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Nicholls: “Everybody is working together to make something good”

Miss this guy? So do we. We caught up with Jack Nicholls to find out how he became one of the most sought after young talents in sports commentating.

How Nicholls landed his role as a commentator wasn’t something that was entirely planned out: “I never sort of set out to do it, even though, since I was six, I wanted to be a Formula One commentator, but obviously that was before Formula E existed,” he says.

Today, he’s very much in demand, covering BBC F1 for Radio 5 Live as well as football for BBC Sport. He even worked for the Olympic Broadcasting Service and recently commentated the 2016 Rio Olympics.

However, Formula E fans will always recognise him as one of the leading voices of the all-electric championship where he was the lead commentator for the first two seasons alongside Dario Franchitti. Clashing schedules, however, led Nicholls to miss out on the first two rounds of season 3 where he was substituted by motorsport commentator Martin Haven.

I met Nicholls during the Sepang 12 Hours last December where he was stationed at the commentating booth of the Malaysian race circuit alongside former F1 racer John Watson and David Addison.

I don’t know how he manages it, but despite a hectic schedule, he kindly made time to talk to in between the very limited breaks he had.

Nicholls studied English and Drama in University, but his love for motor racing obviously fuelled this career move. As a child, he got hooked on the sport and later on saved up money to follow Formula One races around Europe and the rest of the world.

At 18, he began marshalling to get even closer to the sport: “So I was marshalling at these circuits (around England) and there’d be some idiot on the PA and I thought — instead of standing out in the rain, I’d rather do that and that’s where the inspiration came from,” he says.

“So I failed my maths exams and I was meant to go to University in Bristol and I had to do a year out and I worked at the checkouts in Sainsbury’s. I’ve always wanted to commentate, just because…I don’t know, I’ve always commentated on computer games I was playing or toy cars and all that and I thought I’d give it a go.

“So then I went to Snetterton, Brands Hatch and Cadwell Park and started commentating over the speakers for the public just for fun and they kinda pay you petrol money back then and it was really cool, so it just sort of snowballed from there.”

There’s more than one occasion where Nicholls just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and one of them was when he was asked to cover for David Croft and Ben Edwards who wasn’t free to commentate for a Blancpain GT race in China.

“The boss here rang me up and I’ve never met him before—and he said, ‘Would you like to do it?’ But it clashed with my final university test but I went to China instead and so I failed that exam.”

“So I went through a lot of failures and you can kinda say it out loud, I’ve really f***ed this haven’t I?” he laughs.

“But I did that and then things carried on and the same boss for Blancpain TV is also the same boss for Formula E so that was lucky. It’s kind of…you start something, then you do one job, then you do another job and then it just happens.”

Another defining moment came when former racing driver Jonathan Palmer, (father to current Renault Sport F1 driver, Jolyon Palmer) gave him another big break, “He gave me my first live TV thingy on the FIA Formula 2 championship in 2011.

When I did my first one, I was 20 years old, so that was quite scary and it’s funny because you listen back now and it was awful, I mean it was f***ing awful and you go, ‘Jesus, why did anybody hire me?’ I mean, I’m not saying that I’m in anyway amazing now but…better than I was then, I mean it was terrible!” he laughs.

Nicholls always seems at ease in the commentating booth, does he ever get nervous? “I don’t know…I get nervous the first time I do things. The first Formula One race I did in China a couple of years ago, I was massively nervous. Some people say, if you don’t get nervous then something’s wrong.

“They say you should be nervous because it keeps you on your edge and you hear a lot of actors and commentators and presenters say that. Well, Martin Brundle says that the adrenaline rush he got from Formula One is only replaced by live TV…I don’t really find that at all! So, I don’t know if that means there’s something wrong with me and I’m not trying to be like all cool and stuff but I do worry sometimes that I should be more nervous.”

There was however one occasion where he did get butterflies: “So I did the podium interviews for the Porsche Super Cup in Austin. That was f***ing scary!” he exclaims. “To walk out and there was this huge crowd…that was a bit scary, but in general now I don’t get nervous.”

No matter how many times you’ve done it, talking in front of millions of viewers is still a nerve wrecking thought. Just how does he prep himself to make sure he says the right things? “Just lots of research and notes and it’s different (for every event) but once you prepare for one Formula One`race, you’re kind of reasonably set for the whole season, so it’s kinda updating your notes after each race really.”

Nicholls will be back in the Formula E commentating booth in Buenos Aires this February and after being in the hustle and bustle of Formula One, is he looking forward to be back in Formula E?

“I really can’t wait! I really enjoy doing the series, it’s a different world to Formula One but it’s just really enjoyable and I really enjoy working with Dario who’s probably the best ex-racing driver I’ve ever worked with.” (At this point, John Watson gave out a little scoff). “I enjoy the whole team, everybody is working together to make something good, that’s the difference,” he admits.

“I love Formula One and it’s all I ever wanted to do. John (Watson) will tell you something different from this because he says he prefers a paddock where everybody’s trying to win and not everyone’s friends,” says Nicholls. “But to work in, I think it’s much more fun when you’re all just friends and you’re all just having a laugh.”

Image courtesy of Rajan Jangda

About Noor Amylia Hilda
Noor Amylia Hilda is a journalist based in Kuala Lumpur with bylines in titles such as Women's Health, Esquire and ELLE. She is also a freelance motorsport journalist covering the FIA Formula E championship and Formula 1.