Northern Ireland news

Journalist Bill Neely lauded as 'quintessential story teller' after retiring from 40 year career in broadcasting

Seanín Graham

VETERAN journalist Bill Neely has announced a "break" from broadcasting after a 40 year career spanning the 1981 Republican Hunger Strikes to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Originally from Glengormley in Co Antrim and a past pupil of St Malachy's College in Belfast, the 61-year-old has received multiple awards for his coverage of major world events - but singles out the fall of the Berlin Wall as the one that will stay with him.

"I had just joined ITN. I was 30-years-old and I was parachuted in to the most astonishing story. I will never forget the sights and sounds over the following two weeks. At one point my cameraman suggested not only that I climb on top of the wall but jump down on the other side and walk into East Germany," he told The Irish News.

"It was something that a day earlier would have been inconceivable and would have had you shot. But I did it."

Lauded by his colleagues, tributes poured in across social media yesterday following his announcement that he was "hanging up his mic", with BBC North America editor Jon Sopel describing him as the "quintessential story teller".

"Best wishes" were also posted by north Belfast GAA club St Enda's, who Mr Neely played for in his late teens during the 1970s, with one memorable game at Casement Park which he likened to the "Wembley of my youth". He also lined out regularly for local soccer club, Star of the Sea, a team Bobby Sands played on.

For the past seven years, Mr Neely has been chief global correspondent with NBC news following almost 25 years at ITN, part of which involved a six-year stint living in the United States as Washington correspondent. His career began at the BBC in Northern Ireland.

While not leaving journalism behind completely, he told The Irish News that his days of "daily breaking news" are over.

The impact of the pandemic on foreign reporting - with more remote working - has also created frustration after decades of travelling the world.

"The last year has been hugely difficult but if you're unable to travel because of quarantine or government restrictions, broadcasting from your front room is all very well for a little while - but then it gets so that the heart and soul is torn out of the job," he said.

"Amazingly I got to Hong Kong, Brazil and Italy to cover the pandemic there.

"But I just thought it was a good moment to have a think and take a break. The number 40 became more and more attractive to me. I thought if you're going to do it, now is the right moment.

"Being on-call for more or less 40 years 24/7 for breaking news, starting in 1981 with the hunger strikes, it will be really lovely just to put the phone away and think it's not going to ring at 5am in the morning to say that something has broke with Isis.."

Having had his first Covid jab, the father-of-two - he has two grown up daughters - is now planning to run the London marathon for charity.

"If I can get in, I'll do the Boston marathon eight days later," he said.

"I'll be 62 next month. I've had a fantastic career but I've thought, you're not dead yet. So I've thought what else will I do with my life. I honestly don't have a plan."

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