'Nightly News' ' Lester Holt on the Pressure of Replacing Brian Williams

"This is not the way I would have wanted to end up in a job like this, but I'm honored," says Holt

Photo: Heidi Gutman/NBC)

After 15 years at NBC, newsman Lester Holt says he’s more than ready to officially take the reins at NBC’s Nightly News and to replace colleague Brian Williams, who was removed from the position following revelations that he’d embellished some of his reporting.

But that doesn’t mean Holt is without jitters.

Despite being the interim anchor of the broadcast for the past five months, “Somehow last night I found myself laying my clothes out like tomorrow is the first day of school,” Holt tells PEOPLE of anticipating Monday night’s show, his first as permanent anchor. “It feels different.”

It’s a position the radio turned television journalist, 56, says he’s primed for – though the circumstances haven’t been ideal. “This is not the way I would have wanted to end up in a job like this, but I’m honored,” he says.

“Like any organization we’re a family,” he continues. “There have been some rough moments here, but at the end of the day everyone pulls together.”

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Following Williams’ suspension Holt found himself in the right place at the right time. “I was given great advice a long time ago and that was, ‘Prepare yourself because you never know when doors of opportunity will open,’ ” says Holt. “Trust me when I tell you I was not thinking of becoming the anchor of the NBC Nightly News. It was not in the cards.” But, thanks to his years of experience covering breaking stories like the Boston bombing from the front lines, “that door opened, and they asked me to walk through, and I do so with full confidence.”

For Holt, the honor of now being the first ever solo African-American anchor of a weekday nightly network newscast has special significance. “My mother tells the story – I think I was a little boy – but she says I once turned to her while I was watching TV and said, ‘How come there’s no Negro people on TV?’ ” Holt recalls. “The fact that I said that and that I’m today starting this job, I have to tell you, it kind of gets me right there. It’s full circle.”

The husband and father of two – his son Stefan is also an NBC anchor in Chicago – says that despite the new platform, he won’t let it go to his head. “I don’t want to get to a place where I’m carried away with my own importance,” says Holt. Along with his love of Game of Thrones, bass guitar and “a good bottle of wine,” Holt says “I love what I do … I’m just kind of a guy who likes to do news, and I’m having fun.”

Holt takes over the Nightly News desk Monday night at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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