Former DUP leader Arlene Foster reveals her role in GB News picking up live Twelth coverage after BBC opted out

Former First Minister and ex-DUP leader Dame Arlene Foster has revealed how she played a key part in GB News stepping in to provide live coverage of the Twelfth after the BBC announced that it was opting out.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 12:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 1:40 pm

Last week BBC Northern Ireland confirmed it would not be resuming its live coverage of the Belfast parade “after careful consideration” The BBC said its alternative coverage would include an hour-long highlights programme of parades across NI.

The news prompted widespread anger among unionist political leaders, coming shortly after the corporation faced accusations that its coverage of the recent Northern Ireland Centenary Parade in Belfast did not reflect the gravity of the event.

GB News presenter and former First Minister Dame Arlene Foster, said last week she was “incredibly proud of GB News for stepping up to fill a void left by the national broadcaster.”

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The former DUP leader Arlene Foster urged GB News to pick up the live coverage of the Twelfth.

But speaking to BBC NI Good Morning Ulster today, Ms Foster revealed that she actually played a key role in GB stepping in with live coverage where the BBC has opted out.

The former first minister, who already presents two live shows a week on GB News, said that many people contacted her over the BBC decision and that she saw “an opportunity for GB News”.

She added: “I spoke to senior management, and we then reached out to the Orange institution and it has all snowballed from there in very quick time.”

Asked why the GB News coverage would focus on Armagh and not Belfast, she said there would be a much wider variety of bands on display in Armagh, and that this would maximise the interest of viewers across the UK and internationally.

“It is really the Grand Orange Lodge in control of what is the best coverage,” she said. “The Armagh Twelfth is the biggest Twelfth and it will also have a wide variety of bands.”

She added: “Because of the length in Belfast, it is just flute bands that take part. Whereas in country Twelfth’s, we have a wide variety of bands, accordions, flutes pipes and brass bands. We will be able to cover all that pageantry and we are very much looking forward to doing that.”

Asked if she was in any way nervous about headlining the coverage, she admitted that she was.

“I am but I always think you should challenge yourself. This is outside broadcasting which is different. I am really looking forward to the challenge, I think it is a great opportunity.”

Reminded that it is a year since she stepped down as First Minister, she said that friends had told her she now looked much younger, without the pressure of leadership.

“It is a year since I left local politics. It was a very seminal moment but I look back with pride at what we achieved but I always look forward,” she said.

“The stress and anxieties that come with being first minister and being leader of the party are well known. Everybody tells me I look a lot younger now, which is great.”

Asked if she thought audiences in England would be interested in the Twelfth she said the pageantry of the event would have worldwide appeal. She also noted that there are Orange Lodges in Scotland, England, Africa and across the world who would tune in online.

“We think it is a great offering and actually it gives us the opportunity to talk about the Twelfth and talk about the fact it is not just celebrating the Battle of the Boyne, but the glorious revolution, which had an impact on the whole UK.

BBC Northern Ireland interim director Adam Smyth said last week that the decision to discontinue live coverage of the Twelfth was taken for audience reasons and “not to diminish” the importance of 12 July to the unionist community.

“There are 80% more people available to watch the highlights programme in the evening than there are available to watch the live programme during the day,” he said.

“But more than that, I think putting some of our resources into the highlights programme, allows us to get out of Belfast to see all of Northern Ireland, and to really capture the richness of the cultural event that it is beyond Belfast, where we’ve been focused for quite some time.

“We do understand how much value people put on the Twelfth and in no way are we seeking to deny any of that, but we’re trying to shape our resources to maximise the audience benefit.”

Asked how many complaints it had received about it decision, the BBC replied that many people had. A spokeman said: “We don’t routinely comment on the number or nature of individual programme complaints but can confirm that many people have been in touch with us about this year’s Twelfth coverage on BBC television.”