I was ravaged with remorse and cried all the way home over plight of homeless Ryan, reveals Stephen Nolan
BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan has revealed how he was plunged into emotional anguish after he first saw homeless man Ryan Pedlow sleeping rough on the streets of Belfast.
"I cried on the way home," he admitted in a heart-searching and frank interview last night about what exactly prompted him to help the distressed young man he encountered on the streets of the city.
The man who presides over "the biggest show in the country" also confirmed he was set for an emotional reunion with Ryan on his Radio Ulster programme on Monday.
Stephen revealed that rather than feeling a sense of satisfaction at being able to help the 31-year-old man, who was huddled up in a sleeping bag in freezing temperatures, he felt ravaged with remorse and sickened at not being able to do more for others like him in Northern Ireland who end up with no roof over their heads.
As the Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed yesterday, the big-hearted presenter was out on the streets of Belfast just a few days before Christmas in 2013 with volunteers from a homeless charity when he spotted Ryan slumped on the ground trying to keep warm on a bitterly cold night in Glengall Street, near the Europa Hotel.
The TV and radio star was so touched by Ryan's sad plight that he paid for a three-night stay at the Europa Hotel to get him off the streets in the run-up to Christmas.
Ryan told this newspaper that Stephen's actions saved his life, rescuing him from a desperate existence sleeping rough. The former DJ from Donaghcloney has since turned his life around, finding employment, and has reconciled with his family.
Despite being applauded for his compassion, though, Stephen has said all he felt that night was guilt at his own good fortune compared to the hopeless situation many people in the province find themselves in.
"People shouldn't be praising me today," said Stephen. "People should be asking me today why people like me - who have money - don't do more with the cash for people who don't."
Ryan has praised Stephen's humanity to his frightening circumstances, describing how he knelt down beside him: "He actually lay down beside me and offered me help."
Stephen explained his shock at seeing the young man living this way: "I remember seeing Ryan for the first time. Huddled against a dirty wall at the side of the beautifully clean Europa Hotel.
"I stood above Ryan as he lay on the ground, and I initially thought he couldn't speak because of the freezing cold, but when I looked into his eyes, I realised what was going on," explained Stephen.
"He was terrified. That's why he couldn't speak. I saw the fear in his eyes and I felt sick. So I sat down beside him and spent some time with him. He looked into my eyes and just kept staring. I'll never forget the look on his face."
The sight of the homeless man so down on his luck was too much for Stephen who pulled out his credit card and took Ryan into the Europa, booking him in for a stay in the luxury hotel - and off the streets.
"When we walked inside the Europa, he was dirty and out of place among everyone in their party gear," recalled Stephen. "But he was as much a human being as any of the rest of us.
"I know there have been some kind words about me today, but paying for him to have a room in the Europa didn't make me feel good. It had the opposite effect on me that night. It made me feel like I don't use my money properly. I can't describe it, but I felt awful that the credit card in my pocket that I took for granted could have such an impact on another human being."
But his actions that night have meant a fresh start for IT graduate Ryan who has seen his mum again, is working and trying to put his life to rights by addressing his issues with alcohol.
I can't thank Stephen enough," he said. "From the very bottom of my heart, I will never forget what he did for me. 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've ended up had Stephen Nolan not come along."
Now Ryan will get his chance to thank Stephen in person when they talk live on air on Monday.