PROFILE: John Noulton, Eurotunnel; The reluctant PR firefighter

John Noulton is the man confident that Eurotunnel can get back on track

John Noulton is the man confident that Eurotunnel can get back on track

‘I thought I had given up this press type PR thing,’ John Noulton says

wearily, pausing for a moment to answer questions amid the frenzied

atmosphere of Eurotunnel’s Canary Wharf headquarters.

The job of launching Eurotunnel over, the company’s director of public

affairs was in the middle of moving his press office - already reduced

to three - to Folkestone when disaster struck and a fire in the tunnel

landed the company on every front page and TV station in the country.

Now his usual government relations work lies buried under a sea of paper

on his desk as he attempts to deal with a constant barrage of questions

from old acquaintances in the transport press.

‘In terms of PR this incident came at a particularly bad time for us

because it immediately followed a reorganisation of the company,’ says

Noulton in response to media criticism over how the incident was

handled. ‘We struggled but have put back in place a temporary structure

which works, with telephone co-ordination between London, Folkestone,

Calais and Paris.’

Noulton admits he was ‘a bit worried in the beginning’ but is now

adamant the incident has not damaged Eurotunnel’s reputation and appears

remarkably calm and confident about the future.

‘The basic safety of the system has been proved in particularly

difficult circumstances and that is a message we will be giving out to

people,’ he explains, outlining the firm’s future PR plans. ‘I am

encouraged by the response of our customers. We’ve had letters from

people saying ‘for God’s sake, get it open again, we can’t bear to be

without it’. Someone even sent a cheque for pounds 20 to contribute to

the cost.’

Noulton can relate to this gesture having been involved in the tunnel

‘since before it was a hole in the ground’ in 1971 when he worked at the

Ministry of Transport’s Channel Tunnel Unit. After a career in the civil

service spanning 30 years he became involved in the project again as

administration director for Trans-Marche Link, the consortium which

built the tunnel. He joined Eurotunnel in 1992.

He talks fondly of ‘my tunnel’ and claims to have travelled through it

over 200 times ‘starting off in the old works trains with a hard hat and

muddy boots.’ This intimate knowledge of the tunnel’s inner workings

makes Noulton popular with the technical press. He, in turn, values them

for their ability to do a ‘considered piece’ without ‘flashy headlines.’

According to Kent Radio editor Martin Ward, Noulton also understands the

importance of looking after the local media, ‘on whose patch the tunnel


‘Many people in organisations take a cavalier attitude towards local

radio, preferring to go for national coverage,’ says Ward. ‘But he

always goes out of his way to contact us and plays the difficult

questions with a straight bat.’

Despite this endorsement, however, Noulton rejects the label ‘PR

professional’, claiming that he has no expertise and that PR is just one

of the things he has ‘turned his hand to’ while in the civil service.

Dominic Fry, Eurotunnel’s former director of communications who headed a

team of 18 in its early years and reported to Noulton, puts his comments

down to modesty. ‘John taught me a huge amount,’ says Fry. ‘He is a very

straight and honest guy and one of the wisest and most considerate

people I’ve ever met.’

It is obvious Noulton is itching to get out of the media spotlight and

return to his government relations and EC liaison work in order to get

Eurotunnel back on track.

Provided there are no more unplanned incidents he will continue working

on proposals to build a second crossing and invest further in duty free

services. ‘Eurotunnel has unlimited capacity to surprise,’ he says with

a tired smile. ‘Some are pleasant surprises, some are unpleasant.’


1974 Principal, Ministry of Transport Channel Tunnel Unit

1978 Assistant secretary, Departments of the Environment and Transport

1982 Head of finance division, Department of Transport

1989 Administration director, Trans-Marche link

1992 Director of public affairs, Eurotunnel

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