Has anyone gone from Twitter hero to zero quite so fast as Simon McCoy? He is that rare thing – a news presenter with an obvious sense of humour – and his wry commentary on everything from surfing dogs to the dullness of Royal reporting made him a cult figure on social media. Plus there was the time that he went to pick up his iPad for a live bulletin, mistakenly grabbed a pad of A4 paper instead, and pressed on regardless, a blooper that sent him viral once more.
So when it was announced one morning in March that McCoy was leaving the BBC, there was an outpouring of goodwill online, only for it to disappear not long past lunchtime with the bombshell that he was joining GB News.
“People had whiplash by 2 o’clock. Because for three hours it was: ‘Oh, he’s leaving, the A4 Royal watcher, how sad.’ And then, ‘The b—–’s going to GB News! What a right-wing gammon.’” He gives a mock sigh. “I was rather enjoying a couple of hours of adulation.”
Some valiantly tried to give McCoy the benefit of the doubt, but hang on: “I think it’s interesting that people think: ‘He’s gone to GB News to balance it out because he’s a leftie BBC journalist.’ I’m certainly not.” He’s even willing to lay his cards on the table: yes, Simon McCoy voted Leave. Yikes! That Twitter ‘iconic’ status is definitely cancelled now.
I’m having my say about the Royal baby on #GBNews this afternoon. It’s in rehearsal. So I’m afraid you won’t see it. But it’s good.
— Simon McCoy (@SimonMcCoyTV) June 7, 2021
But McCoy is not rabidly Right-wing, he isn’t obsessively anti-woke (“I would never use ‘woke’ because to me it means someone who’s informed and knows what the issues are”), and he’s sanguine about TV’s edging out of middle-aged, middle class white men (“If there’s a group of us that gets clobbered, there we go. Others have been treated unfairly for ages”). When he talks about Brexit, it’s in measured tones. “We’re a Brexit country. I do think we need to embrace it and, for all its faults, we’ve got to make it work.”
He joined GB News partly because he fancied the challenge: “I loved the BBC; the job was great, but I just thought, ‘Here I am, nearly 60 – do I want to stay here, probably not getting any further? Or do I want to try something new?’”
And he also has a conviction, after 15 years at Sky News and 17 years at the BBC, that those news providers are focusing on the wrong things. “If you watch other bulletins you’ll know very much what’s happening in Idlib or Tel Aviv or Washington. This is about the UK,” he says.
“Rather than obsessing with what’s happening abroad, let’s just look at what’s happening within the UK. While I don’t want to sound jingoistic or insular or Little Englander, I think we could all benefit from just knowing about our own country a little more.”
The BBC was “left-leaning”, he says, and Brexit caught most there by surprise. GB News will offer an alternative view, and none of the BBC’s drive for “balance”. “That used to drive me mad. They were obsessed with a balance that wasn’t a balance, it was a stopwatch. ‘We’ve given them three minutes, we’ve got to give them three minutes.’ That’s not balance.”
His GB News afternoon show will air daily from 3-6pm and pair him with Alex Phillips, a former Brexit Party MEP. “It’s really nice to be sitting next to someone again, because for however many years I’ve been on my own,” McCoy says. In person, he is convivial company, cheerfully settling in with a bottle of wine at a Fleet Street bar near his flat.
He stays in the capital during the week, returning at weekends to the Cotswolds home he shares with his partner Emma Samms, the former Dynasty actress. They met – where else? – on Twitter. Marriage is on the cards, once his divorce from his second wife, fellow BBC presenter Victoria Graham, comes through. He has a 20 year-old son, Max, from his first marriage. “[Emma]’s just lovely,” he beams. “We’re both the same age and we’ve lucked out.”
McCoy says detractors have got GB News all wrong. “There’s a lot of prejudice out there.” It will be closer to Nationwide or “an edgy This Morning” than Fox News, he says. His show will include a 15-minute segment featuring only happy stories “because good news does cheer us up and after the last year I’m amazed more people haven’t done it.”
He just wants us to stop being so negative, particularly about leaving the EU. As for anti-flag discourse, McCoy gives it short shrift. “Go to Arromanches on June 6 and watch a D-Day commemoration come up to London for a Royal event and just see that people are proud to be British and they’re not jingoistic. The Queen’s Jubilee will be amazing and a moment when we come together. And perhaps we should concentrate more on those than obsessing about everything we think we’re getting wrong.”
McCoy was unusual at the BBC in that he didn’t go to university. Instead, he disappointed his teachers at Sherborne by announcing that he was going straight into journalism, first for the Fleet Street News Agency and then to the launch of Sky News. Sky considered itself “disruptors” then and McCoy recognises the same start-up energy at GB News.
But he is fixed in the minds of most viewers as a BBC man. When he reported from outside the Lindo Wing in 2013, as the nation waited for Prince George’s birth, a fed up McCoy said: “Plenty more to come from here, of course, none of it news.” It gave viewers a laugh, but his superiors were unimpressed. “The editor wasn’t happy, and I think she was right. I probably got that day a bit wrong. If you switch on the One O’Clock News and there’s someone saying: ‘There’s no news here’…” But, you see, this is the curse of rolling news.”
The Duke of Cambridge, though, told him later that he and the Duchess had thoroughly enjoyed it. “He said: ‘We were watching and we thought you were right.’” And McCoy is a Royalist. “Everyone assumes, because you’re sick and tired of standing outside a hospital for a Royal birth, you hate the Royals. I don’t at all.”
McCoy publicly criticised the BBC’s decision to broadcast coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death on all of its channels. “I said it on Twitter and I upset some former colleagues and I regret that; that wasn’t the intention. But if the BBC really feels that putting one thing on all the channels is going to bring the nation together, I don’t know where they’ve been for the last few years.”
Though he remains proud of his time there – “I admire it hugely. The pride of going anywhere in the world and saying you work for the BBC is unbeatable” – he is happy to share his opinions on the corporation’s current woes. The Martin Bashir affair “has damaged the brand. There’s a lot of anger.” The recent announcement that northern continuity announcers will have regional accents is “really patronising”. Gary Lineker should keep his political opinions to himself “because if you earn the sort of money that he is earning, you have a responsibility to journalism at the BBC”. He does admit that the publication of star salaries (he earned £160,000-£164,999) was a factor in his own decision to leave. “It’s uncomfortable. I think what you’re paid should always be private.”
And the relentless drive for 16-34-year-olds is, he thinks, daft. “My personal view is that they’re chasing an audience they’ll never get.” Those young people will eventually grow into it: “The BBC should not worry about appearing fuddy-duddy – because we all become fuddy-duddy in the end.”
GB News launches on Sunday June 13 at 8pm on Freeview channel 236 and is also available on Sky, Virgin Media, YouView and Freesat