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Media supremo and millionaire twice over Paul Smith back home in his 'special' Belfast

By John Mulgrew

Published 27/02/2016

Belfast man Paul Smith
Belfast man Paul Smith
Smith at the RBAI event with Stephen Nolan
James Nesbitt on a charity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

He's the Belfast man who put one of the most successful ever quiz shows on our TVs and produced a multi Oscar-winning blockbuster that grossed £270m at the box office.

After five decades in broadcasting and movies, 69-year-old Paul Smith has returned to his home city.

The senior media figure has played roles across broadcasting and film-making, as well as bringing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to screens across the globe and producing hit movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Althought there are no new films in the works, he said a Slumdog musical could be on the cards.

Speaking about tomorrow's Oscars, Paul thinks Leonardo DiCaprio's The Revenant looks likely to take best movie, but he wants Spotlight - a biopic about child abuse by Catholic clergy - to take the top award.

"People don't use that pure single judgment: what's that very best performance?" he said.

"One should be dispassionate and make decisions on merit alone."

Paul, a member of Bafta, dismissed the furore over a lack of ethnic diversity among Oscar nominations.

"As an example, that there aren't enough women in the boardroom... taking a particular sector, albeit a particularly large sector, and identifying them and saying there is some way they are being repressed, it's nonsense," he said.

His company Celador was behind the Chris Tarrant-fronted quiz phenomenon.

Paul, who grew up in the Cregagh area, originally pitched the idea for the show back in 1995, but it was rejected.

A decade later the programme was being aired in dozens of countries.

Speaking about his native Belfast, he said: "I get very emotional about it, when I'm flying in over the lough.

"People here are wonderful and they make it such a special place."

He was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph following a trip to his old school, Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he was quizzed about his career by Stephen Nolan.

According to Paul, Celador at once time made a bid for radio station U105, with Nolan "part of the consortium".

"We had never worked out what his role would be, but he would have been doing a show for us," he said.

Meanwhile, he described UTV's sale of its television business to ITV as "inevitable" in light of the failure of it venture down South.

"As I understand it, I believe they had no choice," he said.

He added the sale was directly linked to the failure of the massive UTV Ireland project.

He also said there was "no question" that jobs will go as a result of the takeover.

"Most of the management can go, because that will be centralised," he said.

And on politics, Paul, while not entirely convinced, wants the UK to remain as part of the EU.

"I would be wrong to say I'm fully briefed to make a clear (decision)... my position would be there is more benefit to being in the EU."

Celador sold its television assets in 2006 for £106m, and Paul said after 41 years "he'd had enough".

"(I) wanted to move on and have other challenges. But I look back at it with great affection. It feels like a different time," he said.

Paul's company now owns a series of commercial radio stations, many in the south of England.

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