Belfast Telegraph

Provocative and punchy, Nolan is worth every penny

By Gail Walker

Fury has followed this newspaper's revelation that Stephen Nolan is set to earn £5,000 per episode for his new TV show.

Gregory Campbell calls him to account, BBC NI journalists hold emergency meetings over their concerns at somebody making so much dosh against a backdrop of cuts at the corporation, messageboards groan under the weight of vitriol directed towards the presenter.

Yet the last time I checked, Nolan wasn't holding BBC mandarins hostage and forcing them to fill his swag bag with used tenners.

No, someone at the BBC made the hard-headed commercial decision that, to quote the gang at L'Oreal, he's worth it.

And if your paymasters thought you were worth a lot of cash, too, would you go about saying 'No, no, honestly. I'm rubbish. Half that amount will do rightly'? (Pause for eerie silence and the tumbling of tumbleweeds).

Stephen Nolan is very good at what he does. The man who was once told he'd never work at BBC NI is now its biggest star. His phone-in show on Radio Ulster is groundbreaking - fast, hard-hitting, irreverent and at times very angry. It was, in local terms, not a breath but a blast of fresh air.

Nolan isn't quite a shock jock but his show was still a seismic change from the aural valium that remains much of Radio Ulster's output. Even the venerable Talkback hosted by the late, great David Dunseith had a predictable ritualism; a certain decorum ensured that after all the huffing and puffing the result would always be a please-all score-draw.

Nolan's popularist touch has held our leaders to account to their evident discomfiture. He has allowed previously rarely heard voices - and sometimes almost incoherent ones - onto our comfy airwaves.

From a working-class background himself, he doesn't marginalise or patronise those uncouth opinions from the margins who are simply telling it as they see it as best they can. He doesn't dampen down controversy or sideline anger. On the contrary, he stokes it up, gets involved, aims to change things. He does it very well.

His broadcasting gifts may not be unique but they are rare. We all like to think that we could do a Stephen Nolan-type show (what's there to it but running away at the mouth, eh?). Sadly, the truth is few of us could make an even halfway decent fist of it.

That's why he's worth his £5,000 a pop on the box. Can you think of another BBC NI anchor who could front a brash "in-your-face" hard-edged current affairs show?

No, if you want someone to do The Stephen Nolan show, you get Stephen Nolan. Of course, his success is one of reasons why Nolan attracts such opprobrium both online where trolls snipe about his weight or how he represents all that's rubbish about modern life, and also - it's no secret - within the BBC in Belfast itself. His show has broken stories the newsroom hasn't got a sniff off and that doesn't help, either.

Basically it's all jealousy and spite towards a man who has made a success of himself by doing something that gives us pleasure to look down our noses upon.

Plus, as a general rule we can't stand people from here who do well for themselves. No matter if they're self-made successes, as soon as they earn a bob or two we think they're getting above themselves. It doesn't matter if they work night and day (as Nolan does on the airwaves), begrudgery soon sets in.

As licence-fee payers we've every right to know what Nolan gets from the BBC but that doesn't mean that we have the right to expect him - or anyone - to work for less than the going rate. Even a publicly funded BBC has to attract talent to entice viewers to watch their shows. And his work is very public - next month we'll all get to see if the show's any good. If it flops, Nolan will not be worth £5,000 a show - he might end up not worth £50 a show.

Anyhow, as the series has a projected budget of £500,000, a mere 10% for the presenter doesn't seem wildly out of proportion.

In Northern Ireland terms, Stephen Nolan is a name that appears above the title. And that sort of thing costs money.

Good luck to him.

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