Noel Edmonds: Video Meeting Company and face2face (part 2)
The TV presenter compares his broadcasting and business careers and reveals the difficulties of living down Mr. Blobby
Noel Edmonds might be better known as a TV personality, but he’s combined his life in entertainment with business interests since the early 1990s, most recently with the launch of Face 2 Face Meetings Ltd and The Video Meeting Company (VMC).
Here, Edmonds reveals reveals why living down Mr. Blobby has become an occupational hazard and shares his views on the similarities between his business and broadcasting lives.
As a businessman with a very public persona and a career in broadcasting do you find this a help or a hindrance?
I’ve become accustomed to it. I have actually been surprised how quickly the Crinkley Bottom days have disappeared and I’m grateful for that. Generally speaking it’s only lazy journalists who try to make some Mr. Blobby-related comment. I’m not bothered about it at all. I’m actually very pleased how people have taken note of what I’m saying and what I’m doing in this market. And I think that’s because I now have quite a lot of experience and a platform of knowledge. I put my money where my mouth is and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve pumped millions into videoconferencing and, if I’m not successful, it’s going to be extremely painful. I’m a determined individual and people are taking me seriously. I was addressing the annual dinner of the IoD in Belfast and was really pleased to read a report saying it was very entertaining and very informative. I think sometimes people are interested to see there is another Noel Edmonds and there is another side to me. You wouldn’t want to spend your whole life being chased around by a pink and yellow latex monster.
But when people think of an entrepreneur or successful businessman, despite being a public figure, you’re not exactly the first name on their lips. Does that bother you?
I have no desire to be positioned as an entrepreneur or attempt to get into the company of people like Branson. I’m actually motivated by making my business successful. Tales of my wealth are hugely exaggerated and I need these businesses to succeed for my staff and shareholders and for our clients, so that’s my motivation. If someone came along to offer me money for my businesses now, if the price was right I’d be quite happy to sell and go and sit on a beach somewhere.
That’s interesting because, as someone who’s been in the limelight, the expectation would be you’d want to stay there even in a business context
There are more people who want to have a pop at me than will write a decent well-balanced article. It’s very easy to point out the things that haven’t worked out. But, as Mr. Branson says, if three out of 10 work you’re lucky. It’s a hard road we’re taking and involves a lot of my time because I am determined to be successful. I do think it can make a big difference to the environment and to society, particularly disabled groups and those who are housebound. But my bottom line is to have a successful business because we’re in business to make money.
You mentioned some of your ventures which haven’t worked as well. How do you cope with that, and with the criticism you yourself have had to endure as a result?
The only key is probably self-belief, but sometimes it’s extremely difficult to find if you’re reading nasty things about yourself and if the numbers don’t look good. If you haven’t had your back to the wall at least once you’re not really trying, and I think, regrettably, you do need to look at the numbers and be frightened. I do subscribe to the old hackneyed saying in life that if you don’t risk anything you actually risk everything. I had no idea when I got into radio that one day I would make the transition into TV. I took the risk, I have the rewards, but when people write nasty things about you as a person and they’ve never met you it’s hard. They judge you by something you did on TV which is not life and death stuff. I take the responsibility of employing people very seriously and I think they’re the things you’ve really got to focus on.
Where does that self-belief and determination come from?
I was very fortunate, I was brought up to focus on three things; love, security and opportunity. My parents always wanted me to have opportunity. They were hell bent on getting their only son to go to university and three weeks before I was due to go I turned round and said I was going to become a disc jockey on Radio Luxembourg. They had every opportunity to say something against it, but they realised they had created a situation where that kind of thing might happen. I try to do that with my own children. In life in general you need to expose yourself to opportunity and then make the right decisions.
So is it nature or nurture which breeds success?
There are a lot of very glib phrases on the subject and I collect them. We’ve all listened to people explain how to make money and the secrets of their success but actually I don’t think there is a formula, just a lot of common sense. As with anything in life those people that learn quickly will always have an advantage, and the secret probably is not to make the same mistake twice.
You started some of your businesses even when you were enjoying a successful broadcasting career. Was this because you always felt you might have a limited shelf life?
I was very surprised that I lasted for 30 years, no doubt my critics were even more surprised. It was quite something to get to the age of 50 and realise I had a career with the BBC for 30 years. I did a chat show the other day and the host was saying ‘One minute you were there and the next you were gone, what about coming back?’ For the first time I said I would like to. I enjoy what I’m doing, principally because video is such an exciting field but I have started to look a little bit more at TV, and doing the radio show in the summer was fantastic. I was coming into work at 7am working until 2pm then taking that head off and going to Broadcasting House, and for three hours it was a different world. Trying to thing of witty things to say and enjoying the music and wasn’t thinking of the business, I really enjoyed it.
So do your business and broadcasting skills complement each other?
I think they do. This could be interpreted as an arrogant statement, but it’s actually more of a potential weakness. For some reason I’ve always thought a few years ahead. So some of the things I did in radio were ahead of the game, and subsequently people have copied them, likewise in TV. Whereas ‘Noel’s House Party’ was around for eight years and will be remembered for Mr. Blobby, there were actually things that we did which have been picked up by a lot of entertainment shows subsequently. So one of the things I’m acutely aware of is that I think I’ve come to videoconferencing early and I though it would take off in 1999, and I’ve got a horrible feeling I might have been five years out. So it’s been an expensive journey to get to this position in the marketplace but we are in place when that explosion comes, which it will very soon, we’re going to be in a great position.
With so many companies is it hard keeping track? Do certain things tend to become flavour of the month?
I think things do come into focus inevitably because of the ups and downs in the marketplace. Whether it be my TV production company or videoconferencing, I don’t think I’m faddish though. The secret is to surround yourself with good people and not worry about not taking the credit for things. If you can balance those two, things will generally run smoothly.
So have you always striven to create a synergy between your companies?
Opportunities just tend to present themselves. The only business that arrived in an odd way was Piper design, which developed in a way I couldn’t have predicted. When I came to the company, which was formula one designers, and people with motorsport backgrounds, I didn’t ever think we’d be manufacturing state of the art retail units.
The BBC has struggled to replace ‘Noel’s House Party’. Is there anyone on TV now whom you think embodies your approach to broadcasting?
There are a few people who excite me on screen. Ant and Dec are a great talent and took a number of the elements of House Party for ‘Saturday Takeaway’. I’ve had tabloid journalists trying to get me to say something against it, but shows I’ve done have borrowed from what’s gone before. I would love to be back on television but at a different time slot, doing a different sort of show. Saturday night TV has changed, it’s a different market. I always thought I was a product and I tried to market it given the target consumer. It’s all changed on a Saturday night now, people live their lives in a different way and TV is no longer special but there are other time slots where you could make an impact. Not with the kind of figures we had before, because they’ve gone forever. House Party was getting 7.5m when it was axed, they’d kill for that now. Whether you’re in entertainment or make nuts and bolts, you’ve got to make yourself aware of the market and where next opportunity is.
Finally, what so far has been you proudest business achievement?
I think it would be very arrogant to think I’ve made my mark in business at all. At the moment I’m comfortable with the mix of businesses that have been created, but I’m uncomfortable when people describe me as a wealthy successful entrepreneur because I’ve not proved anything. Not when you look at the Charles Dunstones of this world. Maybe one day someone will say ‘I’ll tell you who broke the VC mould it was that bloke Edmonds.’ But the big achievement has yet to come.
Noel Edmonds CV:
1968 Joined Radio Luxembourg as newsreader
1969 Moved to BBC
1970 Became Radio 1’s youngest ever DJ
1971 Opened record shop in Kings Road, Chelsea
1974 Motor racing career began
1976 Multi-Coloured Swap Show launched
1979 Qualified as a helicopter pilot
1983 Left Radio 1
1985 Founded Helicopter Management and Unique Group
1986 Late Late Breakfast Show cancelled after death of Michael Lush
1989 Unique Broadcasting launched (now listed on AIM as UBC Media Group)
1993 Crinkley Bottom licensed attractions open in Somerset, Morecambe and East Anglia.
1994 Launches the National Lottery
2000 BBC contract expires
The secret is to surround yourself with good people and not worry about not taking the credit for things. If you can balance those two, things will generally run smoothly