, he said: "There are some excellent broadcasters in Northern Ireland who could have interviewed me and done a very good job of it, but actually what the team have decided to do, and I completely support this, is to show another level of independence, which is to bring in the guy who is the thorn in the side of many politicians.

"Jim is a barrister, so I'm making myself available for a barrister and one of the inquisitors célèbre of Stormont to do what he wants to do."

Mr Allister (64) has had a series of furious exchanges with Nolan on his radio show in the past, including over MPs' expenses and gay rights.

Nolan added about their exchange, which will air this morning: "I think it's in the spirit of what The Nolan Show is about, and what I'm about, and I hope people do at least acknowledge that.

"I've asked questions (about MPs' expenses and public sector pay) while doing my job.

"Today it's fair you're asking the questions."

The BBC's salary list yesterday prompted fierce criticism as it showed only a third of its top earners are women, including Claudia Winkleman, who gets up to £499,999 compared to male stars including Gary Lineker, who made more than £1.75m, and Graham Norton, on more than £850,000.

BBC director-general Tony Hall has vowed to address the gender pay gap, which has led to the organisation being dubbed the 'Blokes Broadcasting Corporation'.

Turning to wider pay issues, Nolan said: "When you start getting into a conversation about nurses and doctors and public sector workers who actually save lives, they do a much more important job than I do - of course they do.

"In an ideal world, if all those people could earn millions of pounds, you would look on them and say it's absolutely right as they are saving lives. I am not comparing what I do to any of those people who save lives."

Nolan - who dubs his Radio Ulster programme "the biggest show in the country" - is clearly on a mission to prove his worth to "the man on the street", who he says he works tirelessly to help via his phone-ins.

He added: "Think from what I've heard and from what I'm reading there are some people who are not surprised at all (by his salary). It's a market and, in the same way there's a market for footballers, there's a market for presenters, and I'm in that market and at the moment I'm doing really well.

"What I'm focused on over the next year is to keep on going. I care so passionately about these shows that that is why I'm working seven days a week.

"If I didn't care so passionately about these shows, I can afford now to maybe do less, but I won't, I can't. I genuinely love them and I think they are very powerful shows and I hope the public, particularly in Northern Ireland, that if they want someone to fight for them then they have a massive powerful voice in me. I hope they know I'm their man - I hope they know that."

Nolan also revealed he had previously turned down attempts to poach him for "better pay and less work".

He said: "I feel like the BBC is trying to manage a situation where they've got presenters, and they're paying them what they feel they need to pay them. That is genuinely how I feel."

The BBC published the list of stars' salaries in £50,000 bands.

It does not include payments to staff from production companies or BBC Worldwide, which generates commercial revenues.

It is well publicised that Nolan has private companies and is worth more than £1.7m, according to the latest Companies House records. But yesterday he focused on his BBC earnings which until now he had refused to discuss when pressed on air to reveal it by politicians and callers.

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