Belfast Telegraph

Nicola Weir: What it's really like working on the BBC's Nolan Show

She's a familiar voice from Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, but away from the airwaves the hard-hitting journalist is a mum-of-two who likes nothing better than to spend an afternoon baking. By Stephanie Bell

BBC NI journalist Nicola Weir and husband Peter go back a long way - in fact, right back to primary one when they first met aged four on their very first day at school. It is a lovely story which Nicola delights in telling and one of many colourful anecdotes which emerge as this hard-hitting news reporter with The Nolan Show talks about her life and career.

Tackling the big stories of the day comes naturally to Nicola but away from work a picture emerges of a doting mum who loves nothing better than to spend time at home baking and being with her family.

She and husband Peter (44), who runs his own property support services company, have two children, George (15) and Imogen (12), whom Nicola describes as "the loves of my life".

She still lives in Gracehill, where she grew up. It's a small village about three miles from Ballymena and her house is not far from her husband's family farm in the town land of Lisnafillan.

A fearless and fiercely ambitious reporter who has covered news for TV and radio for the past 15 years, she isn't afraid to show her softer side either - or her sharp sense of humour.

Listeners loved her for rolling up her sleeves for a two day sheep shearing course for the Nolan Show. She has also walked on the wing of a plane in a daredevil report for radio despite having a lifelong fear of heights.

It's this variety of work along with the thrill of meeting tight deadlines which first attracted Nicola to journalism, despite some resistance from her family when she initially announced her career plans as a teenager.

Nicola was born in Lurgan and lived for the first year and a half of her life on her grandfather's sheep farm in nearby Magheralin before the family moved to Co Antrim where she has lived ever since.

Known for her hard news reporting, outside of work she is very much a home bird and loves spending time with husband Peter and their two children.

While she has known Peter pretty much all of her life, they didn't get together until their 20s, marrying in 2000.

She tells the story of how they first met at the tender age of four: "I met Peter on my first day at Gracehill Primary School.

"Unfortunately I had a lazy eye and had to wear a patch over my good eye to make the bad one work (as they did back in the dark ages) and also had to put drops in them in the morning.

"I was practically blind when I sat down beside this little boy. I remember getting very upset because I couldn't see anything and this little boy gave me his yellow teddy bear to make me feel better. That little boy was Peter and 22 years later I married him.

"Of course, it wasn't all plain sailing. When I was 13 years old, I was on the school bus and he made fun of me in front of his friends and pulled my hair.

"From that point on I totally ignored him and made sure I got a different bus home from school. I actually went out of my way to blank him, even when he returned to Ballymena during his holidays from university in Scotland. If looks could have killed he would have been dead!

"But in 1998 he was the best man at a mutual friend's wedding and after asking me to dance I softened my attitude. We were engaged a year later and married the year after that in 2000."

Their son and daughter, George and Imogen, are the apple of her eye.

George has recently got his first part-time job and Imogen and Nicola love spending quality time together experimenting with nail art.

Nicola says: "My children are the loves of my life. I would die for them and do absolutely anything for them. They are very different personalities - George is a thinker and wears his heart on his sleeve. Imogen is very much into her studies. She has to get her homework completed the moment she gets it and devours books. Her brother is the opposite - homework is left to the very last minute and if I asked him to read a book, he'd ask if his computer was broken.

"However, both are extremely bright - all mothers have to say that - and are great company. We talk a lot and I think that's the best way forward when it comes to negotiating the trials and tribulations of growing up.

"I like to think they are a good blend of both their mummy and daddy but I do tell people they get their good looks from me!

"I just love spending time with them and going on family adventures, and we have planned to backpack together across Europe next year which will be fun.

"We like to go for walks together as a family or watch a film and just be at home."

As well as her family, recently she has discovered some new hobbies and at weekends when she escapes the pressure of the Nolan Show newsroom, she likes to unwind on a Sunday by trying out her baking recipes.

She says: "My Nolan colleagues tend to get spoiled on a Monday when I bring in the odd slice of cake, some brownies or biscuits.

"They will say I don't do it half often enough but things tend to get hoovered up quickly in our house.

"I've also recently taken up photography. I completed an Open University course at the beginning of this year and love to get out with my camera.

"It's one of those things I've really taken to and it's so enjoyable to see the final product developed. My ideal job would probably be taking food photographs for cook books! "

But she is not ready to swap careers just yet. Nicola was determined to be a journalist, even though her parents tried to persuade her against it.

She attended Ballymena Academy, where she was deputy head girl, and went on to study English language and literature at Queen's University in Belfast. After finishing her degree, she completed a journalism course at the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education in the mid-1990s.

She explains: "I always wanted to be a journalist but I was never encouraged in this direction as there was a concern it was rather a hard industry for a woman to get into and probably wasn't the most lucrative career either.

"That's why I went to Queen's to study English language and literature as it was something I loved but it was also felt I'd 'get over' my journalism notion! I remember being marched into the Ballymena Guardian to speak to the late great Maurice O'Neill, who was the paper's editor at that time.

"He proceeded to tell me all the really bad aspects of a career in journalism and after a good long chat he asked me 'Well, do you still want to be a journalist?' to which I said 'Absolutely'. He laughed and there was no turning back after that!"

She started her journalism career in the Coleraine Times, working in other editions of the paper for a number of years before joining BBC Northern Ireland as a freelance in 2004, reporting for radio news and current affairs, covering stories for Talkback, Good Morning Ulster and Evening Extra. As well as currently being part of the team on the Nolan Show she regularly stands in for Linda McAuley to present the station's consumer affairs programme On Your Behalf and is a regular contributor on its Vinny Hurrell Show.

She was offered a full-time contract with the BBC in 2006 and made the move from radio to TV news reporting in 2008.

Her first ever report for BBC Newsline is one she says she will never forget as it unexpectedly turned out to be something of a baptism of fire.

She recalls: "I went off to cover a fairly straight-forward news report in Cloughmills about the closing of a local haulage company with the loss of a lot of jobs.

"I spent all day there and we were finished and the report was filed for the 6.30 news. I was told it was going out at the top of the programme and I was quite chuffed that my first report was going to be the lead story.

"Then at about 6.05pm Ian Paisley senior turned up at the factory gates and I grabbed the cameraman. I remember the late Seamus Kelters was on the newsdesk and he told me 'we are going to have to go live'.

"I've never been paler in my life, the colour drained out of my face, and it was one of those moments when you are either going to sink or swim. Seamus was brilliant, encouraging me, but I still don't know how I got through it.

"I remember when I was finished, hearing people in the gallery clapping. I was never so glad to get off air."

Nicola was presenting Newsline and late news bulletins when she successfully applied to join the team at the Nolan Show three years ago. She works closely with Vinny Hurrell and has become good friends with him as well as the entire team on the Nolan show, including Stephen himself.

She doesn't hesitate when asked what Vinny's best quality is - "He has a brilliant sense of humour. He can make me laugh and I mean really belly laugh until your sides hurt. He's a great antidote if I arrive into work in less than chipper form".

And as for his worst quality? "That he tells me to be quiet too often, but to be fair I do have a tendency to ramble on."

She is used to being asked by people what it is like to work for Stephen Nolan, who is a notorious workaholic and has the reputation of being a tough taskmaster.

Nicola says: "People think Stephen is really scary and shouty but he is not like that at all. He always wants to get the best out of you and if you are not performing to your best he will talk to you about it and I appreciate that, as it is great feedback.

"If I was to sum him up in three words, they would be - innovative, a straight-talker and really loyal.

"I think his best qualities are that he is loyal and kind. He will always have your back and is incredibly generous. I also admire his close relationship with his mum and how obvious it is that they get on so well together. I think it speaks volumes about him and his upbringing.

"As for his worst quality, he is probably the messiest person I know. His work desk is hideously disorganised with random items such as bird tables clogging up his space."

Again it is the variety she enjoys with her job on Nolan and the chance to "do a bit of everything" which includes producing as well as reporting and going out and meeting people.

She says: "What I love about it as a journalist is that we get to make an impact on people's lives. You don't know as a journalist most of the time if you are making any difference but working on Stephen's show you do, as people ring in to let you know you've helped them. It is really fulfilling to know you have helped someone, especially with health stories."

Looking back on a varied career, she says of all the stories she has covered, a series on organ donation stands out as the one which has had one of the biggest impacts on her.

Ever since then she has championed the donor register, something she confesses wasn't a consideration for her before she covered the human stories behind organ donation.

Nicola says: "I did a week of reports talking to people affected by organ donation and I found their stories mindblowing, they were so powerful. Since then, if there is ever an opportunity to engage in organ donation I have always lent my support and before that I wouldn't have been aware of it. That touched me and changed me.

"I also spoke to one of the most courageous little girls I'd ever met, Lucia Quinney-Mee, from Ballycastle who has gone through three transplants already.

"She is a great ambassador for organ donation and launched her own campaign to encourage people to sign up to the register. She is inspirational and this job has allowed me to meet some exceptional people who are making a difference every day."

Working as part of the award-winning team on Nolan is just another step in this career driven mum-of-two's ambition.

Living beside her father-in-law's farm in Ballymena and coming from a farming background, she has a passion for rural life and her dream is to have her own rural current affairs programme.

She adds: "I love presenting and I do have an idea for a programme of my own on Radio Ulster. I'm just waiting on getting that opportunity to get it out there.

"I'm really passionate about rural affairs and farming, and I would love to do a show which brings that vibrant country culture to the radio."

The Stephen Nolan Show, Radio Ulster,

Mon-Fri, 9-10.30am

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