Andrew Neil has given a savage assessment of GB News, saying the news channel is a ‘disaster’ and brought him ‘close to a breakdown’.
After hosting just eight episodes of his flagship show on the channel, which launched back in June, Neil announced earlier this month that he was leaving GB News as chairman and presenter.
While he initially said he would make appearances as a talking head guest on the show, bridges have been burned in recent days following Neil’s appearance on Question Time, with the journalist saying he will never show his face on GB News again.
Neil said that he warned bosses that the station was nowhere near ready to launch in June, but that they ploughed ahead anyway, resulting in major technical errors, including system outages and lighting so poor viewers struggled to see the presenters.
The former BBC journalist said: ‘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. You were just constantly wondering: “Will we make it through the hour?” 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.
‘I had a constant knot in my stomach. When I did wake up I’d feel fine, then remember all the problems I had with GB News and this knot would come and wouldn’t leave me for the whole day.’
Neil went away with his wife Susan for a weekend, and it was here he decided he would do four more shows, ‘whatever the consequences were on contracts’.
They even discussed how they would finance a court battle, deciding they would sell his New York apartment, and in the end, Neil walked away from a £4million contract.
He said: ‘It was a big decision but I frankly couldn’t care if it was £40million. This would have killed me if I’d carried on.’
As well as the technical errors that plagued GB News, Neil’s main reason for leaving the station was the direction it was taking.
Prior to its launch, Neil insisted that GB News would not be the British Fox News, but now, he fears that the hiring of ‘shock jocks’ like Dan Wootton and Mark Dolan and constant debates on topics like Brexit, Black Lives Matter and the so-called culture wars – Neil himself presented a programme called Woke Watch – are leading the channel down that path.
He said that he had while his ‘face was on the tin’ as chairman, he had ‘no say what was going into the tin’, adding: ‘I said: “This is a disaster and it’s my reputation that’s on the line.” That’s what really did me in the end – and it’s my own stupidity for getting into it – the fact that everybody saw my face on the tin. It was Andrew Neil’s channel.’
Neil called his time at the station ‘the worst eight months of my career’.
A spokesperson for GB News 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.’
GB News’s roster of shows now includes an evening show presented by Nigel Farage, a nightly show from Mark Dolan, and a show called ‘Free Speech Nation’ with Andrew Doyle.
While Farage’s show has proved popular, the daily viewing figures for GB News have been rapidly flagging since its launch, and it will face further issues in the form of a new rival, as Piers Morgan is set to front News UK’s new TV channel.