Northern Ireland

Stephen Nolan 'driven' by growing up in the Shankill area of Belfast as an only child

Sinn Féin and the SDLP no longer take part in BBC presenter Stephen Nolan's shows
Sinn Féin and the SDLP no longer take part in BBC presenter Stephen Nolan's shows Sinn Féin and the SDLP no longer take part in BBC presenter Stephen Nolan's shows

It is a measure of Stephen Nolan’s central role in society in the north and his influence that he was the subject of an entire mini-book.

The publication ‘Nolan: The Man Behind the Mic’ traced his life and work from growing up in the Shankill area of Belfast to his time at Citybeat before the move to the BBC exactly 20 years ago.

“Being an only child has made me very driven. The way I would probably use to describe myself is singular,” Nolan said before adding that when he gets something in his head he can be “very blinkered".

The booklet, published by the Sunday Life, reveals his determination to break into broadcasting, first with UTV, later working for nothing at Citybeat before being hired at £2.50 an hour to cover the night shift.

At Citybeat, Nolan won two prestigious Sony gold awards and made such an impact he was approached in July 2003 to take over John Bennett’s morning slot. He later won a further six Sony awards with the BBC.

Read more: 

  • BBC 'has serious questions' to answer over Stephen Nolan explicit images revelations
  • Stephen Nolan sent unsolicited 'sexually explicit' images of a later convicted sex offender to work colleagues
  • Jamie Bryson response to questions on relationship with Stephen Nolan

But not all BBC executives were in favour, according to the presenter. “Stephen Nolan is not to be touched. He will never work for the BBC.”  

This did not happen and, after a short time behind the microphone of the radio show, Nolan quickly leveraged the success into Nolan Live on television. From July 2005, he has presented a weekend phone-in show for BBC Radio Five Live.

Multiple commissions to make television programmes for the BBC followed. They were made by his independent production companies, Stephen Nolan Broadcasting and more recently Third Street Studios. 

The Irish News reported Third Street Studios had funds of close to £4m at the end of March 2022. The company co-produces Nolan Live.

He is also paid approximately £400,000 in salary by the BBC for his shows.

“I think if I have one defect then I don’t actually stop to enjoy the success of everything I have done – but you never know where your next wages are from,” he said.

In the authorised publication, Nolan revealed how the BBC gave him 100 percent support to operate as he does. He and his team work as a separate entity from the rest of BBC NI, including news and current affairs. According to the BBC's salary and payments contained in the annual report, Nolan is listed under radio.

Nolan has tackled many of the major issues over the last 20 years in the north, with the booklet citing the Charter 21 controversy and RHI among others. It was published in 2017. 

“I just think the critics of this show who say it’s all about ratings should come better informed before they start spouting,” he said.

“People often saying about me having power. I think what I need to do is make sure the punters have the power.”

In recent years, his radio show has prompted boycotts, first by Sinn Fein following his coverage of former IRA leader Bobby Storey's funeral during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Then in March, the SDLP began a boycott after South Belfast MLA Matthew O'Toole was cut off during the show. The BBC is carrying out a content review of Mr Nolan's morning radio programme, The Irish Times reported.

Nolan, 50 on Sunday, lives in a home on Mahee Island on the banks of Strangford Lough, in County Down. He also has a property in Santa Monica, California.

On his US “bolthole”, Nolan said: “My whole soul calms down in Santa Monica.” It’s where he finds “rest and peace”, which he then brings back home.

Read more: 

  • Veteran broadcaster says Stephen Nolan 'stonewalling' raises questions about how BBC grills politicians
  • Parties united in saying answers needed from BBC over Stephen Nolan explicit images revelations
  • Former Sinn Féin MLA calls on BBC to reveal disparaging messages made by Stephen Nolan's team