Zoe Ball will overtake Gary Lineker to become the BBC’s highest-paid presenter, after she was handed a £1 million pay rise and he accepted a pay cut.
The BBC’s annual rich list showed Ball’s salary rose by 268 per cent when she took over the Radio 2 breakfast show - from £370,000 to £1.36 million.
Lineker topped the table as expected, with earnings of £1.75 million. But it was announced at the same time that the Match of the Day presenter had signed a new five-year deal with a 23 per cent cut, taking his salary down to £1.3 million.
It means Ball will top next year’s list, four years after the first pay disclosures caused a furore over the BBC’s glaring gender pay gap.
Despite the BBC's claims to be reducing costs, more than half - 51 per cent - of those who appeared on last year's top earners list received pay rises in the past year. Only 19.7 per cent had a pay cut and 11.8 per cent saw no change.
Presenters who saw their earnings rocket included Graham Norton, third in the table, who received a 19 per cent pay rise - up from £610,000 in 2018-19 to £725,000. The BBC said he had taken on extra work, including an interview with Sir Elton John.
Emily Maitlis saw her salary go up by 42 per cent from £260,000 to £370,000.
Fiona Bruce has been promoted to the top 10, now on a salary of £450,000 thanks to her Question Time role.
Lauren Laverne now earns £395,000 after taking on Desert Island Discs in addition to her 6 Music role. The fourth woman on the list is Vanessa Feltz, whose salary rose from £355,000 to £405,000.
There are nine new entrants on the £150,000 list: Emma Barnett, Kirsty Wark, Andrew Neil, Simon McCoy, Carrie Gracie, Faisal Islam, Carolyn Quinn, Mary Ann Hobbs and Steve Lamacq.
Of the top 10, only Huw Edwards saw his pay drop, from £490,000 to £465,000.
In all there are 76 on-air presenters earning over £150,000.
Mr Davie was asked if he could justify Ball’s wages in the year that she had lost one million listeners. He said: “Absolutely, I can. Zoe has got the top slot in British radio. It’s a great listen and I think she’s a fantastic talent. Zoe is absolutely a broadcaster at the top of her game.”
Asked if he could explain to licence fee payers why any presenter should earn over £1 million from the public broadcaster, Mr Davie insisted that its stars are paid “at a significant discount to what they could get on the open market”.
George Alagiah, the news presenter, is the only person of colour to make the rich list top 20. Mr Davie said there was “work to do” on making the list more diverse.
The figures were contained in the BBC’s annual report, which also revealed that licence fee sales fell by 256,000 last year as viewers cancelled or failed to up new licences. An accompanying report by the Auditor General said that the sharp fall was driven by people abandoning the BBC in favour of Netflix and other streaming services.
Mr Davie shattered any hope that he would halt plans to charge over-75s for the licence fee.
He said: “I was part of the board that made the decision… I have no plans to reverse that decision and I support where we are at the moment.”