Noel Edmonds is a British TV legend with a 50 year career in broadcasting. So why did he move to Matakana and launch a radio station? Like an over-excited Mr Blobby, Tara Ward gave him a call to find out.
When Noel Edmonds answers the phone from his home north of Auckland, he’s multitasking like it’s a frantic episode of Noel’s House Party. The coffee machine needs descaling, the milk jug has overflowed, and Edmonds jokes his “demanding wife” is still waiting for her morning coffee. I feel like The Banker on Deal or No Deal, the top-rating UK game show Edmonds hosted during the 2000s, except I’m not about to offer anyone £25,000. I’m calling to find out what the heck Noel Edmonds is doing in New Zealand, after he gained permanent residency just before Covid-19 lockdown.
It turns out Noel Edmonds loves New Zealand as much as he loves being positive, which is why he’s launching a new digital radio network during a time of huge economic uncertainty. Positivity Radio New Zealand is part of Positivity Radio, and consists of 100 community-based radio stations dedicated to improving the lives of local people and businesses by “accentuating the positive”. Edmonds hopes the network will boost New Zealand’s post-Covid economic recovery by encouraging communities to promote themselves for free, a set-up he says has never been done before.
I called Noel at the height of a hectic coffee-descaling situation to talk Positivity Radio, his new life in Aotearoa, and old mate Mr Blobby.
Tell me about Positivity Radio New Zealand. How does it work?
Noel Edmonds: I’ve been involved in online radio and digital media for quite a few years, and in lockdown I started to think about what shape New Zealand will be in when we emerge at the other end. People talk about when “things get back to normal”, but it came evident very quickly there isn’t going to be a new normal. I call it the “new reality”. I think we’ve got to be creative, we’ve got to be inspirational and try and do things in a different way.
I thought, where will the major challenges be for New Zealand? They’re going to be in protecting the small businesses which make up 30% of GDP. They are the absolute backbone of an economic recovery. These guys will never, ever be able to advertise on traditional radio. How can we get them talking to each other?
I talked to a couple of Kiwi chums and said, “do you think this would work?” They went “too bloody right it will”. We’ve got a small group of volunteers with great skills, and we created the website and app in six weeks. They’ve been running faultlessly for the last ten days, and we’ve had over a hundred applications for a free community radio station.
I’m saying, look, I’ll pick the bill up for this one. If your community wants a radio station, tell us why, tell us about your team, and if we like the sound of what you’re doing, then have a radio station and put whatever content on it you want. So, it’s rather exciting.
Lots of communities already have community access radio. How is this different?
At the beginning somebody made that point, and I said, look, we must be very careful. We don’t want to make enemies, because the whole point is that we’re positivity, we work with anybody. We found that a lot of the existing community radio stations are desperate for a new angle, for an online presence and help and support. We’re actually working with some of them, not competing with them. The same thing applies to traditional radio. We don’t have news, we don’t have commercials, so we’re not taking money away from traditional broadcasters.
You’re absolutely right, we have to work with communities. But with community radio in New Zealand, you only hear it in that community. There’s a community station in Matakana, but you can’t hear it in Queenstown and you certainly can’t hear it in San Francisco. So we’re spreading the word about individual communities in this extraordinary nation that I’m so proud to call home, and we hope that when we move to the new reality, Positivity Radio New Zealand will have a role to play.
This must be a big financial commitment for you. What do you hope to get out of it?
I’m already getting it, to be honest. I’m getting my new Kiwi chums saying, “Edmonds, I’m very glad you turned up”. I’m a very, very positive person, and I don’t do everything in my life for money. You’re right, it’s a serious financial commitment which I’m very happy to make, because I came with my wife and our 16-year-old not to take from this country, but to make a contribution. I wasn’t expecting it to be this. We actually thought it was going to be in the area of the environment and conservation. I’d like to make a contribution to that sector as well.
Positivity Radio wants to help listeners live better lives through positivity. There are motivational quotes between songs, and you’ve also written a book about the power of positivity. What makes you so passionate about being positive?
First of all, you can’t measure happiness. Happiness is different to different people. But it’s a scientific fact, you can measure the human body energy, a positive energy system, if you like. Therefore, being positive is a whole body experience. It’s about your diet, your exercise, your approach to other people, and it is possible to turn a negative frame of mind into a positive one.
I know this isn’t for everybody, and I’m very relaxed that some people go “oh, that’s mumbo-jumbo”. I’ve found in New Zealand that people are far more receptive to this than they are in Europe. Kiwis have a “get up and go” approach to life, and a strong relationship with the natural world. Those two things I find hugely attractive, because it underlines there’s a positive energy in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a positive energy on these two wonderful islands that you don’t get in other parts of the world.
Speaking of energy, Positivity Radio has some unusual stations, like healing frequencies, detox music, and my favourite, Positively Plants – music designed for plants. Noel, tell me, will the radio really make my houseplants grow?
Yes. You need to run an experiment. We ran an experiment with two plants, one of which we neglected and the other we played Positively Plants to. The difference was absolutely amazing, and then we played those tones, because it’s all about tones, we played those tones to the plant that didn’t look so good, and it perked up again.
I know it sounds crazy out of context, but it’s scientifically proven. Some countries will only plant crops at key time in the lunar cycle, so why do they do that? It’s an energy thing. We know that plants near power lines don’t do as well. There’s a lesson for us in that.
Positively Plants was a little bit tongue and cheek. We’re going to launch pets as well.
I was hoping to talk about Positively Pets, because I feel like a radio station for animals is an untapped market in New Zealand.
Absolutely. We’ve got music that scientists say relax dogs and make cats feel good. Animals in general feel better with these tones. They hear things we don’t, we know that, dogs are on a totally different spectrum with their hearing. We also know that cats are totally different. Our cat from the UK would suddenly look away from you, look around the room, because clearly it saw some sort of energy in the room. Lots of people put the radio on for their pets when they go out, so definitely put on Positively Pets when we get that sorted.
Will you get behind the microphone? Do you see yourself getting into broadcasting in NZ?
Kiwis can rest easy, I’m not going to inflict myself upon this proud nation. I’m definitely not bringing Mr Blobby over. I’m here to behave, not to inflict Noel Edmonds on you. Seriously, Positivity Radio New Zealand is not a Noel vehicle. Yeah, I thought of it, I’m going to fund it for as long as I can, but it’s very much being driven by our Kiwi chums, and the pick-up has been astonishing.
You’re probably best known here for Noel’s House Party, which I remember being a very fun, chaotic show. Looking back, what do you remember about that time?
You got the right word – chaotic. We used to plan that show to the second, and it never turned out the way it was planned. The ‘90s were an amazing period for me, because that show dominated Saturday night television. The BBC had been having a terrible pasting from ITV, with stars like Michael Barrymore and Cilla Black doing shows the Beeb couldn’t compete with. Then in ‘91, up pops House Party, and suddenly the BBC were back in the game.
We regularly had the biggest viewing figures on Saturday nights, and it was the show that stars wanted to come on. If you came to the door, it was an accolade. If we “Gotcha’d” you, they might have found it embarrassing or uncomfortable, but we never, ever showed people badly. It became quite an honour to get a Gotcha. It was a wonderful period for me, absolutely wonderful.
Have we lost that chaotic energy in TV, do you think?
I think society has changed so much, it would be impossible to bring back that kind of show. We used to do horrific things to our audience, dropping crap on them, pulling people out of the audience, all sorts. You couldn’t do that now. Certainly in the UK, somebody would be on to their solicitor saying “my bag was ruined! My suit is absolutely destroyed!”
In 2018 you went on I’m a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here, which you described as one of your top ten life experiences. What was it like to go on TV as a contestant, rather than a host?
It was wonderful. Those naughty tabloid people in the UK tried to make out that I was a broken man after being voted out first, but I loved it. I’m a big fan of [hosts] Ant and Dec. I felt, yeah, this would be good for Noel. How am I going to react in this scenario? It was a fascinating challenge physically, I enjoyed the interaction with people I vaguely knew but didn’t know as human beings, and I was so bored. I was at the end of my tether after 11 days. It was so boring. They don’t even give you a pen to write with. You just sit there, or lie there. I meditated a lot.
You only remember who gets voted out first and who wins. Harry [Redknapp] was the winner, while I was paid the biggest fee they’ve ever paid and I left straight away. I stayed in a five star hotel with my wife, and when we were released from the contract on December 11, what did we do? We got straight on Air New Zealand, we spent Christmas and New Year here, and that was what cemented it. We went back to the UK, sold up and thought, right, we’re going to try a new chapter in our lives.
We know where Noel Edmonds is now, but where is Mr Blobby?
It’s a sad story of how fame can corrupt. He never got over the end of House Party. He went to open a bar in southern Spain, Mrs Blobby briefly went with him, but it failed because in Marbella temperatures get over 35 degrees and the smell of rubber was hitting people in the bar. She left him, took the kids, he hit the bottle. The last I heard, he was getting counselling.
I just wish him well. I wish him to stay a long way away from me.
You won’t be sponsoring him to emigrate to New Zealand?
This interview was edited for clarity.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.