Radio and TV presenter Stephen Nolan described himself as a “working-class guy” from Belfast trying to do the best he could when asked about his earnings yesterday.
It emerged that Mr Nolan is one of the top-10 earners in the BBC after the licence-fee funded organisation revealed details of those earning above a threshold of £150,000.
Mr Nolan’s earnings were listed as being between £400,000 and £449,999 – one of the highest sums paid to anyone in the entire organisation and the most paid to anyone in BBC NI.
The publication of the earnings figures drew criticism of the BBC from some quarters yesterday.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson, for instance, described it as “a national disgrace” that nearly 100 employees in the BBC are paid more than the prime minister. He said it was “yet another reason why the unfair licence fee ought to be abolished”.
In an interview with the News Letter yesterday evening, however, Mr Nolan – who presents seven days a week across Radio 5 Live, Radio Ulster and BBC One Northern Ireland – said he had actually turned down offers of “better pay for less work” elsewhere.
Asked whether he was happy to have his BBC salary become public knowledge, Mr Nolan said: “I have always said, if people listen back to the radio shows because my salary’s been discussed for many years, I’ve always said I would put up no opposition to it being published.
“Look, it was always the BBC’s decision whether to do that or not. I’m never going to try to stop those type of details going out.”
Mr Nolan also confirmed that the figure disclosed yesterday does not include his entire income from the BBC, since the earnings of a production company he set up were not included.
Explaining, Mr Nolan said: “People can judge this whatever way they want. In whatever spare hours that I have, I’ve set up a company and I’ve tried to come up with different ideas. I pitch them – some are commissioned, some are not.
“It’s a very competitive industry and I’m competing with people from around the UK for commissions in all different channels. I’m trying to be an entrepreneur. I’m trying to be successful in creating television programmes and creating a media company.
“Look, you know, the working-class guy born just off the Ballygomartin Road – mum and dad didn’t have much money. I’m trying to work as much as I can and trying to set up a business. Yes, that’s what I’m doing.”
Asked about offers of better pay elsewhere, the Nolan Show host said: “I can’t elaborate on that because it would break confidences. There’s a market for presenters. I don’t decide what I get paid. The BBC have all these negotiators and all of the information. They are looking at what they feel is a fair rate to pay me for doing what I do.”
He added: “I don’t want to come across as arrogant but the factual position is I have been offered more money for less work. That’s me trying to honestly answer that question.
“The BBC is an incredible place to work. I love working for it and yes, I am paid a lot of money. To that extent it’s actually good to be talking about this today because now people know.”
Asked why he might turn down such an offer of “better pay for less work”, Mr Nolan pointed to the “very special platform” his morning show on BBC Radio Ulster prvoides.
“Any broadcaster that works for the BBC understands the very special place that it is,” he said. “I have the privilege.The Nolan radio show in the mornings is, when I say the biggest radio show and the most listened to radio show in the country, an incredibly powerful show which people turn to for help.
“People who, for whatever reason, have been told that they are not entitled to a voice or they’re not entitled to be heard – I enjoy getting up in the mornings and taking that on and making sure that they are heard. That’s a very, very special platform.
“Then, with Five Live, if you think about it when some of the biggest stories in the world are happening, they happen at night time and I’m able to do those shows live as a broadcaster.
“That’s stretching me and making me better. Then there’s a live television show in Nolan Live where I’ve got my own studio show so I don’t think it’s too hard to answer the question ‘why the BBC?’.”
He added: “It’s an incredible organisation.”
Asked whether it is fair that he can command such a significant salary when teachers and nurses earn so little in comparison, Mr Nolan said he wasn’t so “arrogant” as to argue that his work was more important than theirs.
“I think they do a much more important job than I do,” he said. “That’s what I believe. In an ideal world they’d all be millionaires because they save lives and they improve lives. I am not going to be as arrogant as to start putting a value on me, that’s not what I am doing.
“I am working within a marketplace where there are others who want me, for whatever reason, to do the job that I’m doing and when they give me a gig I work day and night to try and make it as good and as impactful as I can.”
He continued: “I don’t think there’s anybody who doubts how driven I am to try and have maximum impact on the shows that I do. The market is currently putting a value on that, that’s where it’s at. You know, I can’t make that up, that’s where it’s at.”
He described himself as “fair game” for public scrutiny, before adding: “I’m determined to make myself available to people like you (the News Letter) to do with me what I do to people every other day of the week.”
In a separate interview, with BBC Radio Foyle, Mr Nolan said: “I want to work as much as I can, I want to be the best I can be and I want to earn as much as I can.”
He also promised to be interviewed by someone independent on his Radio Ulster programme today.