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‘I love storytelling… In a different time I’d be a seanchaí’
THERE’S a code of silence in the Mafia and gangland underworld called ‘omertà’, which ruthless criminals use to protect themselves and their dirty business.
Gangsters live by this rule that they never ‘rat’ to the police or spill the beans to the authorities — and anyone caught ‘ratting’ is likely to meet a very nasty end.
Other than the cops, the last person you’d expect gangsters to pass on information to is a crime journalist.
But, as Ireland’s most formidable and respected crime reporter in the last decade, the Sunday World’s Nicola Tallant gets up close and personal with them.
Low key and unassuming, Nicola has also hit superstar status with her Crime World podcast, which has around a million monthly listeners from all walks of life.
And, like many of today’s successful podcast stars with a massive fanbase, she has now created a theatre event to give her followers a live experience.
The show is called Omertà and will be staged in venues around the country. It will feature Nicola taking us back to the origins of that Mafia code through an audio-visual experience.
A supreme storyteller with lots of incredible anecdotes from her own experiences, the host will also be joined on the couch by her regular Crime World “sidekick” Niall Donald.
“Niall insists he’s my boss, but really he’s my sidekick,” she jokes.
She’s got a good sense of humour, which is said to be essential for getting you through life, particularly when your work deals with the heinous crimes and depravity of the criminal underworld.
Like many crime reporters, Nicola has had credible threats to her own life, and she admits there have been moments of feeling the fear.
“With fear, you just have to let it pass,” she says. “And it does pass, and then the logical mind kicks back in and you can cope with whatever it is that’s scaring you.
“You couldn’t do the job if you felt fear all the time.
“But I doubt there’s a crime journalist out there who hasn’t had a moment or two or three of, ‘What the hell am I doing? Why didn’t I take the fashion beat?’
“I was always drawn to crime. I find it very interesting. Maybe I like a little bit of the danger or something, and I find the people in that world very interesting. I do have empathy with the victims, and I have a lot of empathy for people living in areas that are destroyed by drugs and gangs.
“The rest of us are living in nice areas and don’t have to worry about those things. I speak to a lot of those people whose kids have got involved. Everybody has a story and it’s not just black and white.”
Nicola insists that in the beginning she wasn’t particularly interested in gangland.
“When I first started doing the gangland stuff I hated it,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’ll never find this interesting, this is the bit of crime I don’t like.’ It’s like when you look at a bloke and you think, ‘I’m never going to find him interesting’…and then all of a sudden you find yourself attracted to him. It’s sort of the same thing.
“I went into it thinking, ‘I’ll do this, but I really don’t like it, I have no interest in it’…and then it just took over my whole career spanning the last 10 years. You get so far in there’s no going back.”
As a recognised authority on crime, Nicola works hard at staying totally informed, including engaging with both the criminals and the police.
“I have a voice now in the area of crime and I do feel a big responsibility to know what I’m talking about, to get it right and to find that balance between scaring the living daylights out of people and informing or opening their minds a little bit to it.
“I do talk to the criminals in person. I prefer talking to them face-to-face, meeting them and getting the measure of them and seeing what it is they want from me, because nothing’s free in that world. They’re only speaking to me if it’s a benefit to them, so I always need to work out what that benefit is. They’re not speaking to me because they like me.”
Does she worry about being set up? “Yeah, but I don’t take stupid chances. All the criminals will tell you that the best place in the world to meet is in an airport because you can’t get any weapons through as there is security everywhere…the criminals meet each other in airports.
“I have met people that, if anybody was to know they’d met me and told me certain information, they would be six feet under.
“Any of them that speak to me are taking a big risk and it’s probably a rush for them. They know the dangers. I wouldn’t say anybody has ever been killed for speaking to me, but I’ve spoken to some who later turned up dead for some other reason.”
A measured conversationalist, Nicola gets animated when asked for her response to the common criticism that journalists like herself are glamorising crime and criminals.
“It’s only crime journalists who are asked to constantly defend what they do,” she says. “And it’s an empty criticism because gangland is here — we’re living with it cheek by jowl. It’s such a massive threat to our society and I think people don’t fully comprehend that.
“People who take cocaine on a Saturday night, who would cross to the other side of the street to avoid a criminal, are actually empowering these people, and yet they think they’re not connected with the drugs trade and the gangsters.
“If you took cocaine last night you are contributing to funding them, so you are a link to them and to whatever unspeakable things they do in that world, including murder.
“There is a total disconnect. That’s what annoys me when people say, ‘Do you not think these nicknames are glamorising it?’ No, I’m not glamorising it — I’m making it real for people and forcing them to engage.”
Lots of people, though, are engaging and it’s the reason Tallant’s award-winning Crime World podcast has been such a massive hit.
Taking it to the stage is a new challenge for Nicola. “The difficulty is trying to balance the entertainment with the serious,” she admits.
“I’m conscious of the fact that there are victims of crime out there and not to make light of any of that, and that has been the real challenge of bringing the crime stories to the stage.
“But we are in the golden era of the podcast and I do love storytelling. If I was born in a different era I’d like to have been a seanchaí sitting around a fire telling stories.”
Omertà with Nicola Tallant comes to Dublin’s 3Olympia Theatre on April 27; Dolans in Limerick on May 3; The Limelight in Belfast on May 17; Cyprus Avenue in Cork on May 18; and Monroes in Galway on May 19. To book see ticketmaster.ie
Investigations editor at the Sunday World, Nicola Tallant is the voice of Crime World — a weekly podcast which has been enjoying huge success since its launch in November 2020, discussing the real stories, and the real people, behind the grisly headlines.
The podcast now regularly attracts 250,000 listens a week, and consistently holds its own at the top of both the Spotify and Apple Irish podcast charts.
From the downfall of the Kinahans, the murder of James Whelan and the dramatic aftermath, and most recently the Regency murder trial which has seen Jonathan Dowdall turn state witness as one of Ireland’s most notorious gangsters, Gerard ‘The Monk’ Hutch faces trial, Nicola continues to dominate the Irish True Crime podcast charts.
Here are the top five episodes of Crime World from 2023 so far.
Crime World will take to the stage nationwide with a production called Omertà.
We have four pairs of tickets for the Galway and Limerick shows to give away.
Just email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘tallant’
in the subject line by Friday 28 April, 2023. T&Cs apply.
multi-tallanted: Nicola is set to go on the road; (above from top) she speaks with Joey ‘The Lips’ O’ Callaghan; tracking down Daniel Kinahan in Spain; with Crime World contributor Niall Donald
puppy love: Nicola relaxes with pet pooch Winnie
People say, ‘Do you not think you’re glamorising it?’ No, I’m not glamorising it — I’m making it real for people and forcing them to engage.
If you took cocaine last night, you are contributing to funding gangs