Nigel Farage was, somewhat predictably, booed when he was named News Presenter of the Year at the 2023 TRIC Awards in London. The manipulability of online polls in the age of loyally mischievous Twitter followings notwithstanding, the two GB News victories (its breakfast show scooped one too) arguably represent another milestone in the plucky challenger’s march to credibility and, its viewers will hope for its commercial success.
When GB News launched in July 2021, I was living in the US and working on my second or third startup, depending on whether you only count the successful ones. I watched the go-live and for me the highlight of those initial hours of sometimes painful broadcasting (notable by the curiously low lighting) was veteran newsman Andrew Neil, whose presence lent the nascent broadcaster some grown-up editorial clout.
Personally, I like Neil, and in common with many others was optimistic when in 2020 he was lured from the stagnant BBC to become GB News’ founding chairman. As such, I was sad when, a few months later, he appeared to have flounced off – particularly as it gave the station’s detractors something to gloat about (many of whom seemed to have made up their minds before a single second of TV was broadcast, not least The Guardian’s perennial sideline sniper Owen Jones).
Yet my main regret about Neil’s departure was its manner: specifically, that he didn’t do it with dignity and discretion. Founders split all the time and there are always sensible reasons why. During the early stage of any venture there’s a vast amount of work to do, and it’s in this mad scramble that working relationships are tested. Not all will survive.
Sometimes it’s nothing to do with the individuals, but more the chemistry of a group under pressure. Yet the thing to avoid, in almost any situation, is to make a fuss upon leaving. However great the temptation may be to ‘set the record straight’, it almost always comes across as whiney.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who, years later, will say: “absolutely the right thing was to share a bunch of private stuff in public and stick the knife into my former colleagues”. Candidly, I imagine that Neil now regrets how he handled the split.
Imagine the counterfactual: Neil still left, but instead of throwing his toys out of the pram he settled on a cheerier statement along the lines of: “What a ride! Successfully launching a news station has felt like my biggest achievement to-date. Now we’ve gone live, I’m hankering for a break and will be scaling back my commitments starting immediately. I’d like to thank the team for the immense amount of valiant work to-date, particularly in the hard months leading up to launch, and I’m confident that the Board and management team will successfully steer the station to greatness going forward! I wish everyone the best of luck and will be with you, in spirit, every step of the way. I look forward to reporting on the channel’s success!”
Had he done so, perhaps he’d now be fondly (and rightly) remembered as a co-founder of a bold enterprise – rather than simply a disgruntled former employee who left on bad terms and did a media round to share his grievances, including an opportunistic appearance on his former employer’s programme, Question Time.
Water passes quickly under any bridge, and I’m surprised that Neil, with all his experience, either didn’t know this or ignored his better judgement. The momentary satisfaction one gains from a bout of bridge-burning is almost always outweighed – many times over – by the future ability to gather with former colleagues, on good terms, and share in the celebration of success while laughing about the often funny (and, in hindsight, trivial) disagreements that occurred along the way.
I suspect the wise warhorse Neil’s advice to anyone else might be similar to my own: always keep the bridge intact, however tempting the alternative may be in the short run. I’ve no idea whether he has sent any of the GB News executives a congratulatory message over the last couple of years, but for his sake I hope he has.
To quote PG Wodehouse, “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine” – and endearingly curmudgeonly Neil appears to be no exception.
A rapprochement with his former startup would surely earn him renewed respect in the eyes of his many admirers. Perhaps he could appear as a guest on News Presenter of the Year Farage’s show? A display of convivial bonhomie on, say, Talking Pints would surely put to rest any accusations that a certain esteemed Scot is harboring a grievance.