ANDREW Neil will not shut up about GB News, and he’s looking increasingly bitter and vengeful as a result.
On Saturday, the 72-year-old journalist gave an interview to the Daily Mail in which he labelled the burgeoning TV channel, of which he was until this month lead interviewer and chairman, a ‘disaster’.
He then apparently cried in front of Rebecca Hardy, the Mail reporter who was sent to speak to him, and told her: ‘I came close to a breakdown’ because of his association with GB News.
To which I say: Diddums.
The interview ran to 3,500 words and was spread across three pages, a sure sign that the Mail – with which Neil has had a noticeably close relationship since Geordie Greig became editor in 2018 – thinks Neil’s employment conditions are of national significance.
But are they really? He’s just a journalist, after all.
People should remember that GB News poses a potential threat to the Mail’s own digital ambitions, which may explain why the Mail rolled out the red carpet for Neil.
They should further bear in mind that Ms Hardy revealed in her Mail write-up that she knows Neil because she was editor of The Scotsman when he was publisher of the group which owned it. Indeed, she admitted that she hugged him during their chat. Others must decide how objective this cri de coeur really was, therefore.
There is no doubt that Neil is a very good interviewer with a solid track record of holding politicians of all parties to account. He is clever and extremely hard-working. He is also very successful and has a made a lot money.
But anyone who has encountered him will know he can be a grand character who is prone to self-importance. He has a chauffeur. He owns property in the south of France, New York and London. In Who’s Who, he lists his recreations as ‘dining out in London, New York, Dubai and the Côte d’Azur’. And at GB News he was on a £4million contract.
This lucrative deal sat on top of his other business interests, which include being Editor-in-Chief, Chief Executive and Chairman of Press Holdings Media Group, the owner of The Spectator, Spectator Australia, Spectator USA, Spectator Life and Apollo magazines.
There’s nothing wrong with being as rich as Andrew Neil, but I would suggest his well-upholstered lifestyle is quite distinct from the no-frills, shoestring operation that is GB News, where presenters and guests on its programmes apparently have to do their own make-up – something that’s unheard of in TV!
One wonders how well this extremely busy man fitted in there.
I think it is relevant as well to reflect on the fact that Neil arrived at GB News from the BBC, where he had worked for 25 years and was by the time he left in 2020 paid £170,000 of public money a year to host This Week.
If GB News is EasyJet, the BBC is more like flying First Class on British Airways. It is well-staffed and presenters are helped along by underlings. If you’ve been used to that level of comfort, working in such different conditions must be hard.
I am told that Neil did not take to GB News’s comparatively spartan surroundings at all. As is well known, the channel was beset by numerous technical glitches which contributed to Neil’s decision to take a leave of absence just two weeks after its launch.
Granted, GB News was a long way from what he was accustomed to at the BBC, but what did Neil expect? He would know from his days as founding chairman of Sky TV, launched in February 1989 with Rupert Murdoch, that no TV start-up is smooth and that everyone has to roll up their sleeves and muck in.
(Nor was his tenure at Sky TV plain sailing. It, too, was meant to be the plucky outsider taking on a complacent British broadcasting establishment. By January 1990, when losses were running at an estimated £10million a month, Neil returned to editing the Sunday Times while his mercurial boss took personal control of the situation, merging with BSB to become BSkyB in November 1990).
For the captain of the ship to abandon his GB News crew so soon after leaving port was highly questionable. For him to be sounding off to the Mail weeks later is worse.
It cannot be a coincidence that his Mail interview came six days after its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, ran a news story under the headline: ‘Leaked memo reveals Andrew Neil was about to be sacked by GB News before he walked out.’
The MoS story contained details of a draft staff announcement, prepared just days before Mr Neil resigned on September 13, suggesting he was on the verge of being sacked.
The document, which was never circulated, said: ‘This is to let you know that Andrew Neil has left GB News. The board agreed unanimously today to terminate his position as chairman and programme host, with immediate effect. No employer can continue to pay large sums to anyone who is not available to work, whether from Monaco or from here.’
It’s fascinating that the tax haven of Monaco was mentioned in the Mail on Sunday piece, but not by Neil several days later in the Mail, where he found room to discuss a wide range of topics, but remained mute on this particular point.
One wonders what his relationship with the principality is, if indeed he has some link to it, as has been suggested. In fact, bearing in mind Somerset Maugham’s famous quip that Monaco is ‘a sunny place for shady people’, Neil’s silence is all the more curious. I’d have thought he would want to clarify why Monaco was even mentioned.
The MoS article also revealed that Neil made comments on the size of the private jet sent to take him and wife Susan from France to London for the launch of GB News in June.
In an email Neil wrote: ‘The eagle has landed … in the smallest private jet in the world. At one stage Susan didn’t think we were going to make it!’
Whatever the intended meaning behind these words, they were taken by some as a complaint. I can assure him that those GB News toilers who are not flown in to work by private jet thought this extraordinary.
Andrew Neil is a member of the established order. He is not a disruptor. He is in his eighth decade and may not have as much energy as he thought he did when he signed up to work on GB News, which really is, of course, a disruptor.
I, for one, think GB News has a bright future. It has already upset the apple cart of British media and I think that over time it will start taking greater chunks out of mainstream broadcasters’ audiences, much as UKIP transformed politics in this country. I think it will achieve all of this far more satisfactorily without Andrew Neil.
He says he is happy to have left GB News. I believe GB News bosses are happy that he no longer works there. If I were him, I would quit the carping and move on.
One final note: Mr Neil should ask himself if he owes an apology to the scores of people left at GB News who don’t have the luxury of jacking in a job in the way he has done. They have mortgages to pay and children to feed.
By labelling their employer a ‘disaster’, he should ask himself quite how he has improved their situation – especially if they do not share my optimism about the future of GB News.