It’s the voice that people recognise first. When we commence our chat, she is grappling with a coffee machine that threatens to drown out our conversation. And then, there is the voice that has kept millions of crime podcast fans enthralled during lockdown, at a time when gangland crime proved box office and when the misdemeanours of an elite group of criminals, here at home and abroad, became household names.
I have known Nicola Tallant for decades, back to a time when we both earned a shilling filing stories to the red-tops, patiently dictating stories and yarns down the line of public phone boxes to copytakers in Wapping.
“I remember having to always have a pocket full of coins to ensure that we didn’t get cut off midway through filing your copy to English copy takers who probably hadn’t a clue what we were talking about,” she recalled this week, ahead of her latest show — Omertà, the stage version of her immensely popular Crime World podcast which is touring the country.
The show Omertà stems from the fallout of the Hutch/Kinahan feud and the recent compelling trial which gripped the nation.
Thanks to Nicola and her colleague Niall Donald, the names of all the protagonists in Irish crime are well known — and for those who can’t be named for legal reasons, there are the nicknames.
The podcast now attracts more than 250,000 listeners a week and is always in the top positions in the competitive Spotify and Apple podcast charts.
She told me that while she started out writing stories to see her name in print, the shape of her job has changed and her voice has become one of the most recognisable in the country.
“I have found out that my voice certainly is recognisable, because people in the supermarket are doing a double take, you know, if I’m talking to the kids or something like that. They kind of recognise my voice quicker now than my face, which is maybe why I should just learn to shut up,” she laughs.
The explosion in gangland crime over the past seven years, in particular the brutality of the Hutch-Kinahan feud has catapulted Nicola and her co-presenter Niall Donald to the top of the podcast charts with their Crime World pods. In the lengthy days of lockdown Ireland, they were churning out the episodes every few days as each new development broke, culminating in the sanctioning last year of the Kinahan organised crime group; and then the sensational and lengthy trial of Gerry The Monk Hutch, which ended last month with his acquittal on the charge of murdering David Byrne in the Regency Hotel in 2016.
Listening figures to the podcast rocketed for the duration of the trial, and again last month when Hutch walked free from the Special Criminal Court, but not before he had a few words with Nicola, who believes the verdict has been a boon to the credibility of the much-maligned SCC with its conviction rate percentage in the high-nineties.
“The verdict definitely salvaged the integrity of the Special Criminal Court, because had there been a guilty decision, everybody would have been saying, oh, that’s typical, Special Criminal Court. They just convict everybody.
State screwed up
“And I think the judgement was very open. And we could see exactly what the judges were thinking. The State screwed up, simply, with the charge they brought; they were too narrow in saying in talking about Hutch’s role on the day, but, there was a sense as well that this underdog had beat the system.
“Thats if you can ever we call Hutch an underdog. He was walking out those doors. Like it was like a scene of a movie. Really, you know, yeah. And you don’t see it too often. But he walks out the door and the place went mad with people beeping their horns, and they were, you know, waving out car doors to them and congratulating him. And he eventually went home, right into the heartland of the North Inner city, where all the murder and the killing began. And I think he’ll probably stay around because he’s quite safe there.
Nicola believes that the next step will possibly be legacy of the strict imposition of the US-inspired sanctions on the Kinahan Organised Crime Group.
“For sure. And I wouldn’t think they’d be as lucky. I mean, lightning doesn’t strike twice. I don’t know how easily they will beat the system. They will undoubtedly be before the courts, whether it’s in the US, Spain, or here. And that’s remains to be seen. But I was actually I did this sort of Hutch long read thing. I was just writing the last bit of it, you know, to, to complete it. And I was just thinking about it. And it was like, to me as if this was just the end of one chapter. It was a dramatic end. You know, the scenes outside court in Dublin and him walking free. But, you know, there’s still plenty more to read in this book, and much more to go.
“So it is really just the end of one part of the story. And the beginning of another because if you notice, the Hutches use a lot of social media and the sites that had been campaigning and championing The Monk was called Free the Monk and, literally as he was freed, the site name changed to Deport Daniel.”
However, she added that the gangs always had lobbyists for their point of view, even before social media came along.
Does she think that there are other large groupings who can become as influential as the two groupings?
“I think these guys were the elite. I don’t think there is another Kinahan-Hutch scenario. Of corse, there are younger guys more chaotic. There is always somebody to write about to take your attention. I think there was a unique grouping that became so massive and I’m not sure that that will happen all over again.”
Nicola entered the media in the years following the murder of Sunday Independent crime reporter Veronica Guerin, and just a few years before Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan was killed by paramilitaries in Armagh. Her current employers, the massive Dutch media organisation Mediahuis has experience of having had some of their journalists shot and threatened. Given that she wrote and reports pn some unsavoury individuals, is she concerned for her own safety?
“I don’t really worry.”
“I don’t really worry. I don’t know whether you’d be able to do the job if you did. I’d be very aware of all those very aware of you. And there are good measures here. I would have a very good relationship with the guards and they will be constantly in touch if there was anything of concern. Our own company, Mediahuis, some of their journalists in the Netherlands actually are under 24 hour protection and have been for a while.
“So all of that helps. Journalists like myself, we get so much backing really? Yeah. And it’s probably it would be frightening if you were just in the community and you were just a nobody and they just handed you the information that there was a threat and you were kind of left out there. I don’t think journalists are victims really you know, I think we’re very well looked after security-wise.”
While most of the subject matter centres on the capital, is it a novelty for Nicola to bring her show around the country?
“People are always very friendly. I think because of the podcast and the intimacy of that. They feel they know me more.
“I think the printed word is a little bit cold and readers don’t get to know you. They know the name and that’s it but people are all very friendly. We’re going to Galway for the last show on the run, that’s going to be in Monroes. I haven’t been to Galway in so long and I’m looking forward to it,” she says.
Can she explain this newfound interest in crime, especially among rural listeners who are removed from the heavy action in Dublin?
“Maybe people are just becoming more engaged with it. I mean for years, you’d get the comments about, oh, you’re just glamorising crime and this, that and the other, but I think people realise now that we are living cheek by jowl with that, you know, and maybe they’re engaging a bit more. But yeah, I think just people all over the country are aware that it’s in there. It’s not just a Dublin phenomenon anymore.
“Rural Ireland has, thankfully yet to see explosions of gun crime. There have been bits and bobs of it, but I think that is the big fear of what’s coming with that because you can see how, they will start to fight when there’s drug turf, and there is lucrative drug turf now everywhere. Yes, that’s when you see that explosion.
“There hasn’t been huge amount of that outside say, Belfast, Dublin. But look at Drogheda. Look what happened there. And I think cities like Galway like Limerick can never let their guard down.
“They have to try to keep a lid on it from a policing point of view. And then also keep investing in those community groups and trying to steer as many people away from it as possible,” she said.
What keeps her going on what in an undoubtedly rough aspect of the trade?
“I am interested in meeting people. And I think sometimes, you know, you can dismiss people. But actually, if you sit down and talk to them, you’ll find they have an incredible story to tell, and they give you a great insight into what’s going on.
“I don’t think you can get an insight without talking to people who are living within some of these communities and within the gangs and, you know, within the criminal underworld, because we are outsiders, and we’ll always be outsiders, those of us who live under the structures of the law.
“So you need to communicate to try and understand what’s happening in the underworld,” she said.
Crime World has a massive following out west and tickets for the show in Monroes are flying out the door.
Tickets to Omertà — A Journey Into The Dark Heart of the criminal Underworld, a Crime World Live Show with Nicola Tallant is coming to Monroes on Friday, May 19. Tickets cost €25 and are available from www.monroes.ie