Why Ryan is sitting pretty

He loves his RTE job but he enjoys the BBC work too. He no longer fears critics. So now, at almost 40, Tubridy is finally content, he tells Jonathan deBurca Butler

MENTION ‘toy show’ to Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy and his face lights up. On Friday night, he will present his fourth show of seasonal anarchy.

“It’s my show of the year,” says the presenter. “What I love about it? The brakes are cut. Anything can happen. I always say that grown-ups are just children with wrinkles. They’re still very immature, very juvenile, very puerile. But kids are kind of uncontaminated by the adult debris that clutters one’s life. I was never very ambitious to present the Late Late Show, but I was always ambitious to present the toy show.”

I meet Tubridy in O’Donoghue’s pub in Merrion Row, Dublin. He is relaxed, amiable, well-dressed and remarkably fresh-faced for someone approaching a normally dreaded milestone.

“I’ll be 40 in May,” he says. “It feels good. It has focused things in many respects, because you have that mortality check that says, ‘chances are more of me has passed than is going to happen’, which is a kind of morbid thought, but it’s one that allows you to take control of things a little more.”

Tubridy has been in the public eye for most of his adult life, having started in RTÉ after finishing an arts degree in University College Dublin. He has adjusted slowly to fame (my word, not his).

“If we say [I’ve been at this] for 15 years, I’d say it took me ten years to get fully accustomed to it, five years to get over myself and I’m currently in a good groove,” he says. “Things like having the mickey taken out of you is part of the gig. That was never the problem. It was more to do with people writing criticisms about me, but then I realised that’s what they do. I used to be really concerned. Now, I just say ‘that’s their job’. I’m more stoical about it. A friend of mine always used to say ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ and I always sweated the small stuff, because I was very self-conscious. I’m a lot less worried about that now; more comfortable in my skin. It’s about a comfort zone. I think that comes with age.”

Some sectors of the media have been euphorically critical of the broadcaster’s move to 2FM. Listenership figures in the early months of Tubridy’s takeover dropped dramatically and he says that “radio has been a rocky road”. But the latest figures are better. “We pretty much stayed where we were, we didn’t go up or down,” says Tubridy. “So we’re starting to hold on. I’d like to think that we’ve stemmed any sort of drift and, hopefully, now we can build on that and raise them. But if we don’t, we don’t. And I can’t panic about them. I would just have to accept that that’s the way it is. But I’m hopeful. And I’m enjoying it.”

The morning slot on 2FM was vacated by the sudden death of Tubridy’s friend and mentor, Gerry Ryan. Tubridy started by working as a researcher for The Gerry Ryan Show.

“There was a kindred spirit,” he says of Ryan. “There was a shared interest in American politics, bad Richard Nixon impressions and Band of Brothers. We bonded over that stuff and the rest followed. But we also did a good line in discretion.”

Tubridy says that Ryan’s death made him “feel more inclined to get on with life and enjoy it”. Is he religious? “No, I don’t have any great following,” he says. “I don’t go to mass. I think a lot and I worry a lot. I’d say I worry about the future for my children, my family. I will often say ‘Oh, I hope that things work out for …’ and I think about that person. In fact, when I’m in London, which I am now quite a bit, I sometimes go to the Old Brompton Oratory, it’s near the hotel I stay in over there. It’s this magnificent old church and all the way through they have these areas of statues, where you can take these old wax candles and light one for 25p, or whatever. And I’ll go in there and take four or five of those and I’ll light one for people I love and think about them. Now, if that’s religion, so be it, but I’m just thinking of them and I don’t know what that means, but it matters to me that I do that.”

Talk of London leads to talk of work with the BBC. Tubridy has covered for several BBC broadcasters since first sitting in for Graham Norton last summer. He has enjoyed the experience, but is unsure that a permanent move is on the cards.

“I’ve signed a contract to be with RTÉ for three years,” he says. “I’ll continue to do stuff for the BBC. They have been very encouraging and very interested in what I do, which comes as a welcome surprise. I don’t think I’ve shown them my best side, because it’s difficult to get a run and so it’s difficult to show the listenership that there’s more to it than this. It’s been a very useful thing to do.

“London’s a great city; a bit lonely, especially if you finish a show at nine and you’ve got the day to yourself, but it’s a fascinating opportunity. I would find it very difficult to live there.” At the heart of the issue is Tubridy’s love of Ireland. He is, as he says himself, “a homebird”.

“I love living here,” he says. “I love pubs like this and the routine, whatever about my family, who I would find very difficult to leave. There’s stuff I hate. I hate the begrudgery. I hate the fact that we strangle success and don’t encourage people who are trying their hearts out in business. There are so many things that annoy me and yet they’re outweighed by the things I love about the place.”

Tubridy is tight-lipped about romance. He is unapologetic about keeping his private life behind closed doors. “I don’t discuss it,” he says. “Some people do and they love discussing it. Yes, I’m in the public eye and people come up for photographs and I’ll do all that, and I actually really enjoy it.

“But my feeling is ‘you can come as far as the front door, but that’s it’. Kids, relationships, that element of it is mine. You can’t have everything that’s important to me. You can have an awful lot of it, but I’m just not one of those people who likes to share everything.”

Tubridy does, however, have something of an exclusive for Irish Examiner readers on the theme of this year’s Christmas jumper.

“It’s rank,” he says, emphatically. “It’s the worst one I’ve worn so far. Fans of the movie Elf will appreciate what I’m wearing. I can’t say more than that.”

* RELATED STORY: Toy Show buzz as Ryan eyes gruesome geansaí

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