The veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil has opened up about his tumultuous experience during his time at GB News and the stress that caused him.
The political interviewer is not usually someone who inspires sympathy, but in an interview with the Daily Mail he was said to be crying as he described how he “came close to a breakdown”.
GB News has been beset by technical problems and has struggled for ratings since its launch earlier this year.
After failing to appear regularly on screen, the split between the new channel and its chairman and lead presenter had become increasingly bitter, with the 72-year-old since saying his former employer “unilaterally” cancelled his exit deal and he “couldn’t be happier” to have severed ties.
Speaking previously on Question Time, Neil said he had been in a “minority of one” over the future direction of GB News, which has been accused of trying to import Fox News-style journalism to the UK.
“More and more differences emerged between myself and the other senior managers and the board of GB News,” he said.
What did Andrew Neil say in latest interview?
In the interview, Neil said he walked away from a £4 million contract but added continuing with the channel “would have killed me”.
“It was a big decision but I frankly couldn’t care if it was £40 million,” he said.
On the technical problems, he said: “It just went from bad to worse. There was one day we spent the whole day preparing the programme and fixing up a number of interviews down the line [meaning remotely, rather than in the studio] because that was the business model.
“At one minute to eight I sat down, earpiece in, microphone on, only to be told by the director we had no external communications, so I had no guests.
“I was in despair,’ he said. “Unlike other shows where there are two anchors so they can talk rubbish to each other, I was on my own. We had to scour the newsroom and get Tom Harwood [the channel’s political correspondent] and Liam Halligan [its economics and business editor] to come in so I had someone to talk to.”
He said he felt like he could no longer continue after the first week: “It just got worse and worse. At one stage, we were waiting to go on air and the whole system went down. It had to be rebooted and we only managed it with 15 seconds to spare.
“That stress was just huge. It meant you couldn’t think about the journalism. By the end of that first week, I knew I had to get out. It was really beginning to affect my health. I wasn’t sleeping. I was waking up at two or three in the morning.”
He added the stress gave him a “constant knot in my stomach” and the paper reported two directors suggested Neil take July and August off with a promise the early glitches would be sorted by September.
Neil also described the challenges around the limited GB News studios: “The studio had four areas. One was the digital wall, another was the breakfast table area – which I thought looked rather good – the other was the sofa, which looked like a Habitat sofa we’d picked up off a skip in Notting Hill, and the fourth, which was where I did my show from, was so black I had to take my jacket off and wear a white shirt.
“It actually looked like I was Kim Jong Un in a bunker about to launch a nuclear attack on San Francisco. When it came to the launch, the digital wall wasn’t ready and they discovered they couldn’t light or get the sound and audio right for the kitchen table... so we were then reduced to the Habitat sofa found on a skip and the North Korean nuclear bunker.”
GB News beset by problems from day one
A number of high profile names joined GB News for its launch including ITV News journalist Alastair Stewart, BBC journalist Simon McCoy and former Labour MP Gloria De Piero.
Guto Harri quit the channel following a row over him taking the knee during a debate on the racism directed towards England football players, while other staff members have reportedly left.
In a statement from the channel carried by the Mail, a spokesman said: “At no point did Andrew raise concerns of the editorial direction of GB News moving to the right.
“As with all companies, decision-making rests with the board, and GB News is no different.
“As a member of the board, Andrew had the same rights and abilities to raise concerns, and he was privy to all decisions.
“The board allowed Andrew time off over the summer to recharge his batteries. He subsequently asked to leave and the board agreed to this request.
“The terms of his departure were properly negotiated and documented, with Andrew taking legal advice throughout.”
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